Checklist for Un-Saleable Stories

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Hereford Eye, Jan 21, 2010.

  1. Hereford Eye

    Hereford Eye Just Another Philistine

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    Going through my library, I began perusing the 1981 version of The Writer's Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing and came across this checklist prepared by Allan W. Eckert. . He has a little bit more to say in his article about each of these points but I find the points themselves very instructive:
    1. Have you started at the right place?
    2. Is your beginning too slow?
    3. Have you established mood?
    4. Have you been careful with flashbacks?
    5. Have you written about something that you know?
    6. Have you dated your story?
    7. Have you included unnecessary action?
    8. Have you been redundant?
    9. Have you included unnecessary characters?
    10. Have you kept your characters in character?
    11. Have you overworked a word or phrase?
    12. Is your dialogue stilted?
    13. Are your facts accurate?
    14. Have you destroyed your scene or mood?
    15. Have you been trite or “cute”?
    16. Has your action been consistent?
    17. Have you said something that means something?
    18. Is your story logical?
    19. Has your protagonist solved his own problem?
    20. Is it a story or an essay?
    21. Is your climax too short?
    22. Have you ended your story too soon or too late?
    23. Have you been too wordy?
    24. Have you written just for yourself?
    25. Have you let your reader think?
     
  2. zachariah

    zachariah Speaks fluent Bawehrf

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    I'm intrigued to know what his answer to 24 is.
     
  3. Hereford Eye

    Hereford Eye Just Another Philistine

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    "Even if the old high school stadium evokes all kinds of poignant memories in your mind, don't forget that Mr. Reader probably attended a different school and these memories. unless first given proper foundation, won't mean a thing to him. Certainly a writer should make every attempt to please himself with his writing, but unless what he's writing is his diary, he'd better make it interesting for others as well. It's all too simple a matter for the writer to draw a character frm someone he has known in the past and, becvause he is familiar with that character, neglect to develop him in the writing. Ask yourself: "If all I know about this person or place is what I see written here, would I be satisfied with what I read?"
    - Allan W. Eckert, 1985
     
  4. kmtolan

    kmtolan KMTolan

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    Another one to add in order to reflect our current times.

    "Have you passed High School English?"

    Kerry
     
  5. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    Shouldn't that be "How much English did you teach your English teacher?" these days? ;)
     
  6. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Nope, not even the UK version...

    Also guilty of a lot of the "list" in my writing, even work I have sold.

    Lists are ok, but I am beginniing to think the more notice you take of them the more lifeless your writing becomes.
     
  7. BrianC

    BrianC bmalone.blogspot.com

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    26. Are your initials BCM?

    Somehow, I always end up answering yes. :confused:
     
  8. JT Billow

    JT Billow Love with Mercy

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    Interesting....

    #24, very funny
    #10, huh? What if your characters grow or change?
    #18, doesn't apply with some of the crap I have read (how did they get published?)
    #21, doesn't apply with some of the crap I have read (how did they get published?)
    #7, doesn't apply with some of the crap I have read (how did they get published?)
    #23, doesn't apply with some of the crap I have read (how did they get published?)

    doesn't apply with some of the crap I have read (how did they get published?)
     
  9. Michael B

    Michael B Doomfarer

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    Very good question although I doubt that we will ever get it answered.

    I try to follow the Edgar Rice Burroughs approach: "I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly." If that is good enough for Edgar, it is good enough for me.
     
  10. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    It is true that you will get farther with an interesting story told in an entertaining fashion than with a boring story told in a prissy-perfect fashion, but that's no reason to scorn good use of language.

    (At one point, I dealt with two English teachers who wanted to write fiction and were sure they could, because they never made grammatical errors. They also never grasped the concept of Story...OTOH, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, some really good storytellers who were clumsy/careless with language could have been even better writers with more attention to the craft.)
     
  11. Michael B

    Michael B Doomfarer

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    The author Kate Wilhelm had a technical term for such people. Wordsmiths.
     
  12. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    I think grammarians would be more accurate. Or better yet, pedants. The odd thing is that although they were nitpickers to the max about grammar and (one of them) vocabulary straight from her dictionary, they were both willing to use the worst, clumsiest, most cliched plot elements ever. But their grammar and spelling would be impeccable, so that was enough, right?

    I met another one on the train last fall (but she wasn't planning to write a book. When she found out I was a writer, she fixed me with a steely glare and said "I hope you don't ever use 'snuck'...if I find 'snuck' or any other nonstandard word in a book, I throw it away--it's trash!" She then led me through a list of things that also made books unreadable for her...including some that bother me (no, we don't use apostrophe's to show plural!) But she wanted to be sure that my books were pure enough for her to spend her time on. I told her she wouldn't like them anyway, as they were genre and full of violence. "Oh, I don't mind sex and violence," she said. "But 'snuck' is simply unacceptable." "What about in dialogue?" I asked. She very grudgingly allowed that an uneducated person might use it, in dialogue.
     
  13. DailyRich

    DailyRich Damn fool idealist

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    It's sort of the difference between someone who can read musical notes well enough to play a guitar and Jimi Hendrix. Both make music, but oh the difference.
     
  14. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    Yeah. Your musical metaphor makes a lot of sense.

    Or someone I knew back in high school, who was note-perfect with fairly difficult piano music...but not musical with it. Our choir director keeps emphasizing that we can't just sing notes, even in vocal exercises--we have to think musically, and perform musically, not just parrot the notes in the score.
     
  15. DailyRich

    DailyRich Damn fool idealist

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    I have a friend who played tuba in the University of Florida band, and whenever someone calls him a musician, he says, "No, I played an instrument."