#SaystheEditor How’s Your Beard?


I was sitting at the field with a book the other day. Not an unusual thing for me, even as autumn chills creep into the West of Mars landscape. The players add a layer. I either retreat to my car during practice or add a layer and a blanket.

But what I encountered in the book wasn’t so easy to deal with.

It’s a contemporary sports romance (and I’m looking for more recommendations, if you’ve got any) and it was credited to a big-name editor at a big-name publisher.

And I can’t say it’s badly written. But it’s not well-written.

(Shades of grey… you guys know I’m all about ’em.)

So what’s the difference between not badly written and not well-written?

Well, shades of grey, of course. I just said that. In this case, as the author’s describing the hero, in one paragraph he has stubble. It’s sexy stubble, of course, but it’s stubble.

In the very next paragraph, or maybe it’s two paragraphs later, he’s got the beginnings of a beard.

Hello? Which is it? Stubble, or the beginnings of a beard? They are different. Very different. Stubble is short. It’s a couple hours or maybe a day after shaving. It’s brush burn on tender skin. You can’t even feel past it to caress the skin underneath. It’s sandpaper.

But the beginnings of a beard… it’s when the hair is longer. Softer. When you can put your hand on your man’s face and feel the contours of his jawline again. Sometimes, it tickles.

Makes sense to me… but am I the only one who sees this difference?

So I put the question to my panel of experts, otherwise known as teenagers, over a meal of Korean barbecue. Because what else does a family discuss over a meal of Korean barbecue?

And they agreed. Stubble is stubble. The beginnings of a beard… well, my oldest said, it’s more than stubble. Longer. It’s what his coach is currently sporting (and I maintain it’s a good look on him, too).

An example! Good child. I have trained you well.

And then, of course, the conversation spiraled. If the character goes from stubble to the beginning of a beard within two paragraphs, what does he look like at the end of the day? Dredlocked beard? Dumbledore? How often does the guy have to shave? Does he walk around with an electric razor and where other characters rub their faces contemplatively, does he flip on the razor and rub it over his cheeks and throat?

I have a creative family, even though we didn’t discuss how the differences between stubble and the beginnings of a beard affect the mental picture a reader draws.

But the point, of course, is that instead of focusing on the storyline (which is rather cliched, to be honest, and one we see all the time in Rock Fiction), we’re making fun of this book because of imprecise language. And the kids, of course, know that if this manuscript had crossed my desk, I’d have said exactly this to the author. Stubble is stubble and the beginnings of a beard are the beginnings of a beard, and they paint very different pictures in a reader’s mind. Pick one, I would say to Steve or Stevie. But only one, at least right here.

Stubble is stubble. The beginnings of a beard are the beginnings of a beard.

Know the difference, all you Steves and Stevies. Know the difference.


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