Crapometer example

Dear Miss Snark:

Below you will find my fiction submission for ---------. I'm grateful to ----------- for suggesting you.

This submission is relatively short, not quite 3000 words. (you're saying the same thing twice) Writing it was a very emotional experience, but I'm not so emotional that you can't tell me to go fly several kinds of kites and write something else. (you can take all this out too)

This has also been submitted to one of your on-line competitors. I'm sorry for the multiple submission, but I didn't know you were taking submissions when I sent it to Literary Mama.
(Take out everything in blue)

The working title of this piece is Long Good B'ye. It's had other titles, none of them quite satisfactory. You have my permission, should you need it, to re-title it as you wish. (put the title at the top, no permission to re-title needed, and no commentary either)

You also have my permission to change my occasional odd spelling into good American English. I live in the USA and was born here, but I grew up with these spellings. I suppose that by now I should have changed to more suitable spelling, but I'm a very hard to change person.
(permission to edit is a given, but this is one of those factoids that people will either find charming or annoying)

Best regards,


OK, the cover letter gave me zippo info that entices me to read the story. If the only thing I saw was the cover letter, I'd say no, cause there's no reason to say yes.

Long Good B‚ye

I am, for a moment, a child again. I feel the same reluctant sleepiness, the same dull-witted obedience to kind but insistent commands to dress, and I feel the same excitement. Why this is true I do not know. My grandparents are dead. They won‚t be there, and I‚ll miss them.

We sip coffee in Aunt Shirley‚s cluttered sitting room. Seashells, common and exotic, cover the top of an old, battered Queen Ann (Anne) table. A baby quilt dated 1910 in embroidered stitches is neatly folded and placed with studied casualness on an old chest.

I sit across from a print of children playing in the sand. The original is a famous painting, but I can‚t remember the artist‚s name. It‚s a woman artist. I know it is. But names escape me. Not remembering is disconcerting, but I shrug it off.

Outside it‚s still bluish-black and quiet. We talk. In another age one would have written, "we talked of inconsequentials." We are avoiding the words, "Good b‚ye."

I dress sleeping and reluctantly roused children. My twelve-year old begs for more sleep. She plops herself on her granduncle‚s lap and buries her face in his shoulder. I see the pain in his eyes. In her uncle she‚s found a kindred spirit, and he found one in her. Some but not all of his tears are from arthritis, but he won‚t shoo her off.

"You‚re hurting your uncle. Get off the poor man," I say.

She obeys but hot happily. She sits next to her aunt and snuggles sleepily.

The car is packed. Raised eyebrows ask if I‚m ready. I‚m not, but I say, "We better go." And as an afterthought I add, "It‚s a long trip."

We all know this, and I feel silly for saying it.

I don‚t drive. A slowly dying mind makes driving unsafe. When I was a child I found a place in the back on the passenger side. Annalise would be on the back driver‚s side and the smaller of we girls in the centre. Anna and I served as security blankets and pillows to smaller sisters. Now I sit in the front, and I feel the same drowsy satisfaction as when I was a child.

It seems strange to describe a journey as having legs. But, if journeys have legs, this one‚s first is from Aunt Shirley‚s to the Columbia River.

When I was small, this stretch was a paved trail, a wagon road turned by the magic of asphalt into a highway. It twisted its way along a desert canyon floor. I would try to sleep. If I didn‚t, by the time we reached Plymouth Father would be desperately trying to find a place to stop before I threw up. Now it runs in multi-lane splendor on the high ridge, and it is straight and true.

I try to see traces of the old road. I get one glimpse of crumbled asphalt preserved as a bed of black gravel on the canyon floor below.

There was once a ferry at Plymouth, and on the ferry road there was an abandoned house. I used to wonder about the house and those who lived in it. I wondered why they left it. The house is gone now, and the town persists as a name, a few buildings and a trailer. We pass it at speed and high on an artificial ridge. Instead of crossing on a ferry with water lapping at our tires, we cross a bridge the sides of which almost hide the river from view. Neither do we pass through the little town on the river‚s far bank, though the road used to go that way.

(and here would be commentary)

Notice all the weird punctuation?
That's your auto-format kicking in.
You'll have to reset it but it's going to make me a whole lot happier not to have to manually take out every "smart quote" in the piece.

This also has 814 words on my word count so it would be DQ'd


Anonymous said...

Fellow snarklings, please help me out. What are smart quotes? How do I turn off auto-format?

KLCtheBookWorm said...

Cut and paste your stuff in Notepad. Then correct the funny-looking symbols into the punctuation that supposed to be there.

It's an annoying way to fix it, but it does work. I hope somebody else has a how to fix it in Word.

The Rejected Writer said...

Save it as a text file, not a straight Word doc. RTF would work too, I believe. You can also turn off the auto-formatting stuff under "options" under "tools" I believe.

BradyDale said...

So what are the rules this time? You want a cover letter and a synopsis, all totaling how many words?

When I looked at your 12/22 entry it said 1000 words. But you said this one was DQ at 814. But on 12/22 you wanted 1000 altogether.

Anonymous said...

Virginia, here's a web site that tells you all about this. It's very informative and good to keep as one of your favorite places.


But I always find if you spell correctly (and don't make apologies for bad spelling based on where you grew up), and don't get into smart quotes or anything too complicated you'll do fine.

Miss Snark said...

Brady, if you'll read the first announcement for THIS crapometer you'll see the rules. It's about six posts down from this one.

They will also be reprinted on Friday.

Miss Snark said...

ok, 21 posts down, not 6, and the title is Third Semi Regular Crapometer.

Gina Black said...

In whatever word processing program you are in, save the copy that you are going to send Miss Snark as "plain text" or "text only" (do not save as RTF--it preserves formatting). That should take care of the smart quote (or apostrophe) issue. You really want to do this because some word processing programs even convert double-dashes into em dashes and those come through using gobs of odd symbols.

Michael Reynolds said...

If you have doubts about a Word attachment send it to yourself or a friend first, see if it comes through clean without weird punctuation. You can also save it as a PDF and send it that way.

Anonymous said...

To guarantee no weird formatting, In Word, Save As Plain Text (it is an option in the drop down menu at the bottom, which is set to say "Word Document").

Cut and paste that into your email and then go through and redo any formatting that didn't come through. Best to put hard returns between paragraphs rather than indents.

Stacia said...

This also has 814 words on my word count so it would be DQ'd

DQ'd? As in December Quinn'd?

I'm not sure that's a compliment...


BradyDale said...

Finding old entries on here can be a little tricky. It's under "3rd Irregular Crapometer" not "Semi-regular" (which made it a little trickier to find). I will help out the snarklings. If you can't wait till Friday and Blogger is vexing you,
Skip to the rules here

Anonymous said...

This may be a stupid question but couldn't I just type the whole shebang into the email or would that cause probs the other end?

HawkOwl said...

If you're in Microsoft Word, go to AutoCorrect (on the Tools menu). On the tab "AutoFormat as you Type" clear the check box next to "replace straight quotes with smart quotes". You'll probably want to clear "symbol characters with symbols" as well. Or for that matter, all the check boxes in that list. I hate them all, personally.

Anonymous said...

I always just cut and paste my stuff into a notepad window, and double check the line-wrap by widening and narrowing the window, to see if the text behaves itself. Fix any wonky formatting and voila! You're good to go.

Feisty said...

Was this a test?

Lee said...

Good lord, it sure would be nice if people just used a simple text editor for getting text onto screen and didn't bother with the bloated, auto-formatting mess that is Word.

I know no one wants to hear it...but feel so much better for having said it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips, snarklings!
You guys rock (er, snark).

Anonymous said...

OK, so the limit is 750 words including the query. I admit the botched formatting (not the writing) caused me to stop reading the first page, but the difference in quality between the query and the actual story was staggering. How do you know when a bad query isn't written by a great writer?

Pete Tzinski said...

THe first thing I do whenever I reinstall my Microsoft Word is to go through and turn off every single feature that anyone's spent any time building into the program for me to use.

I'm sure they worked very hard, but look: I want a typewriter, with a screen. 'Nuff said.

After all, a good rule of writing is that when it comes down to actually WRITING, anything that gets in the way is the enemy and must go. (Er. Loved ones excluded, please don't take me to court.)

Anonymous said...

ryan said:
"and don't make apologies for bad spelling based on where you grew up..."

Honey, non-American spelling is not 'bad spelling'. To British and Australian writers, not to mention writers from the entire Commonwealth, yours is the non-standard.

Jude Calvert-Toulmin said...

The best advice I can give is to copy and paste the submission into notepad to take out any formatting, and send it to yourself to see how it looks in email.

I've got a question though, snarklings. Does this submission have to be double spaced? Am I meant to be writing a double spaced email or does the double spacing rule not count for email submissions? Any ideas folks? All advice gratefully welcomed with syrupy enthusiasm.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jude,
I'd highly recommend to NOT even attempt to double space an e-mail. Think about it this way: If you add hard returns (enter key) at the ends of your lines (the only way to add line spaces/double spaces), and the recipient (the fabulous Miss Snark) has a different width e-mail view window, you'd be creating not a double-spaced e-mail, but a paragraph full of odd line breaks and lines that run over and wrap to the next line and then break---bad news all around.

Miss Snark didn't mention anything about this having to be double spaced. Use the enter key ONLY between paragraphs. Keep it single spaced. The word count is, well, what counts. Hope that helps!


Jude Calvert-Toulmin said...

Cheers SK :) That helps a lot! :)

I have just spent the last six hours getting the whole goddamn book into one master document, and grappling with headers and footers.

I feel like plucking Microsoft Word out of the computer and physically wringing its neck until it's lying on my kitchen floor with a red face and its tongue hanging out, and I am shouting back at the smarmy tutors in the online MS Word training sessions. Is anyone else out there suffering for their art like this? (she said, tossing her hair around, Miss Piggy style)?

I need a holiday in Hawaii :(

Anonymous said...

Actually, she did tell us to not double space. I'm planning on not indenting paragraphs as well. Just submit it how she's shown us in the example. Looks and feels weird doing it that way, but apparently that's how she wants it.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I thought the word-formatting was off. I guess I don't know how to turn it off. I'm an incompetent clutz!

And no one commented on the writing itself! Dang it! You're supposed to, ain't ya?

This is from today's email (well, today's for me. I was mostly "not available" cause of doctors and such the last few days.):


Thank you for submitting to *******. "Too Soon Good B'ye" is elegantly written--restrained yet emotional. I like the description of the 12-year-old and uncle leaning into one another, and the structure of the piece as a quest of sorts. However, V****** tends to focus on stories with stronger narrative lines, that is, a bit more plot driven. This is lovely, but we're not quite the right venue for it. I hope you do find it a home and I wish you the best.

Laurie ******Editor,

Anonymous said...

Okay, you wanted commentary.

I gather that this is the rumination of a woman in the throws of Alzheimers (I know I'm spelling that wrong) or very old age? Visiting a place she visited as a child, and now feeling like a child again? I'm not sure.

Main problem for me is that there is no scene, and your protag wants nothing. The closest you get to a scene is when the child gets on the uncle's lap and the narrator tells the child to get off. An action, the narrator wants something, a tiny bit of conflict. But all the rest seems to drift. Characters who drift and want nothing are uninteresting. We don't care about them.

She must want something. To go. Not to go. To remember. Not to remember. To get her kids packed. To get through the goodbye. To avoid the goodbye. Wanting it starts the scene. Getting it or not getting it ends the scene.

That's the best advice I can give you. Nothing wrong with your prose. Good writing.

JRBrown said...

Sha'el, you've asked for comments on the writing, so here goes:

It's slow. Since you don't mention anything about plot in the cover letter, I'd be in fear that we've got 3000 words of wittering on about baby quilts and abandoned houses. The language is nice, and has a strong sense of atmosphere, but from the sample (and the editor's letter you quote), there's no incentive to keep reading.

There's a sense of sadness, and all the description gives the impression the protagonist is trying to postpone something unpleasant. Is that what you were aiming for?

Maria said...

Okay comments, but I pretty much agree with the first two comments.

1. the query letter is very personal. As Miss Snark said it's either going to annoy or charm. I'd check out some of the winning ones that give a paragraph or two on plot and use that instead--keep the personal (whichever of the tidbits you like) to the closing paragraph perhaps.

2. The writing is very evocative...but...that's it. You've got setting down, but you linger way too long on it. I got the impression you're going to a funeral and you don't want to go, dreading it, but also wanting it overwith (if that is the case, to make a stronger impression, you should have the person "run-into" more pertinent memories rather than the ones you describe.) But in any case, you go on too long about it. Every sentence is good; you only need about half of them.

This is the hardest thing to do, especially for writers that have such skill with descriptions because they are all good ones. The key is to pick one or two that capture the reader--then you go for her heart--not with setting, but with an event or conflict or a surprise...she's sad about the funeral, but suddenly she laughs when...x happens (preferably not a memory because you have a lot of that going on already.)

Of course I don't know why you'd ask for our advice. :>) I can tell you that I'm no good at query letters either...


Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll have a go at it...

I -loved- the atmosphere that you're creating both with the house at the beginning and how things used to be on her trip.

That said, for some reason I picture the narrator as a middle-aged woman, I'm not sure why. Maybe you could flesh the main character out a bit more. Also, alluding to what she's dreading is certainly interesting, but it'd be a lot more so if we had more information.

Atmosphere is one thing, but without captivating characters, it's just pretty images flashing during a Hallmark commercial.

Stacia said...

Sha'el, as always your voice is so beautiful and strong. I actually only skimmed this the first time, but in reading it I would have known it was you even if I didn't know it was you.

I was caught up right from the beginning, but I'm afraid I have to agree that nothing is happening. At first I thought it was the funeral of grandparents. Then I wondered if it was the sister or someone else. I'm interested to know whose it is, but the voice, great as it is, isn't enough to make me want to keep going if I don't get some sense of something happening. I can wait. I don't need action immediately.

But I'd like to have some idea where this is headed and what's happened, especially after getting the feeling the narrator is losing her mind (and with such young children).

Anonymous said...

I've often read advice for newwriters along the lines of "get your autobigraphical writing out of your system and put it away." I won't try and interpret or explain this advice, but is seems like good advice. Writing for catharsis is not necessarily as good for the reader as for the writer.

Both the introductory letter and the start of the story hint to autobiographical, cathartic writing. I might be wrong, but that's the impression. Intensely personal and meaningful to the author, while as a reader I'm left feeling either "So?" or feeling intrusive and a little embarassed.

The writing itself is very good. Self assured, confident, wonderful use of imagery and attention to detail, but while the first half put me in a place, it doesn't take me anywhere (if you see what I mean).

If this story were to start at "I don't drive." I'd like it a whole lot better. There's forward movement; there's a hint of some "conflict" in the "slowly dying mind", and there's confident writing with just the right amount of detail to put me in that car and on that road. I don't know where it's heading but, for me, that's where it begins.

There's nothing technically wrong with the first half - again it's very competent and well-crafted writing - but the emotions and details feel too personal to the author to translate to me; to downbeat (depressing) to want to keep reading; to full of details that don't feel like they contribute to the story other than as a tableau.

Think about starting at "I don't drive." Don't go grabbing for the heartstrings too soon - you kind of have to earn that.