The fatal flaw.
I don’t recall the publication or the author, but I recall those words as if they were seared into my temporal lobe with an “FF” branding iron. What I learned that day is that you can have great characters involved in a riveting plot, speaking clever lines written in world-class prose. But if your manuscript is cursed with a fatal flaw, then you can submit it to every publisher on this planet—make that the known universe—and it will bounce back.
I considered my steady stream of rejection slips, occasionally graced with a letter that had an actual signature from an actual editor, and pondered this new and disturbing development. Do I have a fatal flaw?, and if I do, what is it and how did I get it? From that point on I was convinced that the manuscripts I was sending out had a tumor, some mutating growth that I could not see or smell or touch, but it was there, dooming my carefully crafted words to a slow and certain death.
This was early in the Google days so my ability to self-diagnose was limited. I was in a critique group with other as-yet-unstooped writers, and they didn’t think I had a fatal flaw. They thought my words dripped with undiscovered promise. Of course they thought that. Chances are, since we spent hours on end in a small space with poor ventilation, they were suffering from the same affliction. We were sharing our pages without taking precautions, thereby re-infecting each other with any number of fatal flaws.
My only option was a dose of assessment from on high, a prescription that could be filled only by those who have published repeatedly, thereby proving themselves free of FFS (Fatal Flaw Syndrome).
My project at that time was a short story that didn’t have any legs, so I made the obvious call and decided to turn it into a novel. Then I encountered the FFS article and decided it was time to find a cure.
I applied to a one-week workshop, hosted by actual novelists that would give me daily doses of one-on-one time, backed up by booster shots of critiques by fellow aspiring novelists. Long story short, I was accepted into the program. The authors presented me with a diagnosis, exposed my fatal flaw in all it’s shimmering glory, and the rest is history. One year later and I had my first publishing contract.
If you want to know what that fatal flaw was, you will have to read my next post. But know this. There are lots of fatal flaws out there. No one is immune. And just because you killed one, that doesn’t mean you are safe. In fact, I think I see one now. And now that you’ve read this post, you may have it, too.