Don’t Tell Me the Moon is Shining

Show Don't Tell Quote Image

Chekhov said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass” and whatever your genre, the advice show don’t tell holds true.

The more submissions I read, the easier it is to spot issues such as being told and not shown. It lets good stories down and if coupled with too many other editing issues, could mean a potentially great story hits the rejection pile.

When I read submissions for one of my anthologies, I want to find them hot, challenging and exciting but I am also mindful of how much editing a submission my need. If it needs a lot of work I have to REALLY love the story or feel it’s an important contribution to the collection.

Other issues I look out for include:

  • head-hopping
  • switching of tense
  • word repetition
  • sentence length variation
  • inconsistency (whether writing style or details within the story)
  • too much passive voice

Whilst these things are easy to correct, I have to decide whether to invest my time or not.

Other minor niggles may sway my opinion too – such as what the covering email for a submission is like as it tells me about the author and helps me decide whether I can work with them or not. If a story is a ‘maybe’ and the submission email is dire, I’m more likely to reject the writing.

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Another bugbear is a lack of spell-checking: if I open a Word document and there are too many squiggly underlines after I’ve set the proofing language, I’m already wondering what else I’m going to find… and go looking for it!

There are lots of free tools available for writers and I’ve mentioned them in previous posts and they’re great for spelling and grammar and finding instances of passive voice. However, there’s no replacement for first reading your work out loud to yourself and then having a trusted beta-reader for feedback, before you send off your submission.

It is hard receiving feedback (unless it’s a glowing, five-star review of course!) but if it’s constructive and improve your writing, it will increase your chance of having your work accepted.

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