Category Archives: Mary Pletsch

Storytelling in Pop Culture

When we see the word “stories” most of us think about novels.  Many writers in the speculative fiction community write novels, and if you’re visiting this site, odds are you probably enjoy reading novels.  But novels aren’t the be-all and end-all of writing.  I’m guessing that you enjoy at least one other form of storytelling–and possibly more.


Movie scripts.


Writing the story for video games.

TV scripts.

Oral storytelling.

There are all kinds of different ways to tell stories.

This month we’re going to step back from novels and look at other popular ways to tell stories.  Maybe you’ll learn something about a medium you’ve never explored much before.  Maybe you’ll find some insight that you can apply to your own writing.  Either way, join us this month as we go Beyond the Novel to explore other forms of storytelling in pop culture.

To Quit or Not to Quit?

That wraps it up for us this month, and what a month it was! We dove into making goals, how to make better goals, when to amend your goals, and when to quit your goals. We hope our insights were helpful to you, and that you carry some of our hard-earned wisdom with you into your future work.

In case you missed a post this month, here they are:

The Stories that Just Don’t Sell by Mary Pletsch

We Always Need a Goal by Ace Jordan

Quitting by Nicholas Ruva

New Goal: Stop Making Goals by Kristin Luna (that’s me!)

A Gamer’s Guide to Quitting by Heidi Wilde

How Goals Can Destroy Your Writing Career by Gregory Little

Finish What You Start, or Not by Kevin Ikenberry

A Faster Book, or A Better Book? by Frank Morin

Quitting with Feeling by David Heyman

In Favor of Failure by Colton Hehr

The Goal Post by Sean Golden

Obstacles May Be Closer Than They Appear by Kim May

To Goal or Not to Goal, That Is The Question by Jo Schneider

Made to Be Broken by Hamilton Perez

2018 – Hello, Universe Calling, Is Scott There? by Scott Eder

When Chronic Illness Sabotages Goals by Ace Jordan

Setting Realistic, S.M.A.R.T. Goals by Shannon Fox

Resources on Goal Setting and Quitting Goals by Kristin Luna


What were some of your favorite posts this month? Did we leave anything out? Comment and let us know!

The Stories that Just Don’t Sell

What do you do with your “dog stories”–the ones that just don’t sell?

I have a few of those.  There’s the story that was written the day of the deadline, because I really wanted to submit something but I had too many other deadlines due first.  There’s the story that was written for a very specific anthology call that feels as though it will be hard to place.  And there’s the story that just wasn’t a good fit anywhere.

These three stories ended up meeting different fates.


Day-of-Deadline story ended up being okay.  That’s it.  Just “okay.”  It’s a passable action-adventure story, but when I reread it, I don’t see anything special about it.  The characters aren’t that unique.  Their world feels like a generic steampunk-ish setting.  When I finish the story, I don’t feel that I have anything to “take away” from it other than “well, that was 15 minutes of entertainment.”

There are enough good stories out there that editors are unlikely to buy a story that’s merely “okay.”

I have this story on hold until I can give it a more unique identity.  Maybe that’ll be by developing the setting, which in turn will give the characters new challenges.  Maybe that’ll be by making those characters more complex.  I might be able to rework the story I have, or I might have to rewrite it almost entirely.

The moral of this story is that this tale needed more time than the 24 hours before deadline to be refined into something memorable.  Without a heavy rewrite, this story isn’t good enough to sell.


Specific-Anthology-Call is a Weird Western with horror and fantasy elements.  I wrote it for a horror-themed anthology, but it quite fit the “feel” that the editors wanted for the book.  Now I’m stuck with this bizarre story that’s struggling to find a home.  I don’t think it has enough classic horror elements for most horror calls, but it’s too scary and gory for kid lit, and there’s no steampunk elements in it.

This story’s got a unique identity…it’s just that the identity is so quirky.  I’ve shopped this one around to one Weird Western call since, and I’m waiting to see another before submitting it again.  It’s going to take patience to find it a home.


Finally, there’s a short story I wrote that I liked very much.  I didn’t write it for a call–I wrote it because this was a specific kind of tale I wanted to tell.  I gave it to some beta readers, all of whom said they found it confusing.  They missed the in-text hints that suggested the true reasons behind the characters’ motivations.

I rewrote it, and received the same feedback.  I didn’t want to write down to my audience, or explain the obvious, but with feedback like this it was clear to me that my subtle suggestions were too subtle.  My readers were missing them, and therefore didn’t understand what was going on.

I rewrote it again, in a clearer form, and when I thought I’d gotten a good balance between “make sure the reader doesn’t have to guess too much” and “beat the reader over the head with the clue-by-four,” I submitted the story.  And submitted it.  And submitted it.

Over three years, I received five rejections.

After each rejection I reviewed and revised.  I got two “this is a serviceable story, it’s just not our kind of story” replies.

Unlike Day-of-Deadline Story, Specific Anthology Call, and my rejected flash fiction, every time I reviewed this story, I felt more faith in it.  I believed that this was a good story, not just an okay one.  I believed that it was unique and interesting.  I felt that there was something to take away from it.  I believed in this story–for logical reasons, not just because of ego-driven reasons.  I knew I could, and have, written crap; I just didn’t believe this one was crap.  And so I kept cleaning it up and sending it out.


A call for submissions, to a magazine where I felt the story might be a good fit–but the story had to be 1000K shorter than its current state.  I wasn’t sure I could make the story clear enough to follow, without cutting out any critical plot points, and also pare 1000 words.  I decided to try.  I focused on wordy sentences, repetitive descriptions, non-crucial detail.  Any word that wasn’t essential had to go.

I got the story under maximum length…barely.  I submitted it.

It sold.

There’s an art in knowing which of your stories are fundamentally flawed–the ones where you’re better off chalking them up as learning experiences and starting fresh–and which of your stories are good stories that just need to find a place to fit.

Mirages and Speculations

Setting is a crucial part of storytelling.  Setting affects the story in many ways.  What challenges do the protagonists face from nature and their environment?  How has the landscape shaped the culture of the people who live there?

There are some common tropes for fantasy and sci-fi stories.  Fantasy stories are often set in a parallel version of medieval Europe, with small villages, walled towns and thick forests to traverse.  Sci-fi stories are often set on gleaming high-tech space stations.  There’s nothing wrong with these settings, of course.  Sometimes they suit the story perfectly.

But an unexpected setting can result in an unexpected kind of story.

Mirages and Speculations is a fantasy and sci-fi story set in a different kind of landscape:  the desert.  Think wind-swept plateaus, scorching sands, and arroyos.  Come discover if that glimmer on the desert horizon is a lake, or the gleam of light off the side of a flying saucer.  If those swirling clouds are dust devils–or djinn.

Seventeen authors of science fiction and fantasy take you into worlds both futuristic and fantastic under the desert skies.

You can order it as print or e-book from Amazon here.