Tag Archives: don’t do this

#SaysTheEditor Why Isn’t Hell Proper?


So I’m reading a book. It’s a good book. It’s a crazy book, actually, full of slapstick comedy and subtle humor and there’s a LOT to like about this book. It turns out to have been the third in a four-book series, and you bet I’m going to go back and find the first two, and then probably the fourth.

It is not a book I edited. It’s one of the approximately 35 I’m going to so-called leisure read. But when you’re wired the way I am, leisure is an odd choice of words.

And that’s the problem with this book. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. I would. I have been, in the few days since I finished it.

But… I’m wired the way I am.

And in this book, Satan’s a character. And Hell is that place for immortal souls and suffering and all that.

Hell is a place. An actual place.

Now, Disneyland. That’s a place. Mars. That’s a place. Paris. Pittsburgh. Carnegie Music Hall. Buckingham Palace. The Louvre. Miami University of Ohio. Costco.

See anything about all these words? Notice anything at all?

That’s right. You use capital letters at the start of each of them. They are what we call proper nouns. They identify a specific place.

In this novel I was reading, Hell was a specific place.

But not once was Hell capitalized.

Drove me up the freaking wall. Three hundred pages of Hell being an important location in this novel, and never once was it accorded the dignity and propriety it deserves.

Hell is a place. In this use, it’s a proper noun. Give it a capital letter.


#SaystheEditor Unintended Verbal Warfare


This one showed up, of course, on Facebook. It was from someone who claimed to be genuinely curious about what peoples’ “excuses” were for missing the anti-hate rallies scheduled around town.

I put excuses in quotes for a very deliberate reason. (Those of you who’ve worked with me will recognize how badly I HATE words in quotes, so you know it’s a major thing I am calling your attention to.)

Here’s how Webster’s defines excuse:

1a: to make apology for
b: to try to remove blame from

2: to forgive entirely or disregard as of trivial import : regard as excusable graciously excused his tardiness

3a : to grant exemption or release to was excused from jury duty
b : to allow to leave excused the class

4: to serve as excuse for : justify nothing can excuse such neglect

Look at all those weighted words! to make apology for or trivial interest or justify nothing can excuse such neglect.

Those aren’t words that help define a genuine interest. Those definitions show that the woman’s word choice was verbal warfare. By using excuse instead of reason, she set her position out there: Nothing you say will be good enough.

She also set herself up as the arbiter of what might maybe be good enough. Judge, jury, and executioner? One look at the comments and yes, she was.

In your fiction, look out for words like these, words that are loaded with more meaning than you maybe intend them to have. Be aware of how words and phrases show your — yes, you, the author! — perspective, politics, and worldview. Stay alert for how these words can undermine your entire meaning, your character’s authenticity, or even the reader’s experience.

Because no reader likes to be bullied. But when you’re asked for an excuse instead of a reason, no matter how well-intentioned the rest of the request is, you’re only setting yourself up if you answer.

Stay alert. In real life and in your fiction. Be on the lookout for the language that divides us and stirs up the art of verbal warfare.


#SaystheEditor How You Present Yourself Matters


Hope you guys are glad I’m back, even if it’s only temporary.

So here’s the deal. A couple weeks ago, I saw on Facebook an appeal from an author for reviewers.

Not a bad place to look for reviewers. Except…

Well, you KNEW there would be an except. Admit it. And this one, well, it’s one thing to forgive a typo. Facebook is ridden with them and I have yet to meet a grammatically correct meme (although they might be getting better, oddly. Maybe. Might. Or maybe it’s that I’m not on Facebook as much as I had been and so simply see fewer memes).

If I didn’t manage to distract you with that aside about memes, you know where I’m headed: the request for reviewers for the author’s new book was… well, the grammar sucked. And frankly, it didn’t make me want to read his book. In fact, it kinda made me want to undo our connection because clearly, he’s not smart enough to hire me and he’s not careful enough to consider that a potential reviewer might take a look at his poorly worded post with its not-so-charming errors and… expect the same between the covers of his new book.

And that’s the thing: I see authors all the time who undermine themselves this way. Bios with typos. Book cover copy that makes no sense. And the commas! Is it so hard to know when to set off an author’s name in commas and when not to? Cripes. Ask your editor for help if you’re not sure.

If they won’t help you with the little stuff, or they want to charge you an arm and a leg for it, maybe they’re not the right editor for you.

Don’t be this guy. How you present yourself matters.

Check. Double-check. Whatever it is that you’re going to put out in the world, make sure you’re presenting yourself the way you want to be viewed. In this author’s case — I’ve followed him for many years — he’s usually smart, funny, and creative. This post made him look uneducated, crass, and certainly not smart, funny, or creative.

And if you need help, drop me a line. Because I believe that part of making the best book possible is that how you present yourself matters. And that means I’m glad to help you present yourself as smart, funny, and creative — or however you choose to appear.

It’s your choice. But success is hard enough to come by as it is. There’s no need to make it even harder.


Purple Dinosaurs aren’t the Only Bad Purple #atozchallenge


No one’s beat up on Barney the Purple Dinosaur in eons, it seems. Is he even still on TV?

Unfortunately, his literary companion, purple prose, is. And like all unfortunate things, it shouldn’t be.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s learn to identify it so you can revise it out and avoid notes like Aaack! Who let the purple prose monster in here! or, if I don’t know you as well, This is veering a bit toward purple prose. How about wording it like this as an alternate?

I like to write fun comments.

Urban Dictionary (I kid you not) defines purple prose as, “a term used to describe literature where the writing is unnecessarily flowery. it means that the writer described the situation (or wrote the entire book, passage, etc) using words that are too extravagant for the type of text, or any text at all. basically, over-describing something. with stupid words.”

Now, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to add with stupid words on at the end there. Because obviously, if you wrote them, you didn’t think they were stupid, and since you haven’t revised them out yet, you continue to think they’re not stupid.

But over-describing, unnecessarily flowery writing… yep, that’s purple prose. I swear, we’re taught to write purple in high school, when English teachers everywhere encourage it as a model for good writing.

This is why you need to read a lot. A. Lot. And not just read but also pay attention as you read. Do you have a description of a room? Look at how the book you’re reading describes the room. Is your heroine overwrought? Examine how the writer of the book you’re reading describes it.

After you’ve observed until your eyes glaze over, come back to your own manuscript. Is your writing as clear? Does it snap? Purple prose never snaps. It goes on. And on. And sometimes on. And you stop caring.

The bedspread was quilted, by hand, Sienna was willing to bet, in four shades of yellow, from the palest Alpine glow to the brightest, sunniest yellow she could imagine. Just looking at it made her break out into a wide, uncontrollable grin that threatened to consume her entire face and half of her soul, too. But her favorite was the slightly less yellow than that brightest one, the one that merely suggested summer days and didn’t scream them and even though it didn’t make her smile as hard, she still wanted to smile. This one was a tender smile, touching her lips gently and caressing her soul with a soft spring wind.

“Hey, Sienna? I asked what you thought of Glen.”

Yeah… you see what I mean? Contrast that with this:

Sienna paused by the bed, letting her fingers run over the bedspread as she considered her best friend’s question. The spread was done in shades of yellow, the brightest of which reminded Sienna of Jenny’s smile whenever she talked about this Glen dude. But Sienna wasn’t feeling the love. What she felt was more like the pale yellow, a wariness, a hesitance to commit. “I see what you like about him,” she said carefully, her fingers picking the pattern of the perfect stitches, then finding one that was off.

“Isn’t he the greatest?” Jenny flopped on the other side of the bed, away from Sienna, and grabbed a stuffed rabbit, which she cradled to her chest.”

“I know you think he’s great,” Sienna said, trying to pick her words, “but you just met him a week ago. Maybe you should get to know him before you proclaim true love?”

While I say to my high schoolers all the time that sometimes curtains are blue just because they are blue, sometimes, the teachers are right and they’re blue for a bigger reason.

But they don’t need to be purple.


Microwaves? No! Microdetail #atozchallenge


Let’s just get right to this one. What the heck is microdetail anyway, and is it good or bad?

It’s bad.

We’ll say that up front.

Here’s why.

Microdetail is that stuff that is basically fluff. It’s sometimes called play-by-play, or filler… but does that really give you an idea of what it is?

Didn’t think so. Buckle up, because here we go.

He stood from his seat and began to walk across the room, stepping over the wrinkled edge of the rug, staring up at the ceiling to look for cracks in the thatching, then circled a wooden stool that sat in a corner between the fireplace and the front door. He circled it twice before sitting, hooking his bootheels in the top rung and smiling as he felt the caked-on mud crumble loose at the contact, and then said, “The king’s men are waiting for your answer and have vowed to kill Harry if you don’t answer.”

Okay, that’s a bit of a distortion… or is it? I see it all the time in young writers, writers who need to include such microdetail as a means of setting the scene in their own minds, or who use it as a way to get to know their characters better.

As first-draft stuff, it’s fine. But… it’s gotta go before it hits your editor’s desk, if you can. (If not, I’m always glad to point it out.)

Microdetail holds up the pace. It shifts the focus of the scene from the important stuff to these small details that ultimately, in the grand scheme of the book, don’t matter. Or that belong somewhere else. And sometimes, they’re examples of lazy writing. (See he stood from his seat)

Now, sometimes, microdetail is important. Sometimes, it helps set the mood, or describes a character. And when it operates like that, it’s not bad stuff. It’s important.

But until you become experienced enough to know the difference between microdetail and the sort of small details that help paint a picture that truly help your book, you struggle. And that’s natural. It’s part of the learning curve of learning to craft a damn good book.

This is where good critique partners come in. And patient editors.

You don’t have to rely on others, though. This is where reading a lot comes in handy. Is the book you’re reading full of microdetail? Are there lots of descriptions, long or short, that don’t further the story or set a stage, paint a scene? Consider how the book you’re reading handles some of the details you’d like to include.

The next step is to write, write, write. Keep in mind those books you’ve been reading. There’s a reason some agents tell you to read as much as you write — it all soaks in. And then you can spit it out as you write and/or revise.

You got this. It’s hard at first, like all learning curves are, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.


#SaystheEditor I Only Love You For Your Contacts


I kid you not.

I got this e-mail. I’ll paraphrase it, but this is the essence of it.

Hi, Susan.

I am looking for an editor for my fiction novel. Not only must she or he have an excellent command of the English language, he or she must have strong contacts with literary agents. Any editor I work with must guarantee that they’ll get an agent to read my book and quite possibly represent it.

Umm… Dude. (Yes, it was a guy)

First off, I’m the wrong editor for you. I’m friendly and easy-going. You aren’t. In fact, you’re a bit of a bully, to just walk into my life and assume I’m going to be willing to share contacts, people whose relationships I guard and hold close, both personally and professionally.

Second, if I don’t tell anyone who my clients are — and I don’t, unless they talk about me first — why would I share my contacts with you, a stranger?

Third, and most important: That’s not the job of a freelance editor.

You hire a freelance editor to help create the best book possible. That’s all. The rest, the heavy lifting, the marketing, the buzz, the social media… those things have nothing to do with editing. That’s why you pay me a flat fee: I work on your book with you, I do my best to bring out your best, and then I set you free. Oh, I’ll be here for moral support, and no one will cheer louder or harder at your successes, next to you, of course. And yes, I’ll be here to help you vet small presses or agents. But YOU have to do the work.

What frightens me most about this author is that this guy is setting himself up to be taken for a ride. Some less-than-scrupulous person’s going to sweet talk him and make promises that they can’t or won’t deliver on.

Frankly, that’s the sort of carnage I’m glad I won’t be around to see.

So a reminder: If you want me to work with you, be friendly, not a bully. And have clear and realistic expectations about what I can and will do for you. Helping you craft the best book possible? Yes.

Helping you dodge the query letter and go straight to an agent’s interest? Not even close.


#SaystheEditor There’s Always One


Last week, I wrote up an “I’m reading” post. I’m sorta bummed none of you chimed in with your own reads of the moment; it’s always a good way to get exposed to new stuff. (oh, and I never picked up that Nora Roberts book from the library… just couldn’t get there, with the holiday disrupting my usual library routine.)

And… there’s always one, isn’t there? One idiot. One person who throws the idea of professionalism out the window and takes a dive after it.

I got a tweet answering the question of what people were reading.

And I took a second, then a third look at it. Yep, the person was reading his own book. So I asked why.

Now, this could have gone really really well. This is a great opportunity to talk up your book! “I like to revisit my old writings from time to time because these were great characters.” or “I wanted to confirm a detail that’s been bugging me.” or “I keep telling myself it’s a great story and wanted to see if reality matched up. Yahoo! It does!” or “I’m working on the sequel so I’m refreshing my memory.” or even “I’m working on a set of book club questions.”

I’m sure there are a million other reasons. All of them good, all of them positive, all of them designed to catch a potential reader’s eye. Even if that book club is only meeting in your mind, sometimes, the illusion of success breeds success.

But… nope. I’m not that lucky. I’m NEVER that lucky.

Maybe it’s that the assholes bother me more than they should. Or maybe it’s that I’m an asshole magnet. That’s always possible.

Regardless, the responding Tweet wasn’t exactly professional. I won’t quote it, but it went along the lines of “I think there are problems with the book I’ve been selling to people.”

Umm… The editor in me cringed. The published author in me cringed. And the fighter in me, the part of me that has zero tolerance for idiots, asked why a book with problems was for sale.

The response was even more unhinged. One of those, “Oh, I’m mentally disturbed. Ha ha. Ho ho. Hee hee.”


And then he backtracked. “Actually, I was hoping for a RT.”

Yeah. Right.

Know what he got instead? The promise that I won’t read his book. A reminder to make a big, wide detour around this guy if I ever encounter him again. A silent promise to myself that if he ever shows up wanting to do a Featured New Book Spotlight, the e-mail will conveniently get lost. Anyone familiar with my inbox knows I’m at best a slow correspondent. Things get lost on a daily basis (Google keeps telling me I get 9,000 emails a month. Which explains how things get lost and why I’m so slow).

There’s always one.

Please don’t be the one. You may think you’re funny but the truth is that you’re only hurting yourself.


#SaystheEditor More Bad Writing from the Beard Book


Train wreck.

That’s the only explanation I can give this poor romance, and it’s certainly the only reason I can give for continuing to read. Heck, I sat in the car outside the library while my kid was inside. I read. She was looking for new books. She was the smart one.

I mentioned the stubble/beard problem in my last post. Won’t go there again.

But it’s been downhill, in terms of the writing, since then.

There’s a “Shit!” he swore moment.

Seriously? In today’s fiction marketplace, you, Big Five Publisher, are putting THAT amateur writing out? Seriously? Like the reader is too freaking stupid to know that shit or whatever the word actually was is what someone says when they swear?

As I say to my clients, “Why tell what you’ve already shown?”

Waste. of. words.

(Waste of reader brain cells, too.)

But then it got better. It did! How does it get better than something I have been making fun of since the 1990s?

He tasted her with his mouth.

Well, thanks for that clarification there, folks. Personally, I taste with my left elbow, so knowing that someone uses their mouth to taste… wow. Consider my mind blown.

Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse: that a real person (presumably) put her name on this drek, that some editor let it be published, or that the publisher is actually charging $7.99 for it. Maybe the absolute worst is that readers and libraries (where my copy came from) actually spent money on it.

My clients turn out better books on a daily basis. They come up with creative plots — and notice how I haven’t started on the plot of this one, which is cliched perfunctory leaning toward kitchen sinking — and characters who are real. And they work on the craft of writing. They rise above amateur hour. They push boundaries. They expect excellence from themselves.

And you, big publishing, are putting THIS out?

And people wonder what’s wrong with publishing.


#SaystheEditor: It’s about Quality, not Price


I often feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall, yes.

“I am a professional editor! Look at the affect my work will have on your sales!”

I can’t believe this person gets business. But then you read the next line: “Editing doesn’t need to be expensive! I will edit your book for cheap!”

Umm… yeah, okay. I’m sure you will. And a glance at your rates shows that yes, you charge less than I do.

But are you really an editor? REALLY?

Then why can’t you see the problematic word choice in your own promotional material? I’m not talking about a typo; we all make those. I’ve caught some in my own posts, which I’ve proofed a bunch of times. I’m talking about word choice. I’m talking about usage errors.

I’m talking about things you need to know inherently, the way you know two plus two equals four.

Affect/effect is one of them. Because when you use the wrong one in your promotional materials, you make the rest of us cringe. Good editing is expensive — maybe not as expensive as it should be, in my case (I STILL get harangued for my own rates being too low and devaluing the rest of my friends who edit. I keep telling them we are going for different audiences and to chill. Ninety percent of my clients, one hundred percent of whom I like, stretch to afford me now.)

Good editing is expensive. Good editing can make or break a book.

Look at it this way: when I was reviewing for The World’s Toughest Book Critics, I read a few books that were so good, they would have gotten the coveted star from me. But for one thing…

They’d have been better off if they’d taken the $400 or more they spent on a review and paid it to me directly to proofread their books.

Every. Single. One.

Think about that. Those authors undermined their own success and their own chance at getting their book tagged with a superlative because of poor proofreading.

Yeah. Pay that editor’s low prices. Let her have an AFFECT on your book.

I’ll be here when you wise up.


#SaysTheEditor: Whoa There, Nelly!


I’ve had a few new clients lately, and that’s darn awesome. New blood, new viewpoints, new writing to keep me on my toes. Keep referring your friends my way. I’ll make sure you’re glad you did.

With new clients comes the breaking-in period, the teaching of how to do things the West of Mars way. Usually, it’s really simple. They say, “How do I do this?” and I answer. Even if it’s on my nifty FAQ page, I take the time and answer. After all, there’s nothing like the personal touch, and I’m glad for the dialogue that lets us get to know each other. (and, to be honest, I am not much of an FAQ reader, either — although you should read mine ’cause it’s been way fun to write and update.)

But lately, it hasn’t been as simple as it’s designed to be. I get that authors are excited to have found an editor they think they can work with long-term. I get that they’re new and in unfamiliar surroundings. I love that enthusiasm, I really do. It brings an energy into my day that’s really welcome. All these good things, right? It’s all good… until it comes time to pay the bill. Lately, new clients have been sending payment to my personal PayPal account.

You’d think that’d be fine, right? Susan does the work, Susan gets the money.

West of Mars is a registered business. That’s why those cute little L, L, and C letters come after the company name. And because it’s a registered company, it has its own bank account. And even though I’m the business owner, I get paid only a portion of what I charge you. The rest goes to the company to cover costs like insurance, my bookkeeper and web people, advertising, and more.

Believe me, my bookkeeper is earning her pay. And, of course, charging me for it, too.

So I’ve changed my policy, effective today. If you send payment to my personal PayPal account, it’s going to be returned. You’re going to be responsible for any fees. And you can either resubmit the payment to the right place or I’ll delete your manuscript, unedited, and that’s the end of our relationship.

I hate to be a hardass about this. I really do. But ignoring the rules, not waiting for an invoice (people, you need the invoices for your taxes!), sending payment to the wrong spot… that all creates extra work. Which creates extra stress and expense on my end. It sucks away time that I should be spending working on your manuscript. And it doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies about you and our future relationship, either.

Look, I’m a rule-breaker, too. I admire that about people. But there are rules to break — like starting a sentence with a preposition — and there are rules you don’t want to muck with.

So… new policy born out of necessity. I’m not a fan of it. But it can’t all be sunshine and unicorns and love, sadly. It takes all kinds to rock the world… it takes all kinds… even the kinds who do stuff we wish they didn’t.


#SaystheEditor Even Businesses Need Help


Dear Susan:

Weather your struggling to find like minded professional individuals, business ideas, career paths, or ways of developing additional income of your own we can help you maximize your results. With a great business system, business team, experienced knowledge, and technology all at your finger tips…


Three typos in the first ten words (and that’s being generous with the word count) and more to follow, I closed the invitation. It was ostensibly for a networking group, but let’s face it: who wants to network with people who can’t be bothered with such basics as grammar? Isn’t communication the foundation of networking? And good communication key to understanding each other?

I can’t hammer home the importance for everyone (myself included!) to use a good proofreader whenever you turn out writing that’s meant for public consumption. This person shot him/herself in the foot by sending out an invitation like this. And s/he’s not the only one who’s done this, either.

I see it daily. And I don’t understand why. Yes, you may think you don’t need to spend the money on editing. But guess what? You do. In the long run, you need to make sure every word is as strong as it can be, every comma, every synonym — every everything.

Yes, human editors miss things. Yes, computerized editors (oh, don’t use those!) miss things. Computers can’t pick up the nuances of human speech and communication. Humans are … well, we’re only human. My effectiveness goes down when I get tired (go figure). If we haven’t worked together before, I may struggle a bit as I pick up your voice. Both problems are pretty easy to correct.

So don’t be that person who sent me that invitation to join a business network. I took one look at it and decided that if the sender wasn’t professional enough to make sure s/he didn’t look like a doofus, his/her group wasn’t the sort of people I wanted to be associated with.

Although if I did join, imagine the business I could pick up…



#SaystheEditor: Red Comes in More Than One Shade


I’ve noticed this a lot lately, so it bears  bringing to your attention, writers everywhere:

The color red.

Open a box of Crayola crayons, why don’t you? Grab a book of paint samples.

You’ve got Scarlet, Red, Fire Engine, Candy Apple, Cerise, Flame, Rose, Crimson, Cardinal, Lava, Rust… oh, the list goes on. Fifty shades and more.

So why is it that almost everything in fiction winds up being Cherry?

Think about it. Look over your own work, and take a few minutes, days, weeks to look at the colors all around us. Compare and contrast.

And then write better, stronger fiction.


#SaystheEditor Step Outside Your Life


One in an occasional series

Today’s post was inspired by my own good intentions, intentions that have come back to haunt me.

One of the things I struggle most with is names, especially names for minor characters. Throwaway people, who I expect to use once and never see again. There have been many in all the Trevolution writings, people who crossed paths with the band for one reason or another. And you can always tell who the characters who intrigue me are: they mostly have intriguing names. Lyric. Boomer. Chelle. And yes, even Pam the exercise instructor who tries to use Trevor to get to Mitchell.

Like I said, those aren’t the problem children. I don’t know any Lyrics or Boomers or Chelles, and as for Pams… well, not many, anyway. Pam Derbish is her own woman. But… she was never meant to be a one-story flash in the pan.

It’s when I’m sitting around, getting desperate because I know the name doesn’t matter. That the character is nothing more than a vehicle, a catalyst for the story to unfold around, so why am I stressing about a name? And so, I turned to real life, figuring it would be a nice way to pay tribute to friends who meant a lot to me. Maybe that way, the characters would elevate themselves and be more than just a name on a page.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I fell out of touch with most of those friends. One did something I know I ought to find forgiveness for, but I’m not there yet. That one’ll be a long time coming, I think.

Which means that every time I look at those characters’ names, I pause with a note of regret. I miss a bunch of them. I am upset about the choices the other made (and continues to make), knowingly or unknowingly.

Now, it’s a sight better than the woman I once knew who published a collection of short stories in the early ’90s. She apparently didn’t merely use her family members’ names. She fictionalized them, and the fiction wasn’t exactly flattering (“pathetic” was how I characterized the lot of them when I read the book) — in their eyes. I still recall the pain in her eyes and etched into her face when she looked at a stack of wedding invitations from those people. They hadn’t even bothered to open the invitations and send back the RSVP card. Nope. They’d all written REFUSED across the front and had it returned to her.

Don’t be me, and don’t be that woman. Step outside your life and give your characters names that don’t mean a darn thing.


Susan’s Book Talk: Icky Book Club Book


The ladies in my book club, who I adore almost unconditionally, encouraged the group to read a particular book. It’s a fictionalized account of an author and his first wife, and that’s hopefully the most telling detail I’ll reveal about it.

In case you can’t tell, I hated it. Got halfway through and realized I didn’t care about the characters — and this was a character-driven book. In fact, I hated the two main characters. Loathed them, even.

I’d been warned: The book could be a trigger book. The husband could be demanding and a bastard. A cheater, which wasn’t news. And the wife was passive. Hubby’s out of town? She moons for him. Had no life other than him. And then she gets pregnant and… is passive about that, too. Not even passive aggressive. Just passive. Completely devoid of emotion.

It’s hard to read and sympathize with a passive character. It’s even harder — for me, at least — to empathize with a passive character. Maybe it’s because commercial fiction — which this wasn’t. It’s firmly in the women’s fiction category — is full of strong, take-charge women.

But then I think back to a collection of short stories I read in grad school, back before the trend for women to kick butt first and take names later. I had the same reaction, and that was how many years ago? Clearly, my reaction has little to do with the past fifteen years and the past five in particular.

Maybe it’s my tastes. Maybe it’s that I was eight years old when a woman with cinnamon buns on either side of her head grabbed the gun out of her (to be revealed) twin brother’s hands and turned the whole idea of rescuing the princess on its head. Right then, I learned that women don’t have to be passive — and that we shouldn’t be.

Yeah, okay, love makes a girl do weird things sometimes (raising the question if it’s even love), but this book? The female character was passive from the get-go. Mommy decided she was too fragile to be allowed out of the house. So the character shut up and let herself be treated that way. Compliant. No escapes into the garden to prove Mommy wrong.

Ick. Just not my type of woman.

And the husband? There was no depth to him, no feeling that he was a real, live, breathing person. The worst part is that in this case, he was! But he never transcended being words on a page. He lacked dimension — but given that the book was told from the point of view of this passive woman, is that a surprise? A bland narrator will turn everything else around her into the same shade of monotone grey.

Including the setting. They travelled all over the world, these two. They were real people. They truly did this. Yet — and you can probably anticipate what I’m going to say — the settings blended into each other. The gritty and the gorgeous, it all had the same tone to it.

It was like eating unflavored oatmeal with too much water in it. Or paste.

To make matters worse, chapters tended to end with that heart-wrenching twist that manipulates the reader. Even without the visual cue that a chapter was ending (you know: the white space at the bottom of the page), a sharp reader can tell it’s coming. The tone of the narrative changes.

A sharp reader can tell they are being manipulated. And sharp readers generally don’t like to be manipulated, even in the name of literary brilliance.

So I’m declaring this one a failure. And I’m going to issue an appeal to my writer friends: don’t do this. Your readers need to be able to identify with your characters, and those characters need to be alive, so alive that when the reader puts the book down, they miss them.

I daresay not many people miss passive people.