As a tolerably mediocre author who has seen more form-letter rejections than penis-enlargement spams, I want to know how the internet people found out that I need a larger penis. I may never figure that one out, but as an author I do know how difficult it is to get any kind of hint at why stories get crapped on, so I thought I would offer a few insights from Dante's eleventh level of hell, also known as the slush pile. There has been a bit of discussion on this, and Ian Nichols was kind/evil enough to point out that every single entry on this totally official list was contravened by at least one great story. However, I would point out that all of those very naughty writers knew that they were flirting with, seducing, or making a web-cam porn flick with one of the problems on the official list. There's probably some pithy comment I should put here about knowing the rules before you break them and having a reason for breaking them, but then we would have to have rules. I hate rules. I hate meetings and paperwork more, but I hate rules.Read the entire thing. A few of the items on Van Belle's list are blindingly obvious ("telling instead of showing," "dead dialog"), but most prove thought-provoking. He devotes three of his twenty-five points to dealing with point-of-view problems, reminds writers that they usually ought to compress rather than chronicle (a technique Ursula Le Guin calls "crowding and leaping") and makes a strong case for flatter characters. If I had to argue with any of his reasons, it would be the very first one; can we really say that not starting in medias res is the biggest problem with new writers' stories?
A Postscript: Not only does Van Belle's article contain lots of useful content, it is also penned in a rather offbeat style, by which I mean it's simultaneously humorous and ribald. Exercise caution while reading at work unless you want to explain to your boss metaphors about condom sizes, bowel obstructions and the amount of adipose tissue in breasts.
(Picture: CC 2006 by DonnaGrayson ; Hat Tip: Brandywine Books)