The Purpose of the Polisher

What is the purpose of the Story Polisher?

The Short Answer:

The purpose of this blog is to help writers polish their prose to a publishable level. It is primarily focused on the writing of stories, though many of the tips herein can and should be applied to other types of writing.

In my years as an editor, I have compiled a long list of mistakes, both major and minor, that novice (and many not-so-novice) writers make on a regular basis. Some of them are grammatical errors; others are strange patterns of wording or phrasing that aren't technically incorrect, but which make prose difficult to read. Some of them might seem very obvious or simple—which is why they crop up so often. No one tells new writers to look for them, so the mistakes persist for a long time. The goal of this blog is to help writers identify and purge these errors from their writing.

The Long Answer:

As an editor, there are three categories by which I judge writing: Prose, Plotting, and Creativity
  • Prose encompasses sentence- and paragraph-level writing. It includes word choice, vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and dialogue—the nuts and bolts of writing. In the prose category, I am not yet concerned with your story; I just want to know if you can string together words into a clear and coherent sentence, and then string together sentences into clear and coherent paragraphs.
  • Plotting encompasses story-level writing. It includes plot structure, character arcs, foreshadowing, twists and reveals, pacing, and themes. Do the story and characters engage reader interest, or do they fall flat? Are your characters consistent in their behavior and clear in their motivations? Are side-plots deftly woven into the central plot, or awkwardly shoveled on? Does this writer know how to tell a good story?
  • Creativity encompasses content. What does this story do that I haven’t seen before? What familiar tropes and archetypes will it shine new light upon and make seem fresh? Is the magic system mind-bending, or the technology ingenious, or the romance engaging, or the character drama fascinating, or the mystery bizarre and yet plausible? What genuine and believable quirks make the characters stand out? What makes this story different from all the others that I’ve read?
Now, of these three categories, Prose is simultaneously the most important and yet the most difficult to fix or improve.

Solid prose is to a story what a solid foundation is to a building—it is the most basic, load-bearing element, without which the other parts can't stand. Every master musician began by mastering their basic scales; every master athlete is constantly practicing the basic movements of their sport. It is the same with writing—if your prose isn't solid, then all of your creativity will be for naught.

After all, if a story comes to me that is lacking in Creativity, I can easily help the author brainstorm new ideas; but it won't do any good if they can't apply the new ideas with clear and readable prose. If a story's Plotting is faulty, I can identify the over-arching errors and give the author suggestions on how to fix them; but it won't help if the re-written sections aren't well written.

But Prose . . . prose is difficult. There are so many tiny, persistent errors that can crop up in your writing, and some of them are so subtle and difficult to explain. Most editors don't have the time to go over them all one-by-one with a writer; if there's too many, most editors won't even consider trying.

Now, you may be wondering: "But isn't that why we have editors? To correct all of my grammar and punctuation mistakes?"  Well, yes and no.

The purpose of editors is to fix writing errors, because everyone makes mistakes. But that doesn't mean that new writers don't have to master the art of writing clear prose. Imagine yourself in the position of an editor: you have two manuscripts before you, each very creative, engaging, and well-plotted. But the first manuscript is riddled with grammatical and punctuation errors, while the second has only the occasional misused word or extra comma. If you choose to publish the first manuscript, it will mean hours and even days or weeks of extra work for you, especially since you have no guarantee that the writer will correctly fix the problems you identify for them; they obviously don't know what they're doing. But if you choose the second manuscript, you can have it cleaned up pretty quickly and will be able to rest assured that the writer will apply your corrections properly. The choice is a no-brainer.

So if you want to get published, and you want to continue publishing your work, then you need to master the basics first. Read through the tips on this blog, search your writing for the errors I've mentioned, and then polish them out of your story.