25 October 2016

slush tips: plot

The slush is up somewhere around our chins...
The most important thing (or second-most important thing) in a story is plot. Basically, you don't have a story if you don't have a plot. Plot is particularly important in speculative fiction because readers expect a plot. There are many definitions of plot, such as: the sequence of events and happenings that make up a story. I prefer to think of it as the actions the character(s) take to solve the story problem(s) and the resulting resolution.

A literary professional told me recently the number one "plot" they see in queries is the wandering protagonist. She said this is not, in fact, a plot and they never request these manuscripts. It's worth repeating: someone wandering around is not a plot. On the other hand, someone seeking something for some specified purpose is a plot. A quest, then, may resemble someone wandering around, but it is a very different animal.

Some people say there are only a few basic plots, such as

  • the quest
  • overcoming a monster
  • rags to riches
  • comedy
  • tragedy
  • voyage and return
  • rebirth
Obviously, there's some overlap here and many stories combine more than one of these ideas.

I don't care what you call it or how you classify it, just show us your plot.

Next week I hope to start updating you on our next Electric Spec issue, the notable November 2016 issue.

18 October 2016

slush tips: character and voice

As you probably can guess, we're hip deep in the slush. I've been glad to see a lot of stories that have their facts right and that use similes and metaphors. :) Thanks!

One of the most important things a story needs is character. We editors are in disagreement about if character is the most important thing or the second-most important thing, but it's definitely important. Your story must have a character that acts. It's also important that the character drives the story, rather than having the character serve the story. This is accomplished by creating a fully-fleshed out person, complete with loves, hates, desires, passions, goals, flaws, and every other quality a person has. Of course, readers will not see all these qualities on the page, but we should get the impression that they're there somewhere in the background.

I admit I cheat when creating characters. I often base my characters on people I know. Surprisingly, these templates never seem to recognize themselves. Personally, I think it's because we create imaginary 'characters' out of the real people in our lives--which may or may not agree with how the people see themselves.
Uh oh. I'm getting a little too philosophical? Cynical?

Which brings me to my second topic: voice. Voice can be a tricky concept to understand. Partly because there are two different meanings. Meaning one: each character should have a unique voice. Each character should show his voice via his/her/its unique combo of syntax, diction, vocab, personality, etc.

Meaning two: the author's voice. Author voice is the author's individual writing style, created by their unique combo of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc. Some authors showcase a different voice for different works. For example Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series is much different from her Lily Bard Shakespeare series. On the other hand, some authors have a distinctive voice in all their work, e.g. Connie Willis. Personally, I love a strong voice. For example, I love Connie Willis's voice, so I know in advance that I will enjoy any Connie Willis work.

Consider wowing us with your unique voice--be it of you or your character.

The submission deadline for the November 2016 issue has passed. But we are now taking subs for the Fenruary 2017 issue.

11 October 2016


We, The Editors, are working hard on Electric Spec slush. I must admit I have a pet peeve: I get quite annoyed when a story contradicts facts. I try to stay objective if a story contradicts facts, but I don't know how successful I am. Probably, not very successful.

You're thinking But, wait a minute. Stories are fiction. They're supposed to be made-up. They're not supposed to be true. This is a good point. But...

Know facts! Use facts! If your story is set basically on our Earth in basically our society with basic humans, you need to get basic physics correct. You need to know what gravity and electromagnetism are and basically how they work. You need to know about the sun and the moon and other planets and stars. You need to know approximately where the continents and countries and basic landmarks are. If you get any of this wrong with no explanation or confirmation my peeve will be activated. By confirmation, I mean more than one character or situation is involved in this difference from our world; somehow indicate this difference is intentional.

An aside on explanations: Don't over-explain. A pitfall of alternate history can be a lot of exposition about what exactly is different in history and what the ramifications were, etc. etc. In this case, don't explain, show.

Of course, all bets are off if your story is set on another world with other creatures, or if there's magic or other extenuating circumstances (unreliable narrator?) involved.

The submission deadline for the November 2016 issue is October 15, 2016! Send those stories in!

04 October 2016

similes and metaphors

I've been taking particular notice of similes and metaphors lately. They can elevate a piece of writing from good to great. Recall, a simile is when two things are compared directly, often using words such as 'as' or 'like.' A metaphor is when two things are compared directly, but without using 'as' or 'like.'
Similes and metaphors should be unique to your characters and worlds and can be very effective in helping build both.

Similes and metaphors are extremely useful in descriptions.
Consider: The sky is blue. Kind of boring, right?

In comparison, let's look at a couple similes...
The sky is as blue as a mother's tears.
The sky is as blue as mermaids' scales.
Wow. Those bring to mind two totally different images and are much more descriptive than the declarative statement.

Consider using similes and metaphors in your writing!

FYI the next Electric Spec submission deadline is coming up: October 15, 2016. Get those stories in!

27 September 2016

stay positive

Here in the U.S. Rocky Mountains there's an awesome writer's group called Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and they just had their awesome annual conference filled with fun, information, networking and all kinds of neat stuff.

Some of the excitement may be wearing off... RMFW members and others may need a pick-me-up.

Writing is hard. Stringing one word after another is hard. Revising is hard. Proof-reading is hard. Finding markets is hard (An awesome resource is ralan.com). Submitting is hard. Getting rejected is hard.

I'm here to say: Keep the faith! Stay positive! One of my favorite Jesse Jackson quotes is "...it is not their aptitude but their attitude that will determine their altitude."

Some people say you can train your brain to be more positive. Tips include:

  • Express gratitude
  • Repeat positive affirmations
  • Challenge negative thoughts
Here, at Electric Spec we sincerely appreciate all your submissions.

Good luck!

20 September 2016

Why Manuscripts Stand Out

We have a special treat today. Our Associate Editor Minta Monroe has some advice for authors. For those of you who don't know her, she's the author of The Mound Dwellers and 2 collections of short stories, Home, Sweet...Death and Crossing Over.

Recently, I’ve been binge-reading a bunch of manuscripts by authors seeking publication (that’s all of us, right?) They’re all very well written, but some of them stand out, and others do not.

So I took the opportunity to study this—because we all want our manuscripts to stand out in a positive way when they reach the editor’s desk. The reasons why some of them *do* stand out didn’t become apparent to me until I noticed that certain elements of the exceptional manuscripts were missing from the rest.

Here are 5 things I’ve noticed so far. Manuscripts that stand out…

  • …use sensory detail. As a reader, I want to go on the journey with the characters. I want to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell all the things that they notice. Not only does this help to make the setting feel real, but also the characters.

  • …have characters who feel real. What the characters look like doesn’t matter nearly as much as what they are feeling, or how they act, or why they choose to act in the way they do. They’re active characters rather than passive. They actually do something—and it’s interesting—rather than talking about it.

  • …have lots of conflict. Once we readers care about a character, we *really* care when trouble comes knocking. We are rooting for the character, and we want him/her to solve whatever problem crops up. But will he/she solve it in time?

  • …have twists and turns and surprises. Readers want to be surprised. We don’t want the expected answer. We want new and marvelous adventures that we haven’t been able to predict.

  • …have a nice balance of pacing. Sometimes the action is fast, when exciting events are happening. And sometimes the action is slow, when the characters are introspective so that the reader gets to understand why they are doing the things they are doing. It’s not all of either one, but some of both, and they need to be balanced.
This is just the beginning, but here’s the bottom line: even the most brilliantly luminous story ideas will fall flat without these 5 elements.

Thanks, Minta!

13 September 2016

W00t! W00t!

W00t! W00t! We're still celebrating the latest release of Electric Spec! Thanks again, everyone who helped make it happen. We appreciate it.

What's your favorite story? The Dead Life? The Lightship? Song of the Brethren? The Quiet Death? The Inmates are Running the Asylum, and the Asylum is Running the Ship? I really like them all--but I guess that's not much of a surprise since I helped choose them.

I'm also tickled that we got to hear from so many of our authors this time here on the blog. Here are the links in case you missed any of them: T.A. Hernandez, Neil Davies, Dean Giles, David Cleden.

What's next? We're accepting submissions for the notable November 2016 issue! Please send us your stories! The deadline for this issue is coming up...October 15, 2016.
Next week we'll have a blog post from Associate Editor Minta Monroe with some tips for writers.