28 October 2014

Spinrad on story

In preparation for the production meeting I've been pondering what makes a good story. The first and foremost element to a good story is story.
Norman Spinrad wrote some interesting remarks on this in 2011:

Talented writers who misunderstand science fiction have often fallen into ...[a] trap, supposing that writing in the SF mode allows you to invent whatever literary world suits your purpose without regard to suspension of disbelief or scientific knowledge, and sometimes it even works.

But you do have to have a purpose, a theme, a didactic ax to grind, a revelation to convey—something, anything, that pulls together your series of events, uniting character evolution with dramatic structure and with philosophical vector to reach a satisfying conclusion for the reader, an epiphany, if you’re really on your game, even a satori.

There is a technical term for this.

It’s called a story.

... Stories arise somewhere below the intellectual surface of consciousness—the subconscious, the collective unconscious, the dreamtime, the zeitgeist—and you know when one arises from the vasty deeps because it grabs you with the grappling iron of emotion, and will do the same for the reader if you’re up to the task of conveying it. Stories call you. There’s no guarantee they’ll come when you call...

Good luck getting your stories to come when called!

Next week I'll report what happens at the production meeting for the November 2014 issue.

23 October 2014

Asimov on Creativity

We don't often give links to other stuff here but I can't resist...
Check out Isaac Asimov's article on creativity in the MIT Technology Review published on-line this week here.
Enjoy!

21 October 2014

what's your line?

The submission period for the November 2014 issue of Electric Spec is closed. Of course, this means the submission period for the February 2015 issue is open.

We are working hard behind-the-scenes getting ready for the production meeting. We haven't quite gotten through all the slush but we're working on it. I've started reading the hold-for-voting stories and when I do so, I write a one sentence summary of each story so I can remember it for the production meeting.

In general, this is a very helpful exercise. If you can't express your story in one line...you may have a problem. For example, in our most recent issue we had stories that can be described via 'What happens to girls who get it on with fairies.' and 'A Hawaiian steampunk murder mystery.' These single lines make the stories sound intriguing, right?

In my own fiction, I recently sold a story which can be summarized by the line 'An astronaut's synesthesia saves the mission.' On the other hand, I've been working on a story which is not working (yet). It's line is: 'A robot gets Alzheimer's.' When I express it in one line, I can see that it's a setup for a story but not a complete story. Ah ha! I need to answer the question: what happens when the robot gets Alzheimer's? I should go work on it.

In the meantime, what's your line?

14 October 2014

editing

First things first: tomorrow is the submissions deadline for the November 2014 issues of Electric Spec. Get those stories in.

Our submissions page says A note on our editorial policy: before publication we may edit the story for length or readability. However, we always remain true to the spirit of the story.

Some authors are scared away by this. Don't be. Obviously, we edit for spelling and grammar. The most common other edits are cutting extra words and lines. Many authors repeat themselves. Sometimes authors go off on tangents that don't relate to the story at hand.
Sometimes authors have pov shifts--we fix these with as few word changes as possible.
Sometimes we alter the spacing of prose on the page. For example if something is very important we might give it its own paragraph.
Once in a while we don't feel the title does justice to the story. We might tell the author: we think the essence of the story is this. Can you come up with a less generic title?

Electric Spec editors do not write any part of your story. We have never changed the essence of any story and we never will. If we didn't like your story we wouldn't have bought it.

And, bottom line, any change has to meet with the approval of the author.

07 October 2014

hurray for writers!

We, The Editors, are working feverishly behind-the-scenes to get through the slush pile in preparation for our November 30, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Which reminds me, the submission deadline for this issue is coming up: October 15, 2014. Get those stories in! We sincerely appreciate your submissions.

As I peruse all the interesting stories, I can't help thinking writers are amazing. They create people and worlds out of nothing but their imagination. Wow. Think about that for a second. There was nothing...and then, bam!, there was something. And fictional characters are known around the world and throughout time. Think of your favorites; maybe they include Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo Baggins, Paul Atreides, Arkady Darell, Sookie Stackhouse, Harry Dresden, Ender Wiggin, or Tyrion Lannister... The list goes on and on. And I bet your friends know and love the characters, too. So, I'll say it again: writers are amazing.
If you are a writer: thank you! Thank you for working hard to create stories to spark readers' imaginations and dreams.

Hurray for writers!

30 September 2014

earn your death

We're looking for some good macabre stories for our noteworthy November issue of Electric Spec. Macabre can evoke the grim and ugly aspects of death, but we tend to focus on the associated emotional facets. Perhaps it would help to think of it as suggestive of the allegorical dance of death.

Over the last decade we've received hundreds (thousands?) of stories of men killing their wives and/or girlfriends. In recent years these are often flash fiction pieces where the characters are introduced and then, bam!, the woman's dead. Sadly, after reading these I think, "Eh." I've seen it before, and, frankly, I don't care about any of the characters. And thinking up a unique way to kill off the woman doesn't help.
Consider bucking the trend and writing a macabre piece that doesn't involve murder. :)

In your story if you want to kill off your woman, make me care. How do you do this? You create a three-dimensional murderer and murderee, with good and bad characteristics, loves, hates, and desires. Real people want something(s) and so should murderers (and I'm not talking just murder). The murder should arise as a consequence of their characters. The protagonist's character should not consist solely of murderer.

Is this hard to do in flash fiction? Yes. Very. It's difficult to do in 5,000 words, too.
But no one ever said writing was easy. Or, if they did, maybe they deserve...
Good luck!

23 September 2014

tips from the slush pile

We, the Editors, have started going through the slush pile for the notable November 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Thus, I've got some tips for authors...

Short fiction is an art form, and, frankly, you can do anything you'd like. That's part of the beauty and allure of short fiction.
However, if you want to be published in Electric Spec:

  • You must have at least one protagonist. Another name for protagonist is 'main character.' I can't stress this enough. If you don't have a protagonist the reader has no one to identify with.
  • You must have at least some showing. This means you cannot have all telling. Telling puts a layer of author between the reader and the story. The reader wants immerse him/herself in the story, to go on an adventure, not think: this is a clever author.
  • You should very probably have dialogue. It's very difficult to have a protagonist and showing without any dialogue. It can be done, if there's only one character total in the story for example, but it probably shouldn't be.
  • You must have a speculative element. We aren't called Electric Spec for nothing.
  • Something needs to happen. Another way of putting this is: something needs to change in the story.
To summarize, if I read a story from the slush pile and it doesn't have a protagonist, some showing, some dialogue, a speculative element, AND change, I will reject it.