As a writer, it’s very difficult to predict how readers will react to my work. I may think a certain piece is genius, while my parents, friends or teachers think it’s mediocre. Everyone perceives things differently. One reader may love it; another may not.
As an editor, it’s partially my job to predict how Polyphony readers will react to the pieces I’m editing. This definitely factors in when deciding to accept or reject submissions. Therefore, it is also your job to consider how readers might respond to your piece. It’s tricky, I know, but thinking about it will make your compositions much stronger.
Here are three key things to think about so you can get a feel for how readers at Polyphony might respond to your submission.
1.) Proofreading – There’s no running away from it. When an author doesn’t proofread, we know. Not only does it reflect poorly on their writing, but it also sends a message the author may not want to send: I don’t really care. If you truly care about becoming a part of Polyphony, sharing your work, and being taken seriously as a writer, you proofread. To be honest, it makes our lives a lot easier, too.
2.) Originality – This relates to just about everything: storyline, format, characters, title, etc.
- Storyline: This is hard. Just about every story out there was somewhat inspired by another. You can take components of preexisting stories, but always make sure to add your own personal touches. This does not mean taking Twilight and making the vampire into a female, and the human into a male. Creativity is my favorite part of writing. Use it!
- Format: Not every story needs to be in paragraph format. It’s not aesthetically pleasing. Switch it up! Maybe tell your story through dialogue, interviews, diary entries, letters, anything! The lovely thing about being the author is that it’s your choice. Just make sure your choices have reasons.
- Characters: If I read about another high school girl who’s really pretty and good at everything, but nice and humble and neglected by the popular girls, I might puke. Have you noticed that this describes the lead character in just about every teenage novel, TV show and movie? Just ask yourself if your characters might actually exist in real life. Complex and unique characters make stories amazing.
- Title: In many ways, the title represents what the author finds most important and/or interesting about their story. Your title can also impact the reader’s opinion of the piece. In general, it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. A mediocre title usually indicates a mediocre story.
Of course, there are more ways to be original than those listed above. For example, cut out clichés! We cringe when we see things like “needle in a haystack,” “two birds with one stone,” “life isn’t fair,” etc. Avoid them at all costs!
3.) Showing vs. Telling – While commenting on submissions, I often write things like “need more showing.” “Showing” is hard; even advanced writers don’t always nail it. But what exactly is it? We’ll start with telling. Unlike showing, telling is never subtle. It can be equated to describing an attribute: “She has long, curly red hair.” Showing would be depicting that attribute: “Her lustrous crimson locks swayed in the breeze.” See the difference? In general, showing is more active. It isn’t direct description. It’s often metaphorical. Also, showing can be more ambiguous and interpreted in multiple ways, whereas telling often has one meaning. Dialogue can be a good way to show the readers something, but you have to be careful because it can be telling, too. In general, show; don’t tell!
These are the three problems that tend to come up most frequently in submissions. There are others of course, and even if you’ve mastered these three, that certainly doesn’t mean you have mastered the rest. Even the most talented writers are students. They take every opportunity they can to learn to write more effectively, and you should too! Lastly, whenever you write something, have other people read it before finalizing it. The people around you are one of your most effective resources. Use them!