Category Archives: Suspension of Disbelief

55 WPM

The Story:

55 wpm

Khalid I love you that’s the most important thing whatever happens remember I LOVE YOU.  Not much time, I don’t know who the hijackers are or what they want…Khalid I would rather tell you you’d be proud of me for my typing test today.  I can type 55 words per minute with no errors at


The Article:

Dark_Bits_coverV3-208x300I think my experience as a short story writer is probably a common one in that over time, stories tend to sort themselves into three categories.

You’ve got your Bulls-Eyes.  You see a call for submissions, you have a great idea, you write it and it works, you send it in, and the editors love it and snap it up.  One and done.  This was the case with my flash fiction “The Long Haul,” which got published in the Dark Bits anthology.

You’ve got your Wanderers.  Sometimes these stories get written because you want to tell them, and not in response to a particular call.  Other times, you write them for a specific call and they don’t get accepted.  Either way, you’ve now found yourself with a “homeless” story that needs to find a place to belong.  Sometimes you’ll get lucky and you’ll stumble across a call for submissions that suits what you’ve got.  Or maybe this story will find a home in a magazine or anthology that accepts stories on a wide variety of subject matter and themes.  You’ll rework and rewrite and send it out again.  Sometimes you’ll have the delightful experience of watching a story that’s been rejected several times finally find a home…sometimes even in a market that pays double, or triple, that of the markets that rejected it.  The time I invested in revising that story definitely paid off.

And you’ve got your One-Winged Birds.  These stories have flaws that keep causing them to be sent back to you time and time again.  I’ve got a few of these now which are starting to feel like time sinks, and I think that I’m better served writing something new than spending any more time rewriting old material.  There’s always a balance to be struck between rewrites to make something better, and accepting that a certain concept is just not working, and eating up time better spent creating something new.

One of my one-winged birds is a political story which, I’ve been told, is too much of the characters discussing/debating/arguing and not enough action.  I think the debate is exciting, but I’m apparently the only one.

55 wpm is another.

I’ve sent out several versions of “WPM” (word number varying depending on story length…) and gotten some very mixed feedback.  I think this is the only story where I’ve ever been told that the stakes are “too high” and I should “write smaller”–from a reader who found the hijacking scenario too over-the-top to be able to suspend disbelief.  (A vast majority of critiques suggest that authors make the stakes higher!)  Other feedback suggested that the stakes were great –tense, urgent, exciting–but the main character’s responses too banal, surely?  All I could think in response to that was my own responses to emergency situations–including an in-flight emergency as pilot in command–were, after the fact, hilariously banal.  This might be the reason for the markets who told me they found the story unintentionally humorous and rejected it on those grounds.

So, with some of my critique suggesting that I choose a less urgent scenario, and other critique advising me to make the main character’s response more “serious”, I’ve decided to call endex on any more revisions for this story.  In a less urgent scenario, I couldn’t write the main character’s stream-of-consciousness reply, transcribing her thoughts as she thinks them, no matter how banal–because in a less urgent scenario, the main character would have time to consider her words and edit her typing.  And a more “serious” response is completely at odds with the kind of things that crossed my mind in actual emergencies when I’d already done all I could do and was waiting to see if it would be enough.

The lessons I’ve taken away from this one are:

  1.  I don’t think I want to write another hijacking story (except possibly as part of a longer thriller in which the hijacking would be a plot point and not the entire focus of the story).  This tight focus on the hijacking event seems to be a very hard sell, partly because there’s a tricky line at which extreme emotion becomes over-the-top.
  2. I find this story frustrating because the stream-of-consciousness (banality and all) was inspired by my own mental response to an emergency situation.  I wondered whether some of the people giving critique had ever been in a life-or-death emergency situation.  But…they’re the editors and I’m not, so I can’t exactly argue with them that they’re wrong (Don’t argue with editors. It makes you look very unprofessional, and you won’t convince them to change their minds and accept your story.  But it can definitely be galling.)
  3. This story’s based on a conceit:  the protagonist’s typing speed precisely limits how many words she’s able to send to her partner before impact.  Being “cute and clever” can backfire.  Character and voice are far more important than showing off how clever you are; and there are some readers (and editors) who don’t like “clever twists”, no matter how well you do character and voice.  I still like the story’s conceit, but I also like puns and stuff 😉  Going forward, I plan to focus on character and voice rather than thinking up new “sly twists” to base stories on.


About Mary: 

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.

Two Great Genres That Read Great Together

Science Fiction and Horror – Two Great Genres That Read Great Together

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll get this.

Imagine a kid, tousled hair and freckles staring in horror at a book in his hand walking down the aisle of a library.  From the other directions another kid, this one a girl with thick dark curls held up in two ponytails, as they peruse the aisles of their local library. They comically run into each other. The first boy recoils. “You got your science fiction in my horror!”

The girl looks equally aghast. “You got your horror in my science fiction!”

As an aspiring writer, I tried to write what I thought was purely science fiction while I wrote my first short stories. I knew that the novels developing in my head were more military science fiction and I was completely comfortable with that subject matter. I wanted to keep my learning curve within the bounds of “traditional” science fiction. In hindsight, I’m very glad for the opportunity to have had my mind changed for me.

In 2012, I joined the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group and became a regular member. While submitting short fiction for critique, analysis, and help, we had a contest to write a flash fiction story combining two dissimilar genres. To this day, I’m glad I did not draw Lovecraftian horror and “chick-lit.”  Instead, I drew science fiction…and horror.

Horror was something I never expected to write. I’ve never been a huge fan of horror movies, and I very rarely watch them. Walking Dead? Nope. It’s just not my thing. So, faced with writing a 1,000-word story I panicked and wrote nothing until the weekend before it was due. I was hung up on two things. First, to paraphrase Ray Bradbury’s definition of science fiction – it is the art of the possible. Horror, to me, seemed like the art of the impossible. Granted, I’ve experienced a few crazy, unexplained things in my life, but horror seemed to be all about fear. How could fear and (at least to me) optimistic visions of the future be related?

The second thing standing in my way was failing to understand why we read horror. I am a dedicated Stephen King fan and I realized while I was trying to get past the blinking cursor of doom that I was not connecting the science fiction scenery to the emotional response from the reader. When that finally happened, I wrote the story in one sitting while waiting for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport. I submitted the story “Poultry” for critique and was told I should find a place for it. Eventually, I did find a magazine for it, but without pay. In the last six months, I sold it again to Digital Science Fiction, where it recently appeared in their Quickfic Anthology.

Writing a miniature space opera with a horror element (and admittedly, a dark humor, too) was easier than I thought because I realized I wanted to elicit a response from the audience. I wanted there to be a moment of revulsion and a head-shaking chuckle at the end of the story. I’m hopeful I achieved that because that was the lesson I learned while writing the story.

We tend to think of prose as painting a picture for the reader. That’s part of the equation. We need to visualize the reader’s response. Can we do that for every reader? No. But, if we have that “target” in mind, we can deliver an emotional punch to the reader’s gut. That’s what makes stories memorable.

And, for the record, science fiction and horror are two great genres that work great together. (Insert head-shaking chuckle here)

June Wrap-Up!

Hey Folks,

I’d first like to thank every one who contributed a post to this month, Fictorian and guests alike!

The idea of a month devoted to not just research collection (because we’d like to spend more time writing instead, right?), but also some new concepts and ideas we might not have thought of to apply to our stories, thus making them more believable, realistic, or even helping us think of what might be true in the future.

Overall, I hope that our information was useful.

Some of my favorites (and there were many), in no particular order:

I started us off with a discussion on why realism and accurate information was so important in media.
Mostly because I was chased by a black bear once, and man, was I ever glad I read Little House on the Prairie.

Buuut also you know not everyone in your story is going to know the most accurate information, or maybe the readers are so used to an inaccurate trope that realism would cause them to cry foul. So sometimes perfectly accurate information isn’t the most important thing to the story.

Kristin Luna explored how gender can influence perceptions of risk-taking characters, particularly young women. We take risks! But perhaps not in the same way as young male characters might.

Guy Anthony De Marco gave us a 101 on proper terminology and use of firearms. Particularly, please don’t have your character take the safety off the revolver unless they’re removing their finger from the trigger.  Just…why.

Marta Sprout wrote an excellent guest post on how crime scenes should, and shouldn’t, be investigated.

Kim May implored us to do our research on the particular culture of an Asian character instead of writing them into a  stereotype. 

If we don’t care enough to get it right then we offend readers of that ethnicity — thus losing them as readers — AND we mislead and misinform the readers who aren’t familiar with that ethnicity. Also, by misrepresenting that group we’re ultimately contributing to the cultural oppression of that group — even though we don’t mean to.

I shared how to look for, and write about, a character drowning. Also please watch out for everyone at the pool. Even if they’re a strong swimmer. But especially watch the little ones because I had to pull a kid out who was panicking and that was so scary for them. Pools are supposed to be fun and safe summer memories.

I also wrote about the moving definition of ‘death’ and that lead to a whole exploration of what exactly cryonics are, how it all works, and what one might do with that sort of technology in their story. 

M. J. Carlson gave us a Top 10 list of the most used (and misused) injuries in fiction in his very informative guest post.

Mary Pletsch talked about how misconceptions about the military and soldiers can not only lead to inaccurate plotlines and failed missions, but contribute to ugly misconceptions around real service members.

Nathan Barra had so much on how one can accurately portray scientists outside of the stereotypical tropes that he had to split it into Science Fact and Fiction Part 1 and Part 2.

In Healing in Science Fiction, Jace Killian emphasized how quickly technology can change, and the importance of doing your research on current issues when anticipating future technology.

That’s what we have for June! Stay tuned for an interview with an amazing person tomorrow and check back in July as we discuss genre!

– Emily Godhand

Horses – the Motorcycles of the Middle Ages

HorsesWhat’s a wandering hero without his horse?

Not nearly as cool, that’s what.

Perhaps the second most iconic image in fantasy and many other types of fiction, behind the image of the sword, is that of the horse.

But for such a beloved and well-known part of stories set in the pre-modern world, as well as many alternate worlds, there are a number of common mistakes when it comes to how some writers utilize horses. Worse, horse enthusiasts are almost as critical as gun nuts for pointing out inaccuracies or unbelievable claims.

The majority of writers seem to understand that characters who are new at riding will get very sore down below, that the riders’ legs, not the saddle, keep them on a horse, and that bridles are usually quite important (unless both horse and rider are trained to work together by knee commands only).  Horses will not usually leap off of cliffs on command, or pummel snakes and wolves to death with their hooves.

Horses are not motorcycles.

They can’t run at top speed for hours or days without rest, feeding, or care. As writers design their world, they need to consider well the distances their characters must travel. Like travel by ship, travel by horseback actually takes quite a bit of time, particularly if the roads are not good or if the terrain is mountainous.

Admittedly, there are some horses with incredible stamina, such as some Arabian horses, but unless the story is set up to make it clear to readers that such is the case, don’t fall into the trap of assuming a horse can go forever. Long journeys are covered by alternating slow and fast paces, and what’s considered fast depends much on conditions being ridden through.

Another aspect of horses that is often over-utilized is rearing and whinnying. Spend a little time around horses and it becomes clear that rearing is extremely rare, and that they really don’t whinny that much.

Transylvania horsesOne of my favorite misconceptions about horses though are the impossible feats of strength. Most often, they are seen jumping enormous gaps, often while pulling a stagecoach no less.

Take a look at this great example from the movie Van Helsing. This is the great scene where the marvelous Transylvania horses leap a gorge, pulling a stagecoach. I actually love that movie, but that scene always makes me cringe. It’s even more noteworthy because supposedly they just completed galloping non-stp across three mountainous countries too.

So add horses to stories. Horses are great and we love them, but take a little time and thought to how they are portrayed. Do some riding. Make friends with horse owners and ask them questions. They’re usually happy to help.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinA Stone's Throw coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form.  When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities.  For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers scifi time travel thrillers, check his website: