Purple prose. Telling. Large sections of backstory.
More and more often I find these literary no-no’s popping up in published works. In fact, it happens so frequently that I’ve started to question myself—are these now in vogue? Are we reverting back to these writing styles? Is this what I should be teaching my clients and students? As an editor and teacher, I need to make sure I’m giving correct information!
After some inquiries and research, I’ve discovered this disturbing trend: these are still considered writing issues to be corrected, but editors and authors are now embracing bad writing as “author’s voice.” Why? Because well-established writers do it. Because every now and then someone who writes that way gets nominated for an award. Because (in my opinion) it’s easier. Because it’s the “authors voice.”
I’ll see your argument and raise you one truth: it’s not voice, it’s bad writing.
When it comes to authors who self-publish, I realize there’s nothing freelance editors can do to convince an author to take our suggestions; however, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be making those suggestions. It seems that there are editors out there who no longer suggest correcting these types of issues. Instead, they shrug it off as author voice, then carry on.
Imagine if we embraced this standard in other areas of our lives.
Would you hire a house painter who leaves streaks and paints things he shouldn’t just because someone else did it once and no one complained? Would you hire an accountant who doesn’t double check his work because he hasn’t had a problem yet so he probably won’t have one with your taxes? How about a mechanic who doesn’t tighten every bolt because there’s never been an issue in the past? Or would you rather work with the person who paints completely and cleanly, who checks his math, and makes sure every belt, bolt, and screw is secure?
As editors, our standards shouldn’t be whether or not someone else got away with something but whether or not something’s right. Can we force our authors to accept and incorporate these changes? Of course not. Should we point out the issues anyway? Absolutely! Is there going to be push back from the authors? Count on it.
I get it. No one wants to be told that their work is bad, and it’s not always easy to share that truth with others (especially when it’s really bad), but that’s what editors are paid to do. It certainly is easier when you’re a copyeditor or proofreader and you can point to style guides to show why something is grammatically incorrect (thank you Chicago Manual of Style). In my opinion, it’s significantly more difficult to tell someone their word selection and phrasing is confusing and lackluster, but that’s why authors hire us. Sure, there are some people out there who just want to get a book published, but other writers want to produce good books, and their editors are failing them.
This is my plea to editors everywhere:
Speaking as an editor, please stop sugar coating bad writing. Call it what it is. If the author wants to keep it, fine, but make an effort to stop the madness.
Speaking as a reader, please stop sugar coating bad writing. It produces mediocre, barely engaging books that could have been great if the authors had tried to work through their issues to strengthen their craft instead of believing good enough was good enough.
Do you need to brush up on the industry standards for fiction? Check out Substantive Editing for Fiction—this four-part class will walk you through the foundational elements you need to know to provide a comprehensive substantive edit. The first class—SEF 101—start today!
My debut novel—Summer Plans and Other Disasters—is now available on Amazon! Sign up for my monthly newsletter and you’ll receive the unpublished prologue: find out what inspired Calista Stephens to make those summer plans. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for writing tips, updates on Guiding Light, and more!