One of my favorite parts of being the editorial director at Castle Gate Press is the sense of hope that fills me every time I open an e-mail with a submission. Each one brings the possibility of a great story, memorable characters, and plot twists I won’t see coming. I almost hold my breath as I open each message and begin reading the query letter. When a pitch captures my imagination, my heart beats faster. This might be our next book! I click open the document containing the first fifty pages and start reading…
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the time what I find is a submission that’s just not ready yet. Sometimes it’s almost ready, but as the old saying goes: Almost only counts in Horseshoes and hand grenades (and thermonuclear war). Most of the time, the readiness of a manuscript is obvious right away, often in the first paragraph.
Here are the main culprits that make me say that a manuscript isn’t ready yet (in no particular order) :
1) Telling instead of showing
2) Lack of character motivation
3) Flat, undeveloped characters
5) I can’t “see” the scene
7) Simplistic structure
8) Unrealistic or simplistic characters or plot
A little repetitious, right? But my point is that telling instead of showing is by far the greatest reason for rejecting a manuscript than any other reason. The rest of the items on the list above essentially revolve around depth—depth of the characters, the plot, the setting, the writing style, and the grammar. As a bonus for you when you learn about how to turn telling into showing, many of these other issues will improve as well.
So the big question is: How do you know if you’re telling? Below are a couple of descriptions I like to use to explain the difference:
1) Telling feels like you’re outside of the scene watching what’s going on (like watching a play). Showing feels like you’re in the middle of the scene, hearing, seeing, sensing everything the point-of-view character does—almost like riding in that character’s head.
2) Telling is like having someone explain to you what happened in a movie. Showing is going to the movie to see it yourself.