We received a lot of entries for the Indireads 1st Short Story Competition, which was incredibly gratifying. But it meant a great deal of reading for all of Indireads’ staff over a very short period. We’re still getting feedback on stories here and there, and may end up adding to the shortlist, if we find a gem.
It’s been really tough, though, to go through all of these stories. Not because they were all bad—we had a few that were pure poetry and a pleasure to read—but because some of them were just plain unprofessional.
At the end of the first week, one plaintive cry was wrenched out of me: Would it kill a writer to proof-read their work before sending it out? We actually provided a style guide with punctuation rules for writers to use as a reference. Despite that, conversations trailed on in long paragraphs without a break between speakers; descriptions were convoluted and barely resembled English in their effort to resemble ‘flowery’ language; unnecessary words were capitalized, while proper nouns like ‘Maria’ were not; sentences were fragmented and punctuation at the beginning and end of dialogue was non-existent.
I’d like to point out that punctuation marks are absolutely necessary in dialogue. “This is not acceptable” I say. There has to be a comma or full stop before the closing inverted commas (always, always, before the inverted commas). The dialogue encompasses the punctuation, so DO NOT add a full stop after you have closed the inverted commas, or a hyphen, or a comma, or any punctuation at all. The sentence above, therefore, would be correctly written thus: “This is not acceptable,” I say.
And, please, if you don’t have great language skills, DO NOT use a thesaurus to add big words to your piece. Simplicity is always more powerful, more compelling, and unless you understand the word and it’s correct usage, don’t use it. If you are using the thesaurus in your word processing software, you should also have an option for spell-check and grammar checks. USE IT!!
You don’t need to be an expert, and nuances escape even the most seasoned editor. Just be professional.
After editing the shortlisted finalists, I am hungry (it’s Ramadan, after all), grumpy from lack of sleep and need new glasses. And, I continue to rant, would it kill a writer to proof-read their work before submitting it?