"Just follow the damn directions" is a lament heard far and wide in the QueryLand town of Agentville.
Also, heard here in The Reef more than a time or ten, truth be told. Usually when someone "helpfully" sends a PDF rather than a word .doc "so the formatting doesn't get bollixed up." Or when someone sends an attachment because emails "screw up the formatting."
Good intentions, but not what I want.
This post is not about that.
This post is about how hard it is to write the directions we're all so intent on you following.
We saw a really good example of this last week.
Our very own Colin Smith read the flash fiction contest rules (as did all the people who entered) and he thought the directions meant use one of the prompt words in subsequent entries. What I intended you to do was use an entire entry.
So, Colin is a smart guy. He's been entering these contests for a while now. I think he's clocked in at over 100. He's had some experience reading directions. Plus, he's not a dimwit, and he's not a simpleton. (In fact, he's the exact opposite)
And let's assume, if only for the sake of this discussion, that I'm not either.
Let's further assume that I didn't purposefully write those directions to befuddle you.
So, who's right?
Well, both of us.
I know what I intended, and Colin knows what he heard.
That there was a disconnect, not intentional, just happened.
Which brings me to my point: writing directions is a whole lot harder than it looks. What I think I'm saying can often morph into a horse of a different color in the eye of the person beholding the beast.
Which is why agents need to relax a little on "follow the damn directions" and consider whether the directions are clear to someone who is new or newish to publishing. (Or, even savvy like Colin.)
And why authors should not overthink things, or interpret so rigidly that they miss the intent behind the instructions. "Send three pages" doesn't mean cut off the sample pages mid sentence, or even mid paragraph. It means don't send the entire novel or 50 pages. Finish the sentence. Finish the paragraph. Finish the chapter if you can.
One of the things I value most about the blog reading community here is that I get to see first hand when my writing is NOT clear.
So, Colin actually performed a good deed by helping me see what I needed to improve. He's still bear breakfast though. I like the guy, but I'm not going to be nice to him. You want that other blog for nice.
What are some examples of directions that have befuddled you?