28 July 2015

the value of editing

We, The Editors, are busy working behind the scenes on the next issue of Electric Spec.

With all the recent brouhaha surrounding Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee I can't help thinking about the value of editing. Of course, Ms. Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic. Until recently, I didn't know Lee's editor Therese "Tay" von Hohoff Torrey played such an important part in its development. You can read about several places including The New York Times: "The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'".

Editors clearly can play a very important role.

Here, at Electric Spec, we do edit our fiction--although we're not in Hohoff's league. Usually, this editing consists of cutting words that aren't needed. Sometimes, we suggest or ask for alternate titles. We have even occasionally polished a diamond in the rough into a beautiful gem.

Once in a while an author refuses to make any changes. When this happens we agree to go our separate ways.

Hurray for all those unrecognized, unlauded editors throughout history! We salute you!

21 July 2015

write your passion

We've closed submissions for the August 2015 issue of Electric Spec. Of course, you can continue to submit for the next issue (November 2015). Thus, we are very hard at work behind the scenes getting the August issue ready to go.

So, in the meantime a few words... Writers are told to write what they know. I don't totally agree with this advice. I think it's better to write what you love. Write what you're passionate about. One of the things I'm passionate about is: the universe!
This week we saw some amazing new images of pluto. I can't help sharing one of them with you. Here's Pluto with it's moon Charon:
Awesome!
What are you passionate about? Send us a story!

14 July 2015

effective protagonist

The story submission deadline for the awesome August 31,2015 issue of Electric Spec is July 15, 2015! Tomorrow!

I've been reading a lot of fiction this summer. In my opinion the protagonist is the most important thing in any story. Yes, that includes speculative fiction stories. There are some different ways to achieve an effective protagonist...

Probably my favorite type of protagonist is a flawed but heroic protagonist. This is someone who tries to do the right thing but has some significant personal issue(s) that will make this difficult. This type of protagonist is very common in YA fiction and is very easy to empathize with. Often they also have a unique characteristic, like a supernatural ability, or extra gumption or brains or something similar. In modern fiction, there's a sliding scale of flawed heroism that goes all the way to the anti-hero. An anti-hero would be mostly (all?) flaws--but still opposing the villain.
Please note there's an important point here. In most cases, an empathetic protagonist should have at least one good quality. (Yes, fighting evil could be that quality.) An effective author tool to make readers empathize with a protag is to show other characters caring about said protag. Or, you could have said protag experience something bad, like bullying. Or, you could have said protag caring for babies or puppies. :)

In the olden days all protagonists were straight-up heroes. They are basically perfect and always fight evil and win. You shouldn't use this type of protagonist because it's too old-fashioned. Modern folks can't identify with perfection.
I read a novel recently in which the protagonist basically had no flaws or problems. I did not enjoy that novel!

Of course, the polar opposite of a hero is the villain. They work to oppose the hero. Again, there's a sliding scale here. He/she could be an old-fashioned all-bad villain all the way to a partially good-villain. What makes a villain? That can be hard to decipher in this day and age. I'm going to say villains pursue evil while heroes pursue good.

There is an interesting modern phenomena in which stories and novels are written in which the actor has no, or very few, redeeming qualities. Basically, the author has made the villain into the protagonist. The fiction of Gillian Flynn might be an example of this. And you can't argue with success! Therefore, one way to create an effective protagonist is to actually create a villain. Who knew? :)

Good luck with your protagonists!

07 July 2015

cliches

Don't forget the deadline for the awesome August issue is July 15, 2015!

I've been reading a lot of stories from our slush pile lately. I've also been reading entries for a certain unspecified writing contest. I'm pretty sick of some things...

  • Please do not start with a dream.
  • Please, please do not have your story start with the protagonist waking up.
  • Please do not start with someone driving somewhere in a car.
  • Please, please do not tell me about your protagonist's hair style--especially not multiple times in the first 5 pages. I don't care how messy it is. I don't care if it's long or in a pony-tail or whatever. Hair style does not elucidate character.
  • Please, please, please do not tell what color hair your protagonist has--especially by running his/her fingers through it! No real person thinks about hair color while they run their fingers through it. Go ahead, try it: run your fingers through your hair. Did you think "my red hair" or "my brown hair" or "my blond hair"? I bet you didn't.
  • Please do not have your protagonist look at him/herself in a mirror as a mechanism to describe him/her for the reader.
  • Try not to use common idioms. "Avoid it like the plague" if possible. Because if not, your story may be "dead as a doornail" "at the end of the day." Creating unique idioms is actually a great way to create character and build your world.
Yes, I'm a little grumpy. Sorry. But avoiding cliches can only help make your writing as awesome as it should be.
(You probably shouldn't use "awesome.")
Good luck!

30 June 2015

Locus

Wow! Time flies. The deadline for the awesome August 2015 issue of Electric Spec is coming right up: July 15, 2015. Get those stories in!
I do apologize, we've been pretty behind on slush this time.

In terms tips, from last week, slush pile tips, still seem pretty relevant. I also recommend you proofread your piece in terms of spelling and grammar. We generally don't toss a story for bad spelling or grammar unless it's really bad. But if we're on the fence about a story, better to be safe than sorry.

Did you know there's a very famous magazine about speculative fiction? For many years the p-zine Locus was the industry standard. In recent years the e-zine Locus has been gaining in prestige. This past weekend they announced their annual speculative fiction award winners:

  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, for best science fiction novel
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, for best fantasy novel
  • "Yesterday's Kin" by Nancy Kress, for best novella
  • "Tough Times All Over" by Joe Abercrombie, for best novelette
  • "The Truth About Owls" by Amal El-Mohtar, for best short story.
The full list of winners is here.

Congratulations to all the winners!

23 June 2015

slush pile tips

Here at Electric Spec we do something a little different. We never close to submissions. For a particular issue we just look at submissions from within a certain time frame. Thus, our next issue is out August 31, 2015, so we'll be accepting submissions for that issue through July 15, 2015. A quirk of this process is we don't look at the new slush pile for about six weeks while we work on the upcoming issue.
Bottom line: we have a backlog of slush right now and we know it. We're addressing it.
I've been doing my part to wade through the slush pile and consequently I have some tips...
  • Do submit your story in *rtf format as requested.
  • Do remember to attach the file.
  • Don't use any weird formatting such as unusual colors, symbols, strike-outs, etc.
  • Regarding your cover letter:
    • Don't tell us you have no sales.
    • If you did sell to Electric Spec, mention it!
    • Don't ask for critique.
    • Don't send a follow-up email asking if we got your story. We get hundreds of stories and having to answer queries about your query just bogs down the process.
  • In your story, do show us stuff--rather than just telling.
  • If your story is super-long it's going to be less desirable (we have to edit it!)
  • Do write a story with speculative elements.
  • Your story shouldn't be about "business as usual." Something unusual should happen.
I'll have more tips in the coming weeks.
Thank you for submitting!

16 June 2015

novel openings

I've been thinking a lot about novel openings lately. It shouldn't surprise you that a good novel opening is a lot like a good short story opening. One of our most popular blog posts ever was our short story cheat sheet, and it has a lot of great tips for short stories. I was inspired to write this after Editor Betsy and I taught a workshop on writing short stories.

Focusing more specifically on speculative fiction novels, however...

  • You really need to have a character within the first couple of pages, ideally on the first page. This is because the reader identifies with the characters. If there's no character, who do they identify with? Keep in mind fiction is unique in that the reader gets to become another person via this identification. This initial character should be the protagonist, but it doesn't have to be.
  • In chapter one your character needs to have a problem or some other unique situation. This is the first appearance of 'plot' and it needs to at least hint at the major conflict of the novel. Also this should be related to the protagonist's character arc.
  • On page one you should give the reader some idea of setting in terms of time and space. I do not recommend a long description or a big info dump--just give us a sentence here and there. As an aside, paragraphs of info dump are old-fashioned; don't do it.
  • Your novel opening should be consistent with your genre. You read a lot in your genre, right? If you don't know what your genre is: figure it out ASAP.
  • You should know your novel's theme or big idea and chapter one should be consistent with it. Your theme is the take-away from your novel. Similar plots can have very different themes. For example, if your novel's plot is the zombie apocalypse ... What's the theme? The theme basically guides you in how you tell the story. Perhaps your protagonist moves heaven and earth to save his daughter, in which case the theme is 'family is everything.' Or, perhaps, the protagonist cures the zombies via medical expertise, in which case the theme is 'science can save us.' You get the idea.
Good luck with your novel openings!