Do your words serve your story – or do they serve you?

by Anita Stratos, Proof Positive editor

Picture this: you’re craving apple pie – one of those “just gotta have it” days – so you go to your favorite café and order up a slice.

Your mouth waters when the server puts your pie in front of you, but when you look closer, you see cranberries, blueberries and pecans mixed with a few apples inside a coconut crust.

“What’s this?” you ask your server with disappointment. “I just wanted a simple apple apple piepie.”

“That’s our pastry chef’s version of apple pie,” she answers. “He likes to stretch his creative culinary muscle.”

Do you think you got what you ordered? Or did you get a more complex dessert, a berry-apple-nut pie with a unique crust? The chef promised apple pie on the menu, but he loaded it up with lots of other things and topped it off in a nontraditional way.

While that gourmet pie might be delicious and welcome on any other night, this time you wanted apple pie and trusted what was written on the menu. So even though the recipe might win a James Beard award, it’s most unwelcome and unappreciated by you at this moment.

Two things went wrong here, and the same things can go wrong with your writing, too.

First, don’t promise something in your title, cover image, or book blurb that you don’t deliver in your story. A book blurb that describes a fantasy novel but delivers a romance is bound to get bad reviews. Your writing may be superb, but you attracted the wrong audience.

The first takeaway: Don’t write “apple pie” on the menu when you’re crafting a multi-berry-apple-nut coconut-crusted pie.

Second, write your prose in a way that best serves your story, not in a complex way that doesn’t match the story or reflect something within the book or character(s). Unnecessarily complex writing gets very tiresome very quickly, slows readers down, and could sound pretentious.

The second takeaway: Serve apple pie to people who love apple pie, and save the gourmet blends for a different audience.

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