Even good writers stumble

I like the Alexandra Cooper books written by Linda Fairstein. They have the unmistakable air of “yes, the writer knows her stuff.” And for good reason. Ms. Fairstein was the Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney’s Office of Manhattan for more than twenty years. The plots all involve a fictional version of this unit.

Linda Fairstein is a good writer, too. She writes compelling stories filled with vivid characters and interesting themes. The books are all first-person point-of-view narration, told by Alexandra Cooper.

Ms. Fairstein can also write a paragraph like this one which appears on page 195 in the paperback edition of Hell Gate:

“Or it’s cash stashed away in shoe boxes in someone’s closet,” Mercer said. He was thinking of the find at Salma Zunega’s apartment today.

The first sentence is fine. The second sentence is all kinds of wrong. First, it’s telling us something. Just telling. One of the Big Rules of Writing is Show Don’t Tell. Second, it’s not in Alexandra’s point-of-view. It’s inside Mercer’s head. Alex can’t know what Mercer is thinking. Big Rule of Writing First-Person Narration: The narrator can know only what’s in his/her own mind. Unless, of course, she’s Sookie Stackhouse and is psychic. Finally, the sentence is that worst of all possible things, unnecessary. The discovery of the shoe boxes filled with money had been made only a few pages before and had taken up quite a lot of attention. Your readers are not stupid. They can remember things for a few pages.

Am I going to fling the book across the room and refuse to read any more because of one clunky paragraph? Of course not. In fact, I recommend that if you like mysteries and haven’t tried the Alexandra Cooper books,  you give them a try.

However, it’s a reminder that even the best writers with the best editors can write some clunkers. If you are thinking of self-publishing a book, be sure you find the best editors you can to help get the clunkers out of your work.


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