Lately, I’ve gone to a few more writing/author sites than I usually do. I’ve been curious what’s out there. I’ve especially taken the time to read a few stories posted on Wattpad, a variety of short stories submitted on Chuck Wendig’s blog challenge, and stories offered here and there on twitter posts. I found lots of great writing, but I also found small, nitpicky points that bothered me.
I’ve found a lot more spelling and grammar mistakes than I expected. Way back in my young and innocent youth, I was blessed to have two, high school, English teachers who would not tolerate grammar mistakes in their assignments. Mrs. Meese made us diagram sentences until our eyes glazed, and Miss Wimmer would allow us one mistake of any kind–commas, spelling, dangling participles–per page of our assignment. If she gave us a five page paper to write, when she hit the sixth mistake, she put a huge, flaming red F on the page and quit reading. She informed us–repeatedly–that she read for content and ideas, period. Suffice it to say, if we wanted to pass her class, we did lots of proof reading. No writer is perfect. None of us can see every mistake we make, but I think we should treat readers like I treated Miss Wimmer. Readers notice mistakes. They might not put a red F on our story, but they can quit reading. We need to make our writing as free of errors as possible.
I started out writing mystery short stories. I’m a devoted fan of Agatha Christie, and I follow her rule that if you put a gun on page two of a story, someone had better shoot that gun by the end of the story, or use it as a red herring, or make it significant in some way. Details matter. Significant details matter more. A reader notices them, stores them away for future use, and is disappointed when they add up to nothing. A story is like a dance. It moves from one point to the next, constantly striving to keep the reader’s attention, with every movement adding up to a grand finale–and if we do it right, each movement evokes emotion. If a character shows up on page three, just like the gun, he has to contribute something of significance to the story. Nothing is random, even if it feels like it. It all works to serve the whole.
My last point, and it’s personal, is that I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings. I went to a sci-fi story from a twitter post, and I got really excited because I thought the writing was superb, wonderful, but I didn’t understand the story’s ending. And that frustrated me. I’d invested time and energy, reading it, and then I had no idea what it all added up to. I know that this is probably the mystery lover in me, but when I add up clues, I want them to mean something. The shorter the story, the harder it is to set the scene, perfect a voice and tone (two, separate things), move the story, and then wrap up everything in a great ending. Rushed endings FEEL like rushed endings, but even those work better than endings that leave a reader saying, “What?” At least, that’s the way I feel.
I don’t know if anyone’s ever written a perfect story. I know, for sure, that I never have. We all try, though. We just get in a hurry, or do so many rewrites that we can’t keep track of where we are in a story any more, and we all fall short. Even if we DID write a perfect story, not everyone would like it. So good luck with whatever you’re working on. Happy writing!