Editing One Shot by Lee Child

self aggrandizing aaron

Why am I editing One Shot by Lee Child?

Because Delacorte Press, who is selling this abortion at $9.99 is destroying the written word.

Let’s look.

Friday. Five o’clock in the afternoon. Maybe the hardest time to move unobserved through the city. Or maybe the easiest. Because at five o’clock on a Friday nobody pays attention to anything. Except the road ahead.

The man with the rifle drove north. Not fast, not slow. Not drawing attention. Not standing out. He was in a light-colored minivan that had seen better days. He was alone behind the wheel. He was wearing a light-colored raincoat and the kind of shapeless light-colored beanie hat that old guys wear on the golf course when the sun is out or the rain is falling. The hat had a two-tone red band all around it. It was pulled down low. The coat was buttoned up high. The man was wearing sunglasses, even though the van had dark windows and the sky was cloudy. And he was wearing gloves, even though winter was three months away and the weather wasn’t cold.

Traffic slowed to a crawl where First Street started up a hill. Then it sopped completely where two lanes became one because the blacktop was torn up for construction. There was construction all over town. Driving had been a nightmare for a year. Holes in the road, gravel trucks, concrete trucks, blacktop spreaders. The man with the rifle lifted his hand off the wheel. Pulled back his cuff. Checked his watch.

Are you freaking kidding me?!

Everything about this writing is absolutely atrocious.

First, Friday, is not a sentence. Second, neither is Five o’clock in the afternoon; this entire thing is riddled with sentence fragments, and one doesn’t start a sentence with a conjunction, so the sentence or maybe the easiest, is also wrong. Furthermore, the paragraph meanders into and out of numerous ideas. Also, the tenses are confused. These three paragraphs are some of the worst writing I have ever seen.

We are given tons of useless information and out of sequence. Moreover, the level of writing is that of a 5th grader. How many staccato sentences started with the or he? How many broken ideas were provided over and over?

Normally, when a writer finishes a manuscript, they hire an editor, and the editor fixes all these discrepancies. Then, the writer submits the revised manuscript to a literary agent, who tries to find a publisher. If the agent finds a publisher, another team of editors is supposed to clean up the story even more to make it ready for the readers before publication. None of that seems to have happened here.

On top of the poor, physical structure and incorrect punctuation, a great deal of useless and redundant information is provided in a broken form, and still beyond that, there are numerous words reused, and all throughout several, choppy sentences.

This whole mess is what is ruining the art of writing, the joy of reading; people want to give indie writers a hard time for a lack of editing and poor storytelling, but this is One Shot, which became the movie Jack Reacher. I ask you, you writers, how does it feel to see this horrible writing receive praise? Readers, you just wait until after I edit this abomination.

****

Five o’clock on a Friday afternoon is the hardest time to move unobserved through the city, or quite possibly the easiest, since nobody pays attention to anything except the road ahead.

Bang, turned 6 sentence fragments into a single sentence, which rather than hinting at surreptitious behavior, it provides it point blank.

A man sat behind the wheel of a weather beaten mini van; his rifle was his sole companion as he drove north. In an effort to remain inconspicuous, he maintained the speed limit. Occasionally, he glanced through sunglasses, glossing over a multitude of vehicles.

Boom, separated the actual event from the mess regarding all the clothes he wore and why. Also, I set the mood by stating clearly that the man is acting surreptitiously. Everything we need to know is presented; he is alone, he has a rifle, he is on a packed road, and he is acting strangely.

Traffic slowed to crawl. Construction all up and down First Street cluttered the cars from a two lane blacktop to a busted up single lane. Tugging down on his newsy cap, the man peered over his shades and through darkened windows; work crews chatted while gravel trucks and asphalt spreaders lazily rode on by.

The man’s coat and the time of year doesn’t apply at this point in the story. The golf beanie to which Child referred isn’t a golf beanie at all; judging by the description, it is called a newsy cap, and it is the least of our concerns as readers. Moreover, we can now see the scene in all its glory; the road crew is out and traffic is muddled up; simplicity is key; simplicity is elegance. Readers aren’t stupid; they don’t need every, single, little, tiny detail listed off as minutia.

Forced to a stop, the man let out a huff, gripping his wheel tighter. The gloves covering his hands squeaked, and he shifted a finger from the wheel to fiddle with the top button of his rain jacket. A cloudy sky was certainly threatening rain, but a little water was of no concern; the eyes of men were, however, and he tugged his collar up, covering his cheek.

Rather than having everything light-colored, which is of no consequence, we see action. I have provided a scene rather than empty, sentence fragments, most of which started with the man, the hat, the van, the, the, the…. What I present is clearly a man trying to hide, and he his annoyed or perhaps worried by the mess on the street, which is important to point out, given the opening sentence, yet I have not kept readers at arms length by telling them these details; I have shown them. I even revealed that he isn’t covered up because of weather, but I stuck such a detail inside the key idea.

Gritting his teeth, the man slid back a beige sleeve to check his watch. It displayed Five O’ One. A minute down, and yet the road had sat in disrepair for a year.

With these two sentences, I gave readers a sense of urgency, which is presumably what the book intended, and still I mentioned that it had been a year since the road was under construction, not that it even matters; it isn’t relevant—how long it’s been under construction—all that is relevant is that it is currently under construction.

All of this is exactly what I mean when I say that writers provide a dry report of events, and editors turn those accounts into a story. It is unfortunate that such a great story has been mired beneath broken thoughts, and worse still that a large publisher and its editors can’t do their jobs, and perhaps the most devastating thing to us all is that this bad writing has become the norm; Dickens is certainly spinning in his grave.

Now, let’s put the two in sequence and see which is better.

****

Friday. Five o’clock in the afternoon. Maybe the hardest time to move unobserved through the city. Or maybe the easiest. Because at five o’clock on a Friday nobody pays attention to anything. Except the road ahead.

The man with the rifle drove north. Not fast, not slow. Not drawing attention. Not standing out. He was in a light-colored minivan that had seen better days. He was alone behind the wheel. He was wearing a light-colored raincoat and the kind of shapeless light-colored beanie hat that old guys wear on the golf course when the sun is out or the rain is falling. The hat had a two-tone red band all around it. It was pulled down low. The coat was buttoned up high. The man was wearing sunglasses, even though the van had dark windows and the sky was cloudy. And he was wearing gloves, even though winter was three months away and the weather wasn’t cold.

Traffic slowed to a crawl where First Street started up a hill. Then it sopped completely where two lanes became one because the blacktop was torn up for construction. There was construction all over town. Driving had been a nightmare for a year. Holes in the road, gravel trucks, concrete trucks, blacktop spreaders. The man with the rifle lifted his hand off the wheel. Pulled back his cuff. Checked his watch.

****

Five o’clock on a Friday afternoon is the hardest time to move unobserved through the city, or quite possibly the easiest, since nobody pays attention to anything except the road ahead.

A man sat behind the wheel of a weather beaten mini van; his rifle was his sole companion as he drove north. In an effort to remain inconspicuous, he maintained the speed limit. Occasionally, he glanced through sunglasses, glossing over a multitude of vehicles.

Traffic slowed to crawl. Construction all up and down First Street cluttered the cars from a two lane blacktop to a busted up single lane. Tugging down on his newsy cap, the man peered over his shades and through darkened windows; work crews chatted while gravel trucks and asphalt spreaders lazily rode on by.

Forced to a stop, the man let out a huff, gripping his wheel tighter. The gloves covering his hands squeaked, and he shifted a finger from the wheel to fiddle with the top button of his rain jacket. A cloudy sky was certainly threatening rain, but a little water was of no concern; the eyes of men were, however, and he tugged his collar up, covering his cheek.

Gritting his teeth, the man slid back a beige sleeve to check his watch. It displayed Five O’ One. A minute down, and yet the road had sat in disrepair for a year.

Thank you for reading. My apologies if my rage has spilled over to the screen, but I am outraged by horrendous writing, and even more so, by bad editing. To top it off, I am in loathing of the fact that numerous, indie writers present better looking (in terms of technical writing) manuscripts, yet literary agents turn them down, stating that they are in need of editing. WHY?! To wind up like this mess? Few indie stories I have read are written worse than this abortion, and more often, indie writers can’t even afford an editor, but what is the point? Even if they present a perfect manuscript, the publishers’ editors will reduce a brilliant manuscript to dreck.

Yes, I am steaming. Yes, I am venting on my blog. Someone has to let people know that this is NOT acceptable, and I have taken it upon myself to preserve the higher standard of story telling.

Thanks again. Next week, I’ll be coming down on showing versus telling…something the editors of One Shot clearly can’t comprehend.

EDIT: 12/10/2016 at 1:49pm

Due to the nature of the comment regarding that The Chicago Manual of Style promotes the use of starting sentences with a conjunction, I provide the following from The Sixteenth Edition of The Chicago Manual of Style:

1st

2nd

Nowhere does it promote such behavior. Now, in the event that the pictures are a bit difficult to see, I will also type out exactly what the Manual states.

5.206 Beginning a sentence with a conjunction. There is a widespread belief–one with no historical or grammatical foundation–that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice. Charles Allen Lloyd’s 1938 words fairly sum up the situation as it stands even today:

Next to the groundless notion this it is incorrect to end an English sentence with a preposition, perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the equally groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin one with “but” or “and.” As in the case of the superstition about the prepositional ending, no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctrine ever read any English themselves.

Still, but as an adversative conjunction can occasionally be unclear at the beginning of a sentence. Evaluate the contrasting force of the but in question, and see whether the needed word is really and; if and can be substituted, then but is certainly the wrong word. Consider this example: He went to school this morning. But he left his lunchbox on the kitchen table. Between those sentences is an elliptical idea, since the two actions are in no way contradictory. What is implied is something like this: He went to school, intending to have lunch there, but he left his lunch behind. Because and would have made sense in the passage as originally stated, but  is not the right word–the idea for the contrastive but should be explicit. To sum up, then, but is a perfectly proper word to open a sentence, but only if that idea it introduces truly contrasts with what precedes. For that matter, but is often an effective word for introducing a paragraph that develops an idea contrary to the one preceding it.

That is the end of this moron’s rant. Did you notice he never once started with a conjunction?!?! Now, let me explain why this conjunction business is erroneous.

To begin with, it is stated that a single person–Lloyd–feels it is alright to start a sentence with a conjunction–one guy! Second, he makes a completely incorrect assumption within his own context.

Evaluate the contrasting force of the but in question, and see whether the needed word is really and; if and can be substituted, then but is certainly the wrong word. Consider this example: He went to school this morning. But he left his lunchbox on the kitchen table. Between those sentences is an elliptical idea, since the two actions are in no way contradictory. What is implied is something like this: He went to school, intending to have lunch there, but he left his lunch behind.

First of all, but is not always but. Sometimes, but can be replaced by however, or except, or yet, so it is imperative to know what you mean when you write but. Second, the correct sentence is: He went to school, but he left his lunchbox on the kitchen table.

Now, now, that the but in question is separated by the comma, and it is no longer the beginning of the sentence, everything Lloyd said becomes moot, hence; you do not start a sentence with a conjunction. That solves everything that moron just said. Furthermore, starting with a conjunction: But he left his lunchbox on the kitchen table is not a sentence. It isn’t even a fragment because the main clause, and the only clause, is: He left his lunchbox on the kitchen table.

Now, beyond that, to say that his two broken sentences imply the following: Between those sentences is an elliptical idea, since the two actions are in no way contradictory. What is implied is something like this: He went to school, intending to have lunch there, but he left his lunch behind.

No, it isn’t. What’s implied is that on every other occasion that he went to school, he brought his lunchbox. That’s what’s implied. Lloyd is a complete moron who doesn’t understand the English language.

It’s clear to me, that Lloyd is implying that his second sentence could have been started with However, and in that case, he would be right because however isn’t one of the FANBOYS conjunctions with which we do not start a sentence. The sentence then becomes: However, he left his lunchbox on the kitchen table.

Now, let’s get back to something else he said: In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions.

10% is hardly substantial! Moreover, who decides what is first-rate writing? Which books is he talking about specifically? Which authors? On top of that, does he mean that 10% of sentences all of which are dialogue?

You do not start a sentence with a conjunction. It’s that simple. Don’t do it. If you hire me as an editor, I will tell you not to do it.

Visit my editing services tab, too!

4 thoughts on “Editing One Shot by Lee Child”

  1. Actually, you can start a sentence with a conjunction according to the Chicago Manual of style. They encourage it. And for the publishing world, the Chicago Manual of style is the bible. 😉 But otherwise, I agree with you. Fragments are all too common in bestselling books these days. However, all those fragments sound awesome as an audiobook. The narrator is able to deliver them in rapid succession and keep the listener on the edge of her seat. It makes me wonder if this book was written for the reader or the listener because there is a difference. Forgive me for nettling you. I had to read the Chicago Manual of style in grad school cover to cover. So when I read your assertion, I flashed back to those terrible nights memorizing that tome (and fantasizing about using it as a weapon). Otherwise, you have an excellent post, sir. Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I will never advise a writer to start a sentence outside of dialogue with a conjunction. I also won’t ever scorn a writer for doing so. I will scorn an editor for allowing it, though, especially when they forget to apply all the other rules. Such a thing has been drilled in us since the 1st grade–remember FANBOYS?–so starting with a conjunction, for me, is absolutely incorrect, and there are plenty of resources that solidify this proper application of rules.

      I understand fully what you mean about the pacing of those fragments in question when heard versus read, but the proper punctuation paired with a great performer will still have the same effect. In the end, my most prominent complaint is that this is a book. This is a book released by a fairly prestigious press. Editors have supposedly combed through it in order to present the reader–the buyer–a finished product, and it reads to me like a first draft, but the real issue is that this is happening with numerous books from numerous presses, and all the while, literary agents are telling new authors not to submit their MS without having it edited; so I ask: to what end?

      These editors, the ones employed by the big presses, are doing a terrible disservice to readers and writers alike, and all the while, they sit there, obviously not doing anything, and receiving sixty, seventy thousand dollars a year. Maybe more? It angers me, and I won’t stand for it.

      Thanks again for commenting. I cherish everyone’s opinion, and in the end, what really matters is that readers enjoy what they purchased. It’s to that end, however, that I will continue to provide people who are interested with the correct way of writing, so that our reading skills, writing skills, and speaking skills might begin to improve rather than decline.

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