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What editors want…


Well, I’ll tell you what I look for from an editorial standpoint.  When I read submissions, whether it be for Allegory (an e-zine focusing on horror, fantasy, and science-fiction) or for Novel Concept Publishing, I want the television and my children and my husband to fade into the distance.  I want to be so engrossed in the story that dinner burns and we have to order out.  I want that first line to catch me in the snare and drag me through the story as if you, the writer, have my hand in a death grip and are racing through the streets at mach speed.  In essence, I want to be blown away.

Give me emotion, and action, and a plot that isn’t predictable.  I want the story to unfold before my eyes. I do not want to be told what’s happening at every turn.    I want to know how the characters react to the situation – not just in their heads, but physically – viscerally.  I want the flow to make sense, stimulus then response - in that order, because if not, it dilutes the impact.  

I want to laugh, or cry, or shiver with anticipation, and I believe this is what every editor wants regardless of the genre.

So how do you as the writer accomplish this?

Well, let’s take a deeper look at one of the items I hit on above.  Stimulus / Response. 

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  Think about when someone jumps out of a hiding place to scare you. (Stimulus)  

What happens first?

You jump, your heart skips a beat, you yelp in surprise - all visceral reactions / initial responses. 
Then your mind registers what’s going on and emotions roll in.  Relief or anger or fear depending on whether the situation is a joke or not. 

What happens next? 

You laugh, or scowl at the joke, or swing at an attacker, or turn tail and run.

All of this happens within seconds, but the order is always the same – it’s a natural progression of emotional response and needs to be in the right order to reach the reader on a subliminal level. 

Here’s a couple examples, one that’s out of sequence and the other that’s in the proper order and you tell me which one has more impact: 

  1. She opened the door and yelped, her heart lurched in her chest.  “What are you doing?”She shrieked at the man with the mask who jumped in front of her and she took a step back.   
  2. She opened the door and a man wearing a mask jumped in front of her.  With her heart lurching in her chest, she yelped and took a step back. “What are you doing?”She shrieked.

For me, the second sentence makes more sense.  It still isn’t as powerful as it could be, but it’s better than the first sentence. 

Now, let’s take that a step further and expand on what I mean by visceral reactions. 
Let me give you an example.  Think about when someone jumps out of a hiding place to scare you.   What happens first?

You jump, your heart skips a beat, stops, or pounds in your chest, your stomach drops like you took a dive off a skyscraper, you might even pee in your pants a little - all visceral reactions – physical reactions to stimulus that can’t be controlled.   

Writing visceral reactions in a fresh way and avoiding clichés is a key component in reaching your readers on a subliminal level. 

Here’s the stimulus/response example I used above:

1. She opened the door and a man wearing a mask jumped in front of her.  With her heart lurching in her chest, she yelped and took a step back. “What are you doing?”She shrieked.

Let’s take this a step further and get some fresh visceral reactions in here to make the read more compelling:

2. She opened the door and a man wearing a mask jumped in front of her.  Her heart slammed against her ribcage in a staccato beat that would challenge even Jimmy Sullivan’s drumming skills.  She took a step back, distancing herself from the intruder when his laugh cut through the air, sending shivers up her spine to the base of her neck, where they bunched and turned her muscles to liquid.  “What are you doing?” She shrieked, her voice breathy and shaking with fear.

I used three visceral reactions in the passage above.  For me, the second sentence has much more impact than the first.  Now, let’s see what you can do with the same scenario… 

Thanks for hanging with me for a bit.

In the meantime, check out Don’t Fear the Reaper, the first book in The Death Chronicles series that I wrote with my twelve-year-old son!

The day Nick Ramsay’s eighth-grade teacher drops dead in his classroom, Nick sees his first reaper.  When another cloaked figure appears at his grandmother’s bedside, Nick issues an order for the vile creature to leave her alone.
This simple act of defiance creates a domino effect that brings Fate and Death to Nick’s door and reveals his true lineage, throwing his world into chaos.  To make matters worse, a group of rogue reapers declares war on humanity and Nick is the only one who can stop them.


Guest post by J.E. Taylor. You can find Don’t Fear the Reaper at the following places:

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for having me on Writers and Authors today!

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  2. Great post - I always love concrete examples, they always are much more helpful/instructive then just explanation alone! Thank you!

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