I received yesterday another rejection for “Perfection.” It was the eleventh I’ve received for that story, and I can pretty safely assume that another five journals rejected it but didn’t bother to send any notification whatsoever as it’s been so long.
What was different was that this was the first rejection I have received that was not a form letter. It was the first to be accompanied by the editor’s personal comments. His complaint was that there was too much exposition. He wanted to scratch “SUMMARY” in red pen across entire pages and leave only half of the whole behind, only the real meat of the story.
I can understand that. I might revise it, especially since a friend made the same point about one of the stories I submitted to Machine of Death and that story was definitely helped by the cuts. I probably won’t. I like it the way it is. “Perfection” is something like a confession or memoir. There is supposed to be meandering.
What interests me is that the editor said the writing was engaging. Isn’t that a good thing?
Let me make the point now that this isn’t an argument that the editor should have accepted “Perfection” and hailed it as the greatest thing he has ever read. He didn’t like it. That’s fine. My feelings aren’t hurt. I’ll try again with another journal. I appreciate that he took the effort to write personal comments in response to it. That’s really decent.
What interests me is the premise of liking the writing but wanting to cut it. He called it “exposition.” “Exposition” is clear and direct explanation. It’s the information that puts what follows into context and allows it to make sense. I learned early in my creative writing classes that exposition was bad and should be avoided, and the editor appears to agree with that. It may be necessary, but it requires finesse and should not call attention to itself. For the most part, I tend to agree. After reading friends’ stories, I’ve told them to cut paragraphs and pages worth of exposition. I’ve quit reading some novels because there were such slabs of exposition at the beginning that I just got too annoyed to continue.
But he said the writing was engaging. I’m not serving the rules of creative writing. I’m serving the reader. What does it matter if there are passages of exposition if the writing is strong and a pleasure to read? What I think is the problem is that he recognized the passages as exposition. Once he saw that, he couldn’t help but see them as an amateur technique and be impatient for the rest of the story to begin. What I wonder is that if the writing were stronger, maybe he would have been too caught up in it to realize it was exposition. Maybe exposition is not a problem until you recognize that what you’re reading is exposition. Maybe writing is just a magic act that is always trying to keep the reader’s attention on the words and characters and story and not on the processes and techniques that make them work lest they lose their sparkle and allure. It’s just a thought.
2 years ago