Dancing Fawn 

Author Ginger Simpson shares an opinion piece about reviewing books.

Sometimes I wonder if as an author
I should review the work of others. Before I was published, I read for the sheer
enjoyment, but now, after going through so many editing sessions and being whipped
into an actual author, I cannot read without my internal editor whispering in my
ear. I read with an eye for pitfalls I’ve been advised to avoid rather than losing
myself in the story as I once was able to do. Heck, before my debut novel, I hadn’t
even heard half the terms I hear now–headhopping, passive voice, transitions, etc..
Now the simplest mistakes keep me from really connecting with the characters. It
could be that the books I read all those years had been finely edited so assuming
a place in the heroine’s shoes came naturally.
Don’t get me wrong. I think editors
are an essential part of the process, and now when I read, I can definitely tell
the novices from the professionals. Is it fair to report to readers that I’ve found
areas in a story that should have been caught by an editor and the reader advised
to fix? I’m not sure. Does it make me come across as a “know it all?”
Trust me, I don’t. I learn a new rule every day, and the scary thing is that I’m
never sure that the rule is hard and fast.
It’s a fact that the majority of editors
working in small press are authors as well, and possibly some that haven’t been
writing very long themselves. Could it be they are just passing along what they’ve
learned? I’ve found that some of what I’ve been told isn’t exactly true, but I think
some of the examples I can share with you today make sense. For example: Overusing
He/She if you’ve made it clear whose POV your in at the moment. Read these two paragraphs
and see which sounds more polished.
John smelled Joan’s perfume as she
twirled by him on the dance floor. He envied the man who held her in his arms. He
believed she was the most beautiful woman in the room, and he vowed to ask her to
dance the next time the orchestra played a slow song. He intended to be the one
to take her home tonight.
John inhaled the sweet smell of Joan’s
perfume as she twirled by him on the dance floor. The man who held her in his arms
was one lucky guy. Before the evening ended, John intended to share a slow dance
with her, and if his prayers were answered, he’d be the one to take her home.
See, you don’t need he envied, he
believed, he intended. You’ve let the reader know by John enjoying the aroma of
Joan’s perfume that we’re in his POV, so anything you type should be interpreted
as his perspective.
Another pet peeve are needless tags.
It’s always best to use an action tag in place of he said, she said, but if you
end the dialogue with a question mark, do you really need to say, she asked? I think
the punctuation is a big hint. *smile* When only two people are in the room, using
the character’s names over and over becomes redundant. The reader is usually smart
enough to determine who is talking, and if you need to clarify, you can say something
like: “Are you crazy?” John’s eyes widened beneath a furrowed brow.
Editors become very important in keeping
the redundancy out of the story line. Authors don’t usually write an entire book
in one setting, so it’s very hard to remember everything you’ve already written.
For example: If you’ve pointed out to the reader that the heroine broke her leg
by falling off a horse, it isn’t necessary to repeat that information again in dialogue
with someone and then add it in a descriptive paragraph pages later. Readers, me
included, roll their eyes and say, “enough already…I know, I know.”
Since I don’t plot my stories and
find my memory isn’t what it used to be, I’ve taken to making notes about the physical
attributes of my characters. It’s quite easy to describe sky blue eyes in one chapter
and chocolate brown in another further down the line. Unless you’re writing from
the perspective of an Australian Shepherd, both eyes should be the same color and
remain that way throughout the story.
As an historical author, I learned
long ago, and I’m still learning, that you really need to be on guard to assure
your language is appropriate for the period about which you write. I’ve read some
love scenes lately that left me shaking my head because of the present day terminology
used for body parts. It’s really not believable that an Indian brave would bust
out with the word “clitoris.”
I’ve found the online Etymology dictionary
most helpful in determining the origin of most words, but judgement helps too. Think
about your story’s time period and how people spoke. While you might find word origins
described from the 1500s, that doesn’t mean they were used all over the globe. Example:
Ma/Maw/Momma is how a child addressed their female parent rather than just Mom in
1840. Although “kid” has been a word for a long time, the manner in which
it was used in the 1800s most often referred to a baby goat. Children were not kids,
but you could kid with them (tease). Historical credibility is all a matter of knowing
your time period and doing your research. Trust me, if you make a mistake, someone
will notice and let you know.

My most recent editor pointed out
her amazement that my heroine still had a bottom lip as she constantly chewed on
it. *lol* It’s so easy to utilize the same action without realizing you’ve overdone
it. Here again, that’s because we don’t write books in one sitting nor do we usually
go back and re-read the previous chapters. Thank God for those who devote their
time and talents to making us stop and think about our writing habits. What would
we do without our editors…internal and external?

Reviewing Books, Yay or Nay? by Ginger Simpson was first blogged here and is used with permission.

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About the Author

Ginger Simpson — Writing with a dream for bigger and better