I read a lot, both for business and pleasure, and I enjoy it – or at least most of it. For forty-plus years I was a commercial real estate appraiser, analyzing data and concluding to a value for an apartment building, shopping center, office complex, or whatever. To relate our reasoning to the client, appraisers write narrative reports ranging from 75 to 200 pages. Few appraisers are English majors (most tend to be business majors) and most have marginal writing skills. I have read some reports that would make a third-grader proud.
Since we are always working on deadline it is difficult to give reports the editing they need – plus fees are not high enough to support a professional editor. I tend to cut reporters in the daily paper some slack since their stories were, in all probability, finished shortly before deadline, allowing the occasional typo or poorly constructed sentence to slip through.
Magazines and books, on the other hand, should be as perfect as possible.
I like to read what I call throw-away novels as I’m drifting off to sleep since my brain cells tend to be flowing at a glacier pace at that time of night and my retention rate is near zero. The other day I picked up a mystery novel by a best-selling author unknown to me. Apparently this author has half-a-dozen books featuring the same character, who is truly a character. I like the protagonist and the situations he gets himself into and his reactions to the conflict. But I wish he had a better editor.
On the second page of this book, I ran across this paragraph (paraphrased so lawyers don’t get involved):
He was located to the south. He had a Honda Goldwing parked at the curb. He had the right saddle bag open. There were bags arranged inside. He had a bag in my hands. He was wearing shorts and a polo shirt, because it was a warm June morning in Phoenix. He had a gun, because he often did. It was wedged under his belt at the back, under the loose shirt. It was hard and heavy and he was aware of it all the time.
At this point, he wasn’t writing to establish tension with short, choppy sentences since there are several pages of more scene setting before the action starts. This is the first example I found but there are several more similar paragraphs throughout the first thirty pages. One paragraph had eleven sentences, with nine beginning with the. Two paragraphs of short sentences had every sentence beginning with they.
Commas would be more than welcome in these paragraphs. Even a mediocre editor would have improved this manuscript. I’ll finish the book to see what happens to the protagonist, but I won’t buy any more from this author.
Here’s a story I wrote over the weekend.
Sons of the Sons
“Man, that was cool. I was just diddie boppin’ down the street when I saw Amanda Billings.” Blake dropped his fiddle case next to the table where his best friend Bill was sitting. He plopped into a chair and poured a cup of coffee from the carafe on the table.
“What’s she doin’ in Nashville?”
“Buck Little’s company-remember he knocked her up their senior year and they got married-is having a manager’s meeting here. Buck’s in a seminar and she and their three kids are sightseeing.”
“How’s she look?”
“Still pretty. Cut her long hair into some kinda’ bob and hasn’t lost all the weight from having three kids. But she still looks really good after twelve years. She musta’ thought I was some kinda’ freak since I was wearing my cowboy outfit.”
Their band, Sons of the Sons, wore black denim pants, red western shirts, bolo ties, black vests, and black Stetsons; the only personal adornment was the style and color of their cowboy boots.
* * *
Fifteen minutes earlier Blake was on the sidewalk approaching the Chuckwagon Dinner Club when he noticed his childhood next-door neighbor approaching. As they came closer, he doffed his hat. “Evenin’ Miss Billings.”
Amanda stopped short and the three kids walking next to her continued on, not realizing their mother was no longer in their midst. “Blake? Is that you?”
“Sure ’nuff, it is. How ya’ doing? Haven’t seen you since your graduation.”
“I’m doing very well. Buck is the assistant manager of the grocery store and they’re having a regional meeting here. Since Mister Collins is recovering from a broken leg, they asked Buck to come.”
“Wow, old Collins is still there, huh? I see Buck’s moving up the ladder. Good on him. I was really sorry to hear he blew out his knee and lost his chance for a scholarship. Did he ever get to college?”
Amanda was watching the kids who had stopped at a souvenir shop and were busy peering through windows. “He’s been taking business classes at the community college and will graduate next year. He’ll be the store manager when Mister Collins retires in a few years. I see you’re still playing the violin.”
“Aw, Amanda, you know I play the fiddle and not the violin.”
“They’re the same instrument.”
“True. The difference is in how they’re played. Violinists play European music and fiddle players play American music.”
“Did you graduate from that fancy music school you went to?”
“What are you doing now?”
“Me and Bill and Will put the band back together and added a few more pieces including a keyboard and sax and we’re playin’ music full time. Sons of the Sons is a really good group. Bill’s degree is in composing and we rewrite some of the Sons of the Pioneers songs, changing tempos or putting in breaks and going from the original slow to up-tempo. He brings in other instruments, too. We also change the harmonies a little with eight strong voices. The two of us have written some new songs in the old style. We’ve kinda’ modernized the music.”
“So, you’re still playing for tips.”
“Kinda, but we get a piece of the gate.”
“I always knew you’d never amount to anything.”
“We’re doing pretty well. I have a cabin out in the woods and my folks have one nearby. Hey, I know the manager and I can score you some tickets if you’re interested.”
“Sorry, but we’re booked the next three nights. Let’s go kids. Bye, Blake, it was good to see you again.”
“You too, Amanda.”
* * *
“So she essentially called you a loser, huh?”
“You really had a crush on her in high school.”
“Yeah, we grew up together and played almost every day. Then when she got to Franklin High a year after us she got in with the cool crowd and cheerleaders. Me ‘n you were nerds.”
“I don’t suppose you told her our first album is selling like crazy?”
“Or that the little cabin in the woods is five-thousand square feet sittin’ on top of 400 acres of prime pastureland. Or that you’re raisin’ championship horses?”
“Or that we sold our little software company for seventy-five million?”
“Why? You could have really rubbed her nose in it.”
“True. But I didn’t want to destroy her illusion that I’m a loser. Think we’re ready to try that new song tonight?”