When writing, particularly when you’re just learning the craft, I often think there’s a fine line between getting it right and getting it wrong.
With my own writing journey, I’d started writing short pieces to begin with, amusing anecdotes to magazine’s letter pages, short articles, newsy items, short stories. There were fine lines here regarding whether I’d written them to the editor’s satisfaction – or not.
It was certainly a learning curve and I know I was fortunate in working with some excellent editors who pointed out those fine lines – very often it was between a piece being too wordy or just right.
Having some success with short pieces gave me the hope and desire to write longer pieces – novels, no less. As some will know, I wrote seven different novels in my early writing days – romance and thriller. Which one by one were rejected with varying degrees of sympathy and kind words. But perseverance was the key. I was determined that eventually I would get a book published. Had I known it I would have been shocked that within those rejected books, were four that were ‘fine line’ books. Almost publishable – but not quite. They still needed work. At the time, as a novice writer, a rejection was a rejection. I’d put it aside and started something else.
Perhaps it takes years, or experience, or maybe it just takes someone to point it out to you, but eventually, you take another look at the rejected manuscript and it will be blindingly obvious as to why it got rejected. And at that point you can start to put it right.
Perhaps it’s still a great story in your eyes, but maybe there are holes in the plot; perhaps emotionally it’s not powerful enough; perhaps your heroine comes across as wishy-washy or thoughtless, or seems to have some other unbecoming trait. Perhaps it’s a good story but it’s being swamped by superfluous words and irrelevant events – and you need to hack away at the garbage to reveal the gem inside.
So, you nearly got it right. It was a fine line between the editor spotting the spark of talent – despite the problems and sticking with you. Or that fine line resulted in the reader/editor coming down on the negative side.
There are fine lines in all the different aspects of writing creatively. Here’s a few:
That fine line between showing not telling
Show don’t tell. It’s an important skill to get your head around. And very often novice writers just can’t see it. I remember helping one novice writer who was trying to grasp this point – when suddenly the penny dropped. All at once it was crystal clear what it meant to show rather than tell – and she was elated.
If you aren’t sure, telling is when you blatantly tell the reader something. Showing is when you reveal that information through the character’s actions, thoughts or dialogue.
Telling: He was exhausted. Showing: He flopped into the chair, breathing heavily.
Telling: She was furious. Showing: Stuffing his clothes into a black sack, she flung it from the upstairs window.
Telling: He was ravenous. Showing: He raced the dog to its bowl, pushing it aside to gobble up the chunks of meat. (Sorry, that’s a bit silly, but it’s what popped into my head.)
The fine line with viewpoint
Although you often see head hopping in some books these day, ideally it’s not a good practice to get into. Have your protagonist and stick with their viewpoint. If you’re writing a story with two or more viewpoint characters, give them their own chapter, or scene. Don’t hop between characters in some omniscient know all situation. Just as in real life we only know for sure what we are thinking and feeling, it’s the same with writing. We could take a guess at what your partner or neighbour is thinking, but we can’t see into their heads and hearts in real life. So, try to avoid doing it in fiction.
That fine line with punctuation
Punctuation makes all the difference to a sentence. We probably all know how a simple comma can change the meaning of a sentence dramatically. Look at these examples:
“Let’s eat Grandma.” Aagh! We have a room full of cannibals.
“Let’s eat, Grandma.” What a nice idea.
I find inspiration in cooking my family and my dog.
I find inspiration in cooking, my family, and my dog.
Likewise apostrophes: “Eat your dinner!” Means something totally different to: “Eat. You’re dinner!”
Even hyphens: Twenty five-dollar bills = $100. Or: Twenty-five dollar bills = $25.
I do think getting your punctuation correct is really important, especially around dialogue if you’re consistently making the same error over and over again. This could be the fine line between an acceptance and a rejection. Imagine you’re an editor, you have space for one story, there’s two stories that you like. One is error free, the other has consistently put their punctuation after the speech marks – on every bit of dialogue. And there is lots. Someone has to put it right. It can’t be published like that. There’s a deadline approaching. Which side of the line will that editor come down on?
So perhaps, just as I had four books within the rejected seven that eventually got re-written and published, possibly you too have written your best seller – you just haven’t realised it yet.
So think about those fine lines, as they might make all the difference.
Happy writing everyone and stay safe.
Ann Evans writes romance under the name of Ann Carroll, she also writes thrillers, books for children, YA and reluctant readers. She is also a freelance feature writer for various magazines.
Find more writing tips in Ann Evans’ book, Become a Writer – a step by step guide.
Great advice. I wish I could get my head around semi colons … an unfashionable punctuation, apparently. But needed too.
Thank you Angela. Yes, semi colons can come in useful; to be used sparingly though, usually.
Hope I’ve used this one correctly!