Perhaps the most important thing Jessica said was this:
1. He was gay.
2. He killed somebody (whether by accident or on purpose).
3. He was in a car accident.
4. He was dead (a ghost passenger in the taxi; sometimes his parents were dead, too).
5. He was going to join the circus.
These are much more than just fun factoids, but solid reasons why an otherwise good story will be rejected, particularly in a themed or promted story. Any slush pile has this problem. Writer after writer after writer gets the same idea and writes a story around it. To win a contest, or to sell a story to a magazine, you can’t be one of these “common idea” writers, and triply so if you’re going for a twist ending.
I think one trait of a successful writer is rejecting common ideas and finding uncommon ones. Or at least turning a common idea on its head. I’d be willing to bet that not a single entry had an ending where a child told his parents he was straight. Such an entry might not win, but it has teh huge advantage of being unusual, outside the box thinking.
As for grammar and punctuation, a writer shouldn’t have to be told to get this right, but no editor, even at a national magazine, is going to reject a great story because of the occasional mistake in grammar. No editor has ever said, “This is a wonderful story, I love the characters, and the dialogue is fantastic, but I’m going to reject it because the idiot who wrote it used “was” instead of “were” on page four, and had a run-on sentence on page six. What a moron.”
Spelling errors are far more irritating than the occasion mistake in grammar or punctuation. Most writers make the occasional mistake in grammar, or misplace a comma, but spelling errors are just plain laziness. Spellcheck is available to all, and it works.