Before We Were Yours
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than 35 weeks now and shows no signs of dropping from the list any time soon. Having aspirations of my own to equal such an accomplishment some day, I read books that make the list and hold on, to see what level of writing it takes to make the big time so that I, too, can hone my skills.
Sometimes, however, I’m left wondering.
The story itself, historical fiction of the Memphis, Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and the fictional Stafford family of South Carolina is good. I think Ms. Wingate has done a good job of blending enough research fact with her imagination to make a compelling story. In fact, I did like the storytelling.
What bothered me, however, was the actual craft. And it’s here I am trying to be careful as I have a query in to the same agent who reps Ms. Wingate–of which I’m likely to shoot my chances to hell and back. But I found it amazing how loosely edited this book was.
Just last week I read an agent, might have been on Writer’s Digest, and the agent was saying the easiest way to spot an amateur writer was by the wrongful use of the ellipses in one’s writing. Particularly by using an ellipses as a comma or a dash in a sentence instead of … a comma. (sic)
Ms. Wingate uses an ellipses as a comma or a dash and they are … everywhere.
Now obviously, this is not affecting sales. So maybe that doesn’t matter then, one might argue. But as writers, don’t we have an obligation to use grammar properly?
I also realize this is women’s fiction, but it’s also clear that Ms. Wingate is unfamiliar, even as a “former journalist” of what the life of a U.S. senator is like. Particularly one in South Carolina. She often has Avery Stafford, the daughter of the senator, talking about how they’re getting in and out of a “limo.” Um, no. Not even the governors I worked for in Alabama rode around in limos.
Showing v. Telling and Telling and Telling
This book sets a new record for me for the one thing every creative writing course, manual and website I’ve ever seen says not to do and that’s to show vs. tell. In fact, as the headline for this subsection goes, Wingate tells and tells and tells and tells. Part of that she gets away with because she’s doing first person accounts in alternating characters to tell the story–female characters with all their emotions at that. But Heavens to Betsy!
This book drips with telling. There were points as a writer I wanted to get out a red pen and start marking through portions as I read where what was included was not necessary–or wasn’t left for me to decide how the characters were actually feeling on our own. It was all force fed.
Look, I enjoyed the book. Don’t get me wrong. But these technical aspects bugged me like scratching fingernails on a chalkboard. Most readers most likely won’t care. The book being on the bestseller list so long is proof of that. The story about what happened in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society should be told loud and clear. This novel is a great messenger for getting the word out and I applaud the effort made by Ms. Wingate and the people who worked to bring this book to market. And congrats to all of them for being on the NYT Bestseller list for so long. That is quite an accomplishment in this day and age, and one, clearly earned by the story in this book.
It’s just hard to stomach seeing a book be so successful when so many rules we’ve been told not to do have been broken in this one and it has done so well. Like May Weathers and Rill Foss, I’m trying to figure out who is to be believed….