Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for June

Reflections from a Peacemaker Judge

Okay, the winners of the WF Peacemaker Awards have been announced. First, my sincere congratulations to the winners, as well as the finalists. It was a privilege to be one of the judges, and to have the opportunity to read some fine work.

I came away with a few thoughts and pointers after my reading. Some of these involve submissions that were finalists for the awards, others in submissions that didn't quite make the cut. I offer these in the spirit of helping make good books even better, and as reminders that all of us, as authors, could always use. I've been a victim of all the examples below, so please don't think I'm picking on anyone. Like all of us, I've made my share of mistakes. With luck this will help some of us prevent a few.

And, of course, in the case of books up for an award, where the scoring is close, sometimes a simple error can knock a submission  out of contention, or drop it from "Best" to "Finalist". So one last check before approving the final manuscript is always advisable. As I stated, even with the examples I'm giving some of the submissions still were fine enough to be finalists for a Peacemaker.

First, typos, typos, typos. Yes, typos are going to happen, and they're pretty much inevitable, no matter how good your proofreaders and/or editors are. However, there are quite often typos that shouldn't be missed, or are so glaring they make the reader cringe. One submission had a livery stable owner feeding the main character's horse "oaks". The first picture that comes to mind is a really huge feed bin. The second is the poor horse, totally confused as to why he is being fed trees. The word was obviously supposed to be "oats".  All right, it's only one letter, and it was good for a laugh. But in the same book the author writes about the U.S. CALVARY! Wrong, wrong, wrong! That's a basic error, and unfortunately an oft-repeated one, that makes the reader grind his or her teeth and want to scream. It's the CAVALRY. Calvary is where Jesus Christ was crucified, Cavalry is mounted soldiers. That's one typo which should never be missed.

Second, and this is one that's tripped me up, and I'm sure most of us, make certain any words, expressions, or things used or described in your book were actually in use during the time when the story is set. For example, I wrote several novels before I found out that " blue jeans" or "jeans" were not  terms in use during the time of the old West to describe denim trousers. There are lots of terms we assume were always around that weren't. But, there are some that even the slightest bit of care would keep from appearing in a Western. One submission had a character "ripped off" and also described a saloon mob as "going ballistic".   There's no way those should ever have shown up in a Western.

Finally, before writing a six or seven hundred page novel, seriously consider whether your story might be better served by being broken up into two or more volumes. Quite often, a long manuscript tries to get too much into one story, or tends to ramble all over the place, getting bogged down in details. And many of today's readers don't have the time or inclination to sit down with a long novel.  Better to have two short, concise stories than one long, rambling one. A shorter story can lead the reader to want to read more of an author's work, while a too long one can turn the reader off from an author permanently.

So, just a few thoughts for your consideration. Again, congratulations to all the finalists, and if your book didn't appear on the list this year I hope you'll try again for 2015. I'm looking forward to once again judging a whole passel of fine Westerns.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Of all the pointers, the one as a reader that always bothers me, 'spelling'.

    Each pointer is something we all do and aspire not to do. Again thank you. Doris

  2. Jim, I know we all have our own pet peeves. I hate 'loose' for 'lose' and of course, the three versions of their they're and there being used wrong, or to, too, and two. There are so many! LOL Thanks for being a Peacemaker judge -- I know we all appreciate the hard work the judges do, and the time they spend on it.

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  4. Cheryl, My biggest pet peeve is "it's" for the possessive, instead of the proper "its". Also the "your/you're" errors.

    When Bill Clinton was elected President, he visited Keene (NH) to thank the city for their support. He visited a manufacturing company where a friend of mine worked. In a classic example of a reporter letting the spellcheck do his work, he wrote that the President "walked down the aisle alongside the large VICES." It should have been VISES, of course. Then again, this was before the Monica Lewinsky scandal, so perhaps the reporter was prescient.

  5. I'm sure every writer in this group has pet peeves and editing suggestions. Something I learned, many folks use the words "that" and "just" far too often in writing. When the book's finished I do a search for those two words and always find a lot, no, I find waaay too many. I'm able to delete the word altogether or substitute it and typically cut out about two-thirds of them.

  6. Thanks for the tips, Jim. They're useful to both writers and judges.

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  8. Great solid tips. Totally agree -- with typos, modern sayings, and the "lost" story in that huge novel. I have one of those, my first finished mss. One of these days I'll find time to pull out the real story, cutting from 1K pages to about 350. Yeah. One day. LOL