After reading 100 unsolicited submissions out of any given slush pile–be it science fiction, literary fiction, and I’m assuming, any other kind of fiction–you begin to notice a few “classic mistakes” over and over.
Today, in the hopes of inspiring you stalwart writers to the glory of a well-done and well-placed piece, I am going to list my first favorite “classic mistakes” of the decent slush submission. Often, these submissions are “good”, meaning either really well-written or really interesting, but not both. Nothing is more frustrating than an interesting piece whose plot turns to pot in the last five pages, or a well-written piece with a few minor but glaring errors. Without further adieu, I bring you …
#1 CLASSIC MISTAKE: THESAURUS-CITY
Now, this mistake I understand. You have spent maybe 85 hours on a story, maybe more. You’ve read each line at least fourty times, you’ve marked the passages that seem iffy, you’ve eliminated all the major thematic or structural flaws.
But for some reason, you have used the word “speckle” fourty five times in your piece. The first fourty four sound natural–your story COMMANDS each of the first fourty four uses–but the last one, eh.
Another word could go here.
And so begins the slippery slope of the mistake I like to call, “thesaurus city”. After that first shift+f7 you find yourself focusing in on every word that bothers you.
Why not? you think. Shift+f7. A flash in the pan later, and you’ve replaced a word or phrase with a similar word or phrase helpfully suggested by Mr Word-bot.
Tell me, gentle readers .. Do you see the glaring “thesaurized” phrase in the preceeding paragraph? I do. Technically correct, yet idiomatically inappropriate, it jumps off the page and attacks the part of the temple wherein rests residual stress. With none of the humor of calling a one-hit-wonder “Flash in the pan Gordon”, or none of the thematic interreferencing of saying the gold rush ended like a flash in the pan, or any real reason to have used such an idiom, surrounded as it were with historical context and the weight of reader expectations, I replaced one phrase with another.
To replace “speckle” with “constellate”, or “bright” with “undimmed” (“her undimmed smile lit up her face”), is to leap verily from your written pages and give a bloody nose to the poor editorial assistant assigned your manuscript.
Please, thesaurize with great caution!