a little editorial snark

Writing experts emphasize the necessity of a writer avoiding anything that affects what’s called “the willing suspension of disbelief.” If you jar the reader out of the dream world that is the story, he may just put the book down. Or throw it against the wall. And never come back. 

Here is the first sentence of a book I started this week:

“The sun broke through the slow-moving clouds and bounced off the glass side of the Faculty of Humanities building before plunging into the depths of the dark, cool water of an ornamental pond.”

That sentence jarred me right out of the story and I’d barely stuck the tip of my toenail in. 

Imagine what it must have been like having the sun bounce off the glass walls. Did they shatter? Melt? And it must have sizzled as it plunged into the pool, don’t you think? I could go on, since the sun is way too big to “bounce” off anything on Earth. But I won’t.

The sad thing is that the problem could so easily have been fixed. Simply say ‘sunlight’ instead of ‘sun.’

A couple of pages later, the author wrote, “Isn’t 11 am a little early for that?” she grinned.

Can you speak that dialogue while grinning? Try it.

This, too, would have been an easy fix. The author could have split the sentence into two, leaving the dialogue to stand alone, and the “she grinned” as a second sentence. That way, it reads like the character asked a question. Then grinned.

As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” 

And no, I didn’t read much further before I gave up on the book. It was this particular author’s first book and I think he needed to practice a bit more before he published. Or else he needs a new editor.

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