Although he is the author of several books—including the young adult romance Just in Time for Love and the hardboiled private eye novel All White Girls—Michael Bracken is better known as the author of almost 900 short stories in various genres. He began writing professionally while still a teenager and has been a full-time freelance writer/editor since April 1, 2003. Learn more at www.CrimeFictionWriter.com and CrimeFictionWriter.blogspot.com.
IN PRAISE OF TECHNICIANS
by Michael Bracken
When we discuss writers, we often place them on a continuum somewhere between pure storyteller and pure stylist. The pure storyteller has such innovative ideas and such a strong grasp of plot that readers are willing to forgive infodumps and clunky dialog in their rush to learn what happens next. The pure stylist has such a wonderful command of language that readers are swept along by the flow of words and may not realize until later that what they read has no substance.
There’s a third type of writer whose skill set overlaps both storytellers and stylists, but whose existence remained largely hidden by publishing’s gatekeepers until the recent self-publishing boom exposed their paucity: The technician.
The technician is equal parts grammarian, who comprehends the difference between a dependent clause and an independent clause and the difference between “insure” and “ensure”; typographer, who comprehends the difference between a hyphen, an en dash, an em dash, and the even more esoteric 2-em dash and 3-em dash; and techno geek who knows at least three different ways to indent a paragraph in Microsoft Word and comprehends why all three methods should not be used in the same manuscript.
While the technician’s manuscripts can be put into production with little or no effort, the process of traditional publishing masked the paucity of technicians because copyeditors ran interference between the writer and the reader, cleaning up as much as possible given whatever time and budget constraints they faced. Now, with many small presses and self-publishing writers failing to hire copyeditors, it has become quite easy to tell which writers are and which writers are not technicians.
Does it matter to the average reader whether a writer knows the difference between an apostrophe and a single opening quotation mark? Apparently not. Many readers also don’t know the difference.
But it does matter.
Repeated exposure to raw manuscripts—both fiction and non-fiction—leads to the inescapable conclusion that the best technicians are often the best writers. Why? A technician’s skills are all learnable, and a writer who takes the time to master grammar, typography, and word processing software is a writer dedicated to mastering the tools of his trade, and anyone in any trade who masters his tools will be a superior craftsman.
They might even become an artist.
So, whether you are a storyteller or a stylist, whether you desire to impress an editor or you choose to approach readers directly through self-publishing, whether you’re just beginning a writing career or are already several years into one, it behooves you to become a technician.
Copyeditors will love you and your readers will appreciate it.