The Fictorians

Posts Tagged ‘submissions’

Thoughts From The Slush Pile ““ Success

21 March 2012 | 3 Comments » | Nancy

I’ve recently become a slush pile reader for Flash Fiction Online. In my opinion, good Flash Fiction (a complete story of 500 to 1,000 words) is harder to write than a complete novel. In one of the slush rounds – reiewing stories their writers hope to have FFO publish – I moved two of the stories to the next phase of consideration. Why?

One was science fiction, and one was fantasy/slipstream. Even though the two stories were nothing alike, they had some common traits that helped them move to the next round. So what did they do right?

(1) The prose was clean – no typos, no major grammar problems.

(2) The main characters were well-defined and interesting.

(3) Each character had an interesting problem to solve. One wanted to go home, and the other had a major decision to make. The second story violated my withholding “rule”. It didn’t tell me something the main character would know – what the decision was. I didn’t mind the withholding this time because the point of the story wasn’t the decision, but how the character makes it.

(4) The writers had strong “voices”. A writer’s voice is different than technical proficiencies. It’s a little hard to define. Voice is the personality of the writer coming through his or her words. It makes the story unique. Five people can write a story about a werewolf’s first transformation. While the plotline will be the same for each, the stories will be told very differently because of “voice”. For these submissions to FFO, the fantasy’s voice was a bit irreverent and humorous. The science fiction voice was curious and intelligent.

(5) They were complete stories with beginning, middles and ends. Rust Hills said “a short story tells of something happening to someone” in his Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Submissions that aren’t complete are character sketches or scenes. While they may be fabulous, they aren’t what FFO is looking for.

(6) Setting. It’s difficult to convey a full setting in 1000 words or less, but both of these stories gave me enough of one that I could see where the characters were. One in deep space, and one in a somewhat run down kitchen.

Note the order I put the above-list in?

I did for a reason.

Your story might have all the other elements, but if it is riddled with grammatical errors, I won’t read on and find that out. If the story is readable, I look for a character to care about. And so on. My list isn’t absolute. I might pass on a story with grammatical errors if the voice or characters are stunningly fabulous. Don’t put the bar to publication any higher by making technical errors.

What am I looking for as a slush pile reader?

The same thing I’m looking for when I buy a novel. A great story told well.

Keep writing, and keep submitting. I hope to see you all over at Flash Fiction Online.

And the winner is …..

24 February 2012 | 2 Comments » | Ace Jordyn

And the winner is ….

Not you!

What happened? You’ve worked on your craft for tens of thousands, hundreds of hundred thousand words. You’ve gone to workshops, read every blog, every book on craft you can find. By now you know what the pros say and you can teach the writing courses just as well. And yet, the podium still eludes you.

Then there’s Writer X gracing the podium. Her writing isn’t as crisp. Her wrinkles of profound thought aren’t as deep. And she’s much newer at the game. So why was her work chosen over yours?

As co-editor of the Shanghai Steam Anthology, I’ve had to read well crafted and poorly crafted stories. Some writers had great ideas but needed to hone their writing skills. Others wrote prose well enough but the story lacked tension, the story arc was incomplete, the dialogue didn’t work, it lacked theme/focus or the historical homework wasn’t done.

Then there were the stories which survived the first round of cuts. Those which had that extra something. Some would need some revision, others editing while the best ones required no work.

What!!!!!! you exclaim. Some needing revision are in the final round? What about the ones with the well crafted prose that you denied? Why weren’t they chosen for editorial revision?

The answer is simple – besides being decently written, these stories are memorable. Despite their flaws, I was engaged to the end. Every story in the last round evokes an emotional response whether it’s of laughter, amusement, bitter sweetness, feeling defeated, cheering a hero, being horrified, melancholy, elation, and so on. It may be quietly engaging as in a romantic tragedy or a simple rendering of a thought provoking moment.

The emotional response I’m describing is not about liking or disliking a character. It’s about the story itself. Am I left feeling optimistic, laughing, amused by the clever turn of events or am I saddened, horrified, forced to reflect on the human condition? And does that story stay with me long after I’ve read it? Does it have emotional resonance?

The story, like every character in it, has its own voice – its own drama, its own growth, its own ability to draw readers in and not let them go. That voice carries the story’s emotional resonance which is framed by the promise made at its beginning and is concluded or addressed by the end.

We understand that the story arc is an important backbone for a story with a beginning, middle and end which includes challenges, climax and denouement. Characters cleverly doing their thing without purpose or meaning is not enough. How do you want the reader to understand the world you’ve created when the story is done? How do you want him to feel? Happy? Sad? Thoughtful? Hopeful? Depressed? Scared to death? Satisfied for running a marathon? Cheering that the good guy beat the bad guy?

Once you understand what emotions you want the reader to experience, your writing voice will be clear and the story’s emotional resonance will reflect that. Emotionally, the reader is compelled to read the story through to its bitter, joyful, triumphant, tragic or thoughtful end. You don’t want them feeling emotionally flat and wondering so what?

 Good writing counts for a lot in submissions for contests, anthologies or publishing. But no matter how well crafted the words are, how strong the plot and characters appear to be, without emotional resonance the story isn’t memorable. It’s the little aha! I get it! or what a ride! feeling a reader experiences that makes it memorable. That aha! may be a good chortle, a reflective moment, celebration of the protagonist’s victory or grumping at a character’s stubbornness. Whatever the aha! is, every reader craves it and every story needs it to be memorable.

 Now when you revise and edit your work or when others critique it for you, ask them: How does the story make you feel?, Does it stay with you after you’ve finished it?, If you had strong feelings about the story, tell me why. If not, what does it need/why does it feel flat to you? These are hard questions to ask and answer but knowing this will take your story to the next level and make it resonate with readers.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: