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Rejection Letters and Constructive Feedback

I received a rejection letter this morning. It happens. Sometimes the stories that we write just don’t fit the call. It happened to me twice last week, though admittedly one publisher wanted to hold on to my story for another anthology so that’s what I like to call the rejection-acceptance letter. 😉

I’m an author. Rejection letters are part and parcel of the business.

Today’s rejection letter has puzzled me however. Contained within are the standard “I liked your story but it didn’t make the cut…” platitudes we always hear. But there’s also some constructive feedback I’m finding hard to digest.

So I’ve come to you – my readers and friends – to ask your opinion.

The editor made the comment that I am “keen on overly describing things” and offered an example:

The anger was gone from his posture, but the words were sharpened like knives; each one of them penetrated her heart, causing it to burst with pain.

The editor also gave me their suggestion for how they would have restructured/written the line:

His anger had faded, but every word still felt like a stab.

To put it into context, because it is hard to judge based on a single sentence, here’s the meat of the story around it:

“Babe! You’re not listening again.” Melinda gently spoke into the face of her irate boyfriend. “I need to do this – it’s the only way.”

“There has to be another way, Mel. What you’re planning is illegal and could well get you killed! My life is not worth that.” Lucas shouted back at her, hoping that his volume would help her to see sense.

“It’s worth it to me,” she spoke in a whisper, wiping away the tears as they coursed down her face. “We’re barely making ends meet now as it is and with you not working, we’ll never come up with the money for the surgery. Please understand I’m doing this for you, for us!”

Her passionate speech didn’t have the desired effect on Lucas and she was disheartened to see him stalk across their modest sized, one bedroom apartment to grab his coat. “If you do this, we’re over. Simple as that.”

The anger was gone from his posture, but the words were sharpened like knives; each one of them penetrated her heart, causing it to burst with pain. He looked at her one last time before roughly grabbing the doorknob and jerking it toward him.

“You can’t leave now, it’s almost time for your medicat–“

The hard slam of the door was her only response.

So here’s my question to you – am I not being critical enough of my descriptive tendencies?  As an author my goal is to paint a picture in the reader’s mind; to have them see what I see. But do I go too far? Or is it a question of style preference?

Comments are greatly appreciated!

© All Rights Reserved. All original fiction the sole property of Julianne Snow and may not be reproduced in whole or in part.

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15 thoughts on “Rejection Letters and Constructive Feedback

  1. Julianne,

    I am far from being an expert on editing–in fact the main complaint about my own writing would be that I overly describe things as well. I get hung up on the beauty of words and language and, at least in my case, the story suffers.The sentence did not sound as over-the-top when placed in context, and I think the editor sucked the voice out of it in their suggested rewrite. I do think you could cull some of the “cauliflower” as one professor used to call it. If I were to rephrase it, I would say something along the lines of:

    “The anger was gone from his posture, but his words were sharp; they penetrated her heart one by one.”

    I’ve always been told to avoid cliches like the plague (bad joke) and I think “sharpened like knives” weighs the sentence down. I’m fascinated by the plot of your story from the excerpt though! I want to know what the argument is about!

    1. Thank you for your comment 🙂 I can certainly see where your suggestion of carving the ‘cauliflower’ (such a great descriptor) has merit. Cliches are something I try to avoid, or use purposefully, depending on the situation.

      Unfortunately the story was for a very specific call. I’m not sure that it will fit anywhere else 🙂

      1. I was reading a post with some tips that talked about using cliches in dialogue that was interesting.

        Well darn! I’m sure you know never to throw anything away, you never know when another opportunity may come up!

  2. Hi Jul! From my point of view, whilst it is often a case of personal preference, I think that what the editor was getting at is that going overboard on the adjectives can slow the pace of the prose, and instead the descriptions end up detracting from the actual story going on around it. Whilst I totally agree that you have to paint a picture for the reader, it’s all a question of balance – give them just enough, and them let their imagination fill in the rest while you do what you do best and tell them the story.

    Hopefully that makes sense, I’m well overdue for my afternoon coffee! 😉

  3. I can understand trying to make the story leaner, but sometimes you just have to tell the story the way you know how. I let the story flow and then I’ll hash it out with the editors later 🙂

    1. Thanks Brent 🙂

      I understand the idea of making a story lean or leaner, but are we meant to do it at the cost of the story? Can I be verbose – absolutely. I think every writer can be. I just need to figure out if I should tone it down… LOL

  4. I find a lot of time editors like to recreate our works in their own image 🙂 I think the style of writing should fit the genre… I can’t imagine Hemingway writing a romance novel, for example, and if I were an editor, I’d probably reject it outright. The section you posted reads like a drama/romance so I think you can be a bit ‘flowery’ and get away with it. The audience actually expects it for that type of fiction. I always tell myself to write weeds, not flowers, but you have your own voice and should write what sounds good to your own ear.

  5. I can see it both ways Julianne.

    Personally, I thought the passage singled out was a bit too much, while at the same time thinking that the editor’s edit was much too deep. As such, I think both of you has a valid point.

    However you slice it though, it just goes to show that editor’s aren’t infallible beings who just sit around and smote our works from on high. 😉

  6. I think what’s best is what lies in between the two sentences. Yours was nice, but a bit flowery. The editor’s was, in my opinion, terse and awkward. I think most of us suffer, to some extent, from cauliflower filled prose. I know I do.

    Sorry about the rejection … congrats on the rejection-acceptance! 🙂

    1. Thank you David for your comment – sorry it got lumped in with my spam and that I didn’t see it until now. Flowery writing was somewhat called with the call given the subject matter and the requirements, but I can appreciate the feedback 🙂

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