Friday, June 1, 2012

What I Look For In A Story - Writing Style

We have spent this week looking at some of the elements I look for in a submission. This last one is a bit more abstract but still has a huge impact on our decision of whether or not we progress with a project. This has to do with the actual writing style of the author.

As we have discussed here in prior posts, writing style is not a formula. In no way are we saying that there has to be one approved format for writing any story. What we focus on here is the ability of the author to really tell a story and to get that point across in the best format possible. That could be 1st person or 3rd person. It could be diary format or straight-up narration. It doesn't really matter.

When I look at a piece of writing, I am really looking to see how well the story reads. Since we are looking at these stories from an entertainment standpoint, we want a story that really flows off of the page and is easily accessible to the readers. No this doesn't mean you have to dumb down the story for the readers, but we should be able to see how the words flow.

One thing in particular that tends to be a sign that the writer is not quite ready to move on is when the writing is forced. In other words, the writer is taking the time to use specific writing devices, but everything seems to be a bit mechanical. We have to remember that great writers out there naturally use these skills. They know when to put in the correct dialogue tags and when to ignore those tags. They know when to dump information and when to withold it.

I often see writers submitting stories that clearly appear to be a result of a recent workshop. Frequently I joke that I know just the workshop or handout the person used to compose that piece of writing. This is also something we see in query letters or synpopses. The point is to let the story do the talking and not the devices the person uses.

If you think of actors in this case, you know what I am talking about. There are some actors that seem to flow effortlessly through their lines and on the stage. Others really struggle. I have done a lot of work with community theatre productions and you really see it when someone is trying to perform plays by Shakespeare. Sure, they have the lines figured out, and sure, they have the costumes and moves on the stage, but something just doesn't work. In simple terms, they really don't know what they are saying.

Another thing I look for is whether or not the writing has a single title or a category voice to the story. It is this reason that I can make many decisions based on the first 3-5 pages. The difference between single title and category is not simply the word count. It really stems from the voice of the story.

Hopefully this week you have had a chance to really see some of the things we look for in a story. I simply cannot stress this enough. It is all subjective and yes, there are a lot of variables to consider. What works for one story doesn't necessarily work for another.


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