You writers may sniff at the rejection letter and say, “What does ‘undeveloped’ mean?” Glad you asked, since it was the biggest word in the graph Nate mentioned.
Many of the editor comments here at Bartleby Snopes roll up into the ‘undeveloped’ tag because the author did not submit a work that reflected a finished concept. This is really not a question of, “is it good technically” or “stylistically” … It’s more “is the core finished?”
Imagine the Statue of David finished to glorious perfection as we see it today, except…
… oh gosh. The bone structure is there. The finished texture… The color, the repose, the eyes…those gorgeous eyes. The definition, texture, the perch and the hair. So much of this rendition’s detail can be evaluated and said to be perfect on a point by point basis. The sculptor spent hundreds of hours crafting this, probably using the absolute best of 99 percent of his skills. (Yes, a man made this).
Looking at this prankster’s picture of what David would look like if he were an “artistic miss,” you and I know that what is shown in this picture to the right is not the best version of what the artist intended or could achieve. Because we’ve seen the real thing.
Despite this, when it comes to writers, they don’t always see something so obvious about their own work as what is in that photograph. Essentially, they’re spending so much time carving the hair on the nipple just right, that they don’t see that what they have framed needed to be trimmed, revised, vetted, discussed, tested, etc before being polished.
So, undeveloped does not mean unpolished. It means that the writer needs to take a good hard look at every angle to see whether the broad strokes they are making are well-thought out and the best of all possibilities.
Let me illustrate. I’ll give you an insider glimpse. Nate might not like one of his minions showing the magic behind the curtain, but here it is. This is my inner dialog while reading a recent story: “Tim, the Boy Who Thought About the Army,” which is not a real story submitted to Bartleby Snopes, but you should get the idea.
- The facts are all here. But when does this take place? Had the Army recruiter ever been around Tim before? Was the sergeant really gay? What’s the difference between hueys and choppers? I should google that later.
- Maybe this should take place in a circus instead. Like a metaphor. What did it all smell like? Wouldn’t Tim get dust in his eye doing that? Would he want to join the circus or the army? If it were the circus, would he have any empathy for the poor animals or maybe the carnies? Did they really have small hands (the carnies)? Would it be better if one escapes (the animals)? Maybe leaves a scar? Maybe a carny leaves a scar? Is it ‘carny’ or ‘carney’…?
- The circus animals are like the oppressed nations that bad armies beat up. Maybe circus is not such a good metaphor for army. This story might be better if it weren’t so literal though… blah, blah, blah.
You’ll note that, while it may sound like I missed my meds today, in fact editors really can get this distracted reading your story.
You wrote the story. You know what’s coming next. I don’t.
It’s like typing into Google. You (the author) type the letter ‘C‘ and Google (the editor) has 75 ideas of what might come next, based on past experience. You’re actually going to type, “Carpenter” but silly Google guesses, “Is it Colon? Columbus? Capillary? I bet it’s Cancer! Cancer is really popular today – especially since you accidentally clicked on an advert for Home Cancer Care last Christmas. Hope everything is okay there. Oooo! Maybe it’s Christmas! Is it Christmas? Is it?”
“No, Google. It’s not ‘Christmas’… Ok, now it is Christmas, because that would make my Carpenter story about Jesus more ironic.” Friggin’ Ben Bailey was right about Google.
I digress. Editors who may have mild autism spectrum disorders aside, I do have a point.
As an author, you get one shot with any given editor. Don’t waste it. If you haven’t worked out the editor’s reading experience – anticipated their questions (and answered the ones that are worth answering) in the body of your work – then by the time you submit it, your story is probably a miss.
We are not your workshop. I would love to share this crazed inner monologue with each and every writer who submits. If you as a writer are the type to get anything out of that kind of response to your own personal works, then you know it’s invigorating, refreshing to have a dialog. But there is no time for that kind of sharing when writing rejection letters. You get a few sentences and maybe some encouragement.
Stunningly, some writers don’t want to hear even that. They are just like the sculptor looking at that fat statue, unwilling or unable to see that, at some point, they committed to something in their writing that closed the door to a better possibility.
And if any of you want to argue with me that a fat David is good enough, I will personally email you a painful flick of the ear. You are worse than I am with your side-tracked thoughts. Just develop your work. Workshop it or have a friend read it or whatever it takes. Early on too, before you realize too late that (heaven, forbid) there is no polishing your turd.
Get it rock solid and bullet-proof by the time you submit. Believe me, it’s more fun for us to write accept letters.
Christopher T Garry is a Senior Assistant Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine.