Greetings friends! I haven't posted in quite some time, but the bug has bitten me again and I've started doing some noodling.
I'll gladly accept all comments and criticisms, though I'm primarily interested in learning if it engages the reader, or if there's a compelling reason to read on.
The sharp ring of the pickaxe was almost comforting for Mikhail. Almost. He could remember no other sound he had heard more constantly in this twenty three years. As a child it had lulled him to sleep while his father and Uncle Vanya drank their tea and smoked their cigarettes in the railroad car that doubled as their home. He would listen to the muted clank! while drifting off to sleep in his bunk, already associating the sound with the smell of the coal dust that clung to his fatherís ragged jacket. As a young teen he had heard it while running the wheelbarrows, back and forth, between the UnderCityís monstrous furnace and the enormous conveyors that brought the fresh lumps of coal within walking distance. From there the sound of the pickaxes had been more of a muted ting! Than the regular clank! He had become
Let's just say; conflict is king for any opening and mystery is queen. This has neither.
Even if it's just a man against the mountain scenario.
Your lead-in gives no clue as to what kind of story this is. First feel is a biographical/dramatic/historical fiction, but not sure.
It definitely needs to be reshaped, and all the errors removed. But even if this is a historical fiction about life in the coal mining industry, it lacks any reason for me to start to care about it. This reads more like your backstory notes for Mikhail.
There's a concept here to be worked on, but you will probably have to approach it from a different angle to peek interest.
I do salute you. Trying to make coal mining interesting is going to be a real challenge. It's usually the thing that gets you to the thing --
Coal miner's daughter becomes a country singer. Coal miner's son becomes a rocket scientist. Coal miners are trapped and going to die. Murder in a coal mine. Disease from coal mining. The life of toil, life's been wasted, little pay, long hours, no benefits, scenario. etc. You got some serious work ahead of you. But I say - rise to the challenge.
I like the first two sentences. The hook is "Almost." It's a moderate hook, but one that provides a little mystery. The following sentences, however, didn't grab me, as it felt like an infodump. Making it more sensate, where he directly smells the gritty coal dust, and sees it puffing from the trousers of his father, may make this a bit closer and tighter in POV, and therefore keep the interest. The phrase that did this sort of thing was "He would listen to the muted clank! while drifting off to sleep in his bunk,". Here the protagonist acted (listened), and there was a solid connection between the sound and his state of mind.
The second paragraph is a flashback. Actually, the first had some too. Flashbacks so early in a piece are fraught with danger. We don't yet know enough about the character to care to dive into a flashback. All I care about is why the sound is not fully comforting, and by the end of the first paragraph I should be fully aware as to why it should be comforting. So the second paragraph needs to tease out a reason or a hint on why it is not, before going into the backstory inherent in a flashback. I hope it leads to an inciting incident. However, if the inciting incident is in the past, where the flashback is, then I wonder if you have started the story at the wrong place and time.
I still like elements of the opening, it promises a bit of imagination, a story in a setting that I am unfamiliar with. It has enough good and reasonable sentences to make me believe that a couple of revisions will get this opening really going.
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Event: Recollection Setting: Inside the individual's thoughts Character: Son of a coal miner Complication (want-problem motivation): ? Conflict (stakes at risk): ? Tone: Nostalgic reverie
Not much to engage with.
Several grammar glitches: "this twenty[-]three years" takes the hyphen and "this" reads as his; "As a child[,] it" missing comma; "As a young teen[,]" missing comma; "wheelbarrows,[-,] back and forth,[-,]" extra commas; "distance. From there[,] missing comma; "a muted ting! [t]han the regular clank! [h]e" capital case errors. Optional, when onomatopoeia used with an exclamation mark, italics case wanted: "the muted clank!," "muted ting! than the regular clank!
I would not read further as an engaged reader due to the start lacks strong and clear now-moment presence, motivations, stakes, and dramatic incitement and movement.
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quote:The sharp ring of the pickaxe was almost comforting for Mikhail.
Hereís where the problems begin. In your mind you know what itís ringing on. You know whoís swinging it and why. You know the era, who we are as a person, and whatís going on. The reader has only a fact, lacking context, because you, someone not in the story or on the scene, are explaining the story when you should be placing the reader into the protagonistís moment of nowóas the protagonist views it.
And as a personal observation, Iíve swung many pickaxes over the years, and have never heard one ring. Mostly, they thud. Perhaps if we know what it was striking...
Were you telling this story to an audience, and placing the proper tone and delivery into the word it might work. But here, you just told the reader that you lied in the previous line, and that it wasnít comforting. Again, youíre trying to present your performance, but the reader can see neither your expression, body-language, nor gesture, because our medium reproduces neither sound nor vision. But in verbal storytelling, how you tell a story is as important as what you say, because thatís how we provide emotion.
Itís not a matter of good/bad writing, or talent. Itís that youíre trying to make use of storytelling skills inappropriate to the medium. Because our medium gives the reader neither our performance nor our intent, that reader has nothing but what the words suggest to them, based on their, not your background. So obviously, we need a skill set that works within the constraints of our mediumóthe craft of the fiction writer. And thatís a learned skill that you can pick up as easily (or with as much difficulty, I suppose) as you learned the nonfiction skills weíre given in our school days. Lots of articles online, some even mine. The local library system has a fiction writing section that contains the suggestions of publishing pros, noted teachers, and successful writers. So some time spent digging into that would be well worth the investment in time.
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Jay, I thought you were critiquing my work for a moment!
quote: You know the era, who we are as a person, and whatís going on. The reader has only a fact, lacking context,
It's the same trap I often fall into when trying to express a scene.
INCEPTION, I like your snippet, but I'm easier to please than many. It does read a bit like a report or even a little memoir-like, so reader engagement might diminish.
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Agents, editors, and screeners who comment about reasons for declines do note that obvious grammar errors are an easy reason, includes several syntax glitches. For example, excess or unnecessary passive voice, dangled participles, run-ons.
Screener grammar skill level also influences degree of scrutiny. Screeners are by usual practice interns -- unpaid and inexperienced. How advanced their skills are influences by-default declines, and entails form letter rejections. One screener noted that ninety-nine out of hundred submissions were easy declines due to more than one obvious grammar error per page read, many say several per page warrant form-letter declines.
The principle at work is professionalism. If basic grammar skills are severely wanting, amateurish, what does that indicate about a submission's overall prose craft, expression, and appeal potentials? Likelihood of below expectations overall.
Exceptions notwithstood. During one of my several unpaid and paid editor internships, one work came in that entailed a notable topic of strong public interest. The task was beyond me at the time. My report to the senior editor noted the work was publication worthy yet wanted more so a ghost writer than an editor and would consume more resources -- time especially -- than might be wanted. The project was put on hold for a while. Eventually, the work was ghost written by an intern group rotation, took six years, yet retains the idiolect voice of the original writer, and was published to low-level acclaim and copy sale count.
All the works that crossed my desks at the several internships went through extensive editorial processes. One takeaway is none of the works were ready for publication until they'd been through the editorial process. Many of the works were composed by PhDs, and who had tender egos. Massaging their egos was a number one necessity to learn for the work.
Even for the bulk of the work I do now, my regular clients are difficult, despite my diplomacy efforts. They are top-tier professional writers in their field, business writing. I've lost many more prospective clients than I keep. Strong differences of opinion are the usual cause.
Why do I need a comma here and here, a dash there and there, or excised, is that phrase really transposed, does that apostrophe belong or not, that question mark, those quote marks, these italics, why a period instead of a comma and vice versa or question mark, this homonym word instead of that one? Is all of this really necessary? And those are just the obvious suggestions.
The bread-and-butter work I do entails accurate recordation of verbatim speech, transcription work. No changes allowed to what was actually said and reduced to typewriting, little, if any, interpretation of intent, how and what was actually said. Speech is messy, and individuals' individual idiolect grammars all their own messes. Recursive speech is common, attempts at oratory brilliance that, in the end, is mere spectacle and confused expression for that intended confused effect: baffle them with fake brilliance.
Oh my, do I ever thrill to adept speakers' apt grammar skills. I get paid per page regardless. Fewer suggestions, less time on task, more pay per hour worked. I've declined one business writer so far. Several hundred prose writers I've suggested their projects were not yet ready for an editor and the expense and effort.
Yet I am not allowed the more necessary grammar suggestions for that regular business writer work. Prose is another matter, that entails seventy further matters of subtler grammar categories. I cannot suggest a word is inapt in my regular work, for example, an mm, modifier mistake. If it was said, it was said, and must be stet (let it stand).
Prose's large structure grammar is another matter altogether: sentence, paragraph, section, chapter, overall narrative scale syntax, needs a dramatic incitement, arc, flow, pace, and end without egregious disruption, for example.
All my clients are resentful. Like honey truck work, the work is often thankless and demoralizing. The rare Thank you, you saved me from embarrassment, or other, makes some of the heartache tolerable. I do my crying at the bank, though, due to my previous career paid more, was more thankful, too, and I can no longer pursue that work due to health declines.
Thus far, the bulk of my prose clients have not succeeded to publication; several have, yes. The latter understood the process and the necessity, mostly. The former were the most resentful during and immediately after editorial process completion, those few who stuck through it to the end. Most won't stick through and then don't want to pay the freight. Much later, years even, several of them offered belated apologies for their resentful insult replies and thanks for the experience, that the process prepared them for the real grind that came before they succeeded.
This is my work for a bread-and-butter living, not my chosen career; though, it, too, prepares me for that chosen path: prose composition and publication success. Well, twenty hours of work on deadlines, grim, tedious, and thankless work, though utterly interesting topics, came in today, so I'm back to work after this.
quote:Would grammar errors alone be cause for rejection of a piece?
Yes, for several reasons:
First, it's part of writing. If you haven't learned grammar, isn't it reasonable to assume that you're missing craft, too? In school if you have a perfect paper you get an A. In fiction if you have a perfect paper you het a contract.
Of most importance, an editor/agent will usually make a decision as to looking at the whole manuscript in three pages or less. Let's assume there are ten things that require an editor's attention so far as grammar/punctuation issues, and that the final product is 80,000 words, or 320 standard manuscript pages. There are 106 groups of three pages, times ten, which means an editor will have to correct 1060 grammar/punctuation errors. And that's on top of editing the prose. Given two manuscripts that the editor loved equally, the one that costs less to bring to market wins.
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My bread-and-butter work largely entails proofreading for nondiscretionary errors. Though suggested correction marks, the writer client is ultimately responsible for accepting or not the suggestions, as any writer is; however, publications' practice is to adjust for those and a writer is then responsible for implicit approval of galleys without making any substantive adjustments.
Grammar glitches slow reading pace down by half per glitch, that is, doubles reading time. Proofreading quadruples reading time, because errors must be marked and legible for writers. Light copyediting takes eight times longer; medium copyediting, twelve times longer, heavy copyediting, sixteen times longer -- a binary number exponential progression.
Consider if a motif, say, a blunderbuss is used in tenth century Europe, time must be taken to verify that motif's authenticity, it is not authentic to the period -- perhaps irrelevant if an alternative history motif, yet other facets then might come into consideration; like, if blunderbuss technology, what about gunpowder, metallurgy, cultural appreciation of hellfire and brimstone technology; overall, do the milieu's rules remain consistent and timely and relevant. Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court manages consistency and alternate history mischiefs of sixth century Britain.
Authentication of such motifs and milieu consistency entails light copyediting's several facets and research time costs, as well as part of medium and heavy copyediting, not part of proofreading. For fact-based prose, this is fact checking. Takes time in any case; time is money -- costs. Proofreaders worth the name earn an average $15.00 USD per hour; copyeditors, low end, $45.00 per hour; high end, $250.00 per hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A concern is even the heaviest copyedit will not guarantee publication success. Why risk hefty editing expenses then? Worth the risks if a work is someway potently notable and of strong public interest. Extraordinary and apt middle grade and older youth appeal drove J.K. Rowling's success.
As asserted about the Potter saga by Bloomsbury publication chairperson's eight-year-old daughter Alice Newton, paraphrased, Dad, there's nothing like it for kids and I love it; give me more. Likewise, potent early adult appeals drove Stephenie Meyer's success. Never mind their, at times, weak post-modernist prose craft grasps, and grammars that would not pass for older, cultured adult prose. At least their grammars passed their target audience musters, though Meyer's was subjected to several months of editorial adjustment per installment anyway; Rowling's, too.
So how do all those many writers out there "get away" with all the so-labeled "rule breaking"? In each instance, the principles contravened add appeal more so than reading distraction or disruption. Compromises that transcend mistake rather than fail by mistake.
For example, Cormac McCarthy refuses all direct speech quote marks, and most apostrophes, only allows apostrophes necessary to infer meaning. Like does cannot contraction can't without the apostrophe work? Rarely. Another word he uses conflicts, cant, which relates to angularity. Instead, he spells out the word sans contraction or avoids contraction words altogether.
How about don't, okay, no other word dont, though McCarthy avoids contractions as much as practical, uses cowboy idiolect slur word done instead, for persona direct speech, example, I done reckon that could of worked worse than it did. Oh the many "rules" McCarthy contravenes, much polysyndeton, for one (multiple conjunctions that entail run-on sentences, though actually are loose sentences of stream-of-consciousness methods' thought and speech).
Another area where "rule" contravention is rife across literary niches: nonstandard dialects which are idiomatic idiolects: regionalisms and alternative culture enclave expressions (slang and "brogues"). Done instead of don't, for example. Gone for going, and numerous slurred expressions part of everyday speech: wanna be, wanna generally, gotcha, must of (must have), science fiction's self-censor frack for the four-letter word that must not be gratuitously used, usually; ad nauseam. Again, consistency matters, plus, reader ease of reading and comprehension foremost. Weak grammar impedes reading ease and comprehension and costs writer, screener, editor, publisher, and reader "bigly."
One other thing about a manuscript with grammar problems: it is painful to read.
From my own experience, I believe that one of the reasons editors prefer partials (first 20 pages or first 3 chapters, usually, with a synopsis of the rest) as submissions, is that they don't have to slog through a whole manuscript of bad grammar.
If grammar problems are easy to fix, the writer should fix them. As extrinsic has pointed out, a true professional does not expect the editor to fix such things.
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Having just slogged through several books and articles on the fine points of past vs present tense, deep pov, and the pluses and minuses of narrator overlapping reader cohesion/story immersion. Spurred on by my constant curiosity to better my craft and understand writing techniques from more than just my personal view.
I stand by my first conclusion, that writing is a never-ending cycle of learning.
An example of crazy - I just found an author of 16th-17th-century history's that I'm dying to read but there is zero in English, period. SO either I'm going to throw myself off the deep end and learn how to read another language or wait for someone else to beat me to these stories. I can't afford a translator, and algorithms are too unreliable, So...
Just thought this story might help you feel better about just learning grammar.
"16th-17th-century history's" ?? (editor margin mark for illegible or meaning unclear). A hyphen used in place of a word that means through, to, or similar wants an en dash instead (journalism style) or, for prose style, the word spelled out. Maybe and instead of to, etc.
Nor do century number adjectives and a century noun construction that modifies a main noun warrant a hyphen join. Plus, prose's principles want the ordinal numerals spelled out, lower case, (common nouns, counting numbers zero through one hundred and any counting, whole digit number fewer than three syllables, millionth, though street names and similar proper nouns, numerals, 17th Avenue). Clarity also warrants an additional number word to emphasize "history's" is plural.
All the above prose principles are based more so on reader reading and comprehension ease than writer convenience, plus, signal spacious, leisure use of page real estate -- not the cramped compaction of journalism's space-constraint habit.
//several sixteenth and seventeenth century histories//
I wasn't going to mention the whole words or numbers thing 'cos walexander wasn't writing prose, he was just making a comment. Much like me and Aristotle (Aristotle and I, if you want to be pedantic), I am sorely tempted to learn ancient Greek and translate Poetics and his Rhetoric for myself. Just so I know they got all the nuances right.
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It's a funny thing about grammar: I recently was on Amazon debating whether I was going to preorder a copy of a fantasy book from a popular writing tip volgist/author on YouTube, but her synopsis on Amazon had basis grammar errors. I found this ironic and passed. Amazing how something so simple can affect your yes or no, even if it might be a wonderful story.
From malicious spam to hoaxes and scams to Twitter faddle and Fakebook evils, yada, grammar glitches can signal false content and wicked designs of nonnative English speakers. Native English speakers' faulty grammar idiolects are distinguishable signals of malicious intents all their own, too. In this Digital Age of anything goes electronic malignancy, grammar knowledge can prevent falls for witless and hazardous nonsense. On the other hand, adept grammar can signal mental competency and forge persuasive arguments.
A takeaway message from Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions' true design -- Think for yourself, consciously, critically, responsibly, or others will, to their detriments and yours. Self-preservation and self-reliance through grammar aptitude, for starters: Are any clearer and natural, necessary rationales for grammar proficiency wanted?