As a retired English teacher on all levels of education, I was in a good position to discern where the true problem lay. I had quite a few students from grade six to college seniors who possessed tremendous imaginations, but falsely believed that was enough to carry them to A+ Territory. When I’d grade them with a C or a C+, they’d become downright indignant. How could I possibly do that? Why didn’t I see how clever their stories were?
Why didn’t I overlook mistakes in grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
What drives English teachers, editors, and publishers up the proverbial wall is the writer’s foolish assumption that the mechanics of writing are unimportant. “Does spelling count?” should never have been asked of me, but it was the second most popular question students wanted to know when I assigned a story for homework. The first was, “Do we have to?” Arguing in favor of a computer’s spell checker is like holding up a calculator while insisting knowledge of simple math is now passÈ.
Picture this. A writer submits a manuscript to a publisher, who delivers it to his or her editor. The editor begins reading it, encounters myriad errors of grammar and punctuation, which annoyingly repeat themselves on nearly every line. Now, tell me, who is going to tread through these verbal minefields and not become exasperated, sometimes so exasperated the editor stops reading, rubs eyes, shakes head, and shuts down manuscript without making it past the first page or two of a novel or the first paragraph of a story or the second line of a poem.
What does this tell us? The fault most certainly does not rest with the editor or the publisher. A manuscript submitted without editing and proofreading sends mixed signals. On the one hand, it says, “I want so much for you to publish my story”; and on the other hand…the one waving like a clown…”I know it’s packed with all kinds of errors, but try looking beyond them and check out how imaginative my story is!”
There is more to a story than its imaginative plot. Other story criteria must be satisfied, including foreshadowing: dropping subtle hints early on in the story, so the reader accepts the narrative’s resolution. The story’s problem must be revealed as early as possible and then developed in such a compelling way that no readers jump off the train before it stops at the final station. Add to all these necessary ingredients the avoidance of poor language usage, improper punctuation, and the use of unnecessary words.
If we want our work published, we need to do all we can on our end to facilitate acceptance. We cannot hand a neighbor, for example, a basket of rotting plums and expect that neighbor to graciously accept it. In all things, we need to put our best foot forward. We need to present to others a good impression of ourselves and the stories and poems we write and hope to see published.
As a teacher and an editor myself, I always suggest to writers the importance of owning a shelf of books that will assist them in turning out acceptable final drafts: a good dictionary, a thesaurus to use sparingly, an English handbook, and several how-to writing craft books. I would suggest even more books, but the Internet provides writers with quick access to researching required information. I also suggest to writers, regardless of how busy they are writing or holding jobs, to read voraciously. The more writers read, the more, mostly on a subconscious level, they learn how to write. Lastly, I would tell my students and those submitting work to me, be observant of what’s out there. There are millions of stories and poems all around us, just waiting to be captured and housed onto paper or monitor.
Editors and publishers are not the enemy. They’re the good guys who are looking to fill the pages of their publication with work that will delight their readers. Make it easier for them by submitting near-perfect work. If your submission touches a nerve, makes them laugh or cry and think, they will reward your conscientiousness, your commitment to turn in work they can read through without frustration.
And when it comes to flash fiction, everything I’ve written here is doubly applicable because of the brevity of the story. The flash must be an ice ball, packed with all that a short story demands. A flash that is written in a careless, unedited fashion will show itself to be an eyesore that much quicker! It’s a snowball, and believe me, those who pitch them at editors and publishers are snowing no one but themselves.
His collection of 164 short-fiction stories, Flashing My Shorts, is available from Amazon.com as
Kindle E-book: http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004FN1V8S/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920229&sr=1-1&keywords=flashing+my+shorts
His follow-up flash collection, 200 Shorts, was just released and available at http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920397&sr=1-2&keywords=200+Shorts
A new poetry chapbook What I Learned from the Spaniard and other poems was published by Middle Island Press: http://www.amazon.com/What-Learned-Spaniard-Other-Poems/dp/B004W5859C/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920483&sr=1-1&keywords=What+I+Learned+from+the+Spaniard
He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.