28 September 2008
So what do all three of us editors like most? Character-driven stories that pull you with with an interesting word and proceed in a sensible, but perhaps not predictable, way with an ending that is satisfying. If you have one of those, please send it our way!
25 September 2008
I agree with Betsy: Wow! We had a lot of great stories this time. In fact, we had a record number of 'hold for voting' stories this issue. Kudos to you authors! Thank you to everyone that submitted.
It's a given that all the stories that made it to hold-for-voting were written by competent writers with a firm grasp of spelling and the rules of grammar.
I also agree with Betsy that "Just the right amount of information" is good. IMHO about 99% of the stories we get are too long. I freely admit early drafts of stories I write are also too long, but I've learned to go through at the end and cut, cut, cut.
I have deciphered the number one reason I pick a story for Electric Spec is originality. I want to read about an idea I've never heard of, or even imagined, before.
What does this mean for you, the author?
It means a mean man/monster/alien/ghost/vampire/werewolf that kills his wife/girlfriend/etc. is a tough sell unless it has an original twist.
It means a story with the big reveal that the protagonist is a monster/alien/ghost/vampire/werewolf is a tough sell unless it has an original twist.
It means the prince/knight/soldier/etc. that saves a maiden/princess/plucky thief/etc. and defeats the demon/monster/dragon/evil warlock/etc. on a quest is a tough sell unless it has an original twist.
I think you get the idea.
It doesn't mean that unoriginal stories are bad, it just means they aren't for me. Of course I don't pick the stories by myself. All the editors get together and hash it out, so we all have a say.
We hope to have our selections for the Oct. 31 issue by the end of this week and we will inform authors soon after.
Thanks again for submitting!
24 September 2008
What are some qualities of the stories in our Hold File? Here are some comments culled from my own notes:
Creative world. Creative doesn't necessarily mean funny-named critters and odd-looking foliage. Creative, when I think about world-building, means fleshed-out, that I have a sense of wholeness, of more than I can see in your story. Truly excellent world-building even spurs plot and characterization. Customs should make sense within the larger framework. Politics, economics, and culture, down to slang and phrasing, should affect and inform your characters' actions. You can even use similes to give me more information about your world. Closely linked is deftly-handled world building. This means no telling, no explaining. The characters behave as they do because it's what they know. They are so much a part of their world that I can't picture them anywhere else.
Just the right amount of information. Whew! Did we ever get some loooong stories for this issue. The short form is a "bite," not the whole pie.
Great tension. Nothing holds me rapt like tension. Every sentence should deepen it, draw the reader further in, locking them into the character's inevitable choices and fate. A reader (me) should ask with every scene: will he or won't he? Tension stems from a good story question and proper pacing. (No waxing poetic during sword fights!)
Intriguing, well developed foe. Let's hear it for bad guys--the most neglected character in poorly written fiction. But hey! Antagonists are people, too. They aren't just a rock to climb over; they're the whole reason your protag got into this mess in the first place. The better the antagonist, the better the conflict.
Writing is very clean. Clear, strong language. Solid word choice and sentence structure. (When in doubt: subject, verb, object.) No passive voice, no misused words, few grammar and punctuation flaws. No adverbs when a strong verb would do. No POV glitches. Don't tell it when you could show it just as well.
Voice matched plot and characters perfectly. Dave said something to me last night that stuck with me all the way until today. Sophisticated writers think about how to match voice to plot and characters. If your character is a sheepherder from the Shire who can't read, don't use big words in his POV.
Atmospheric. This is the most difficult to explain, but the most fun to read. If it's a story that takes us into the dark places of someone's soul, then keep the lights low. Suggest atmosphere with props and metaphor and voice.
It's a lot, I know, but if they can do it, so can you!
22 September 2008
18 September 2008
The editorial staff are all working writers, as well as holding down other jobs, attending professional events, managing families, etc. Boo hoo, everyone's busy. But limited time isn't the only reason we don't offer many comments on stories from our slush. (OK, it might be Dave's because he really is busy, man.)
ElectricSpec is a business, not a school. Yes, I often know exactly what the problems are in a story, and I could jot suggestions back to the writer. Yes, it might only take five minutes per story. But we don't accept redux on stories. In three years, we've learned it just doesn't work for us. So, this being a business, and a competitive one at that, why should I spend ElectricSpec's time critiquing a bunch of stories which are going to end up at another magazine? ElectricSpec not going to benefit, and my magazine must be my primary concern.
But isn't part of our mission to support beginning writers? It is. And we do. We seek out writers who really need that interview. We write this blog so we can address lots of folks at once. We love to buy first sales from writers, and I think you'll notice we have, a lot. And once upon a time, we did offer more suggestions via rejections. Unfortunately...
Our advice is often not well-recieved. There really is nothing like offering advice and having a writer shoot a hostile email back. There are a thousand writers out there who aren't ready to recieve critique, unfortunately. Sure, a few bad dudes ruined it for everyone. But not really, because...
I help writers in other capacities. Having been on the recieving end, to me being a writer is as much about paying it forward as it is writing. So, I speak at conferences, targeting beginning writers. Just this past weekend, I offered a 30 page critique as a conference prize. I've critiqued at critters and crapmeter. I write two blogs and do my best to leave helpful comments around the Web. I'm a member of two professional organizations, a full-time critique group, and have offered countless free critiques online and in person. I truly believe in the value of critique. But, I choose not to do this through ElectricSpec because here...
I'm an editor, not a critique partner. When I get your story, I assume it's finished. That's a fair assumption because the stories we buy certainly are.
If you look around hard enough, you'll find my presence on the web. If you engage me, I think you'll find I'll come out from behind my editor's desk, quite friendly and ready to help. And within the confines of the blog, we're always happy to answer questions, even specific questions. So just try us. And do your best to ignore Gremlin. He's a pain, but he gives us candy, so we keep him around.
17 September 2008
- Figure out who your protagonist is and make me care about him/her/it.
- Make sure there is conflict. Bonus points if you make things really horrible for the person in #1 above.
- Cut the crap. Write three drafts of your story, making it shorter each time. Send me the short one.
- If there's no dialogue on the first page of the story, you better have a good reason.
- Lengthy descriptions of a fantasy world make me yawn. I fall dead asleep when they are in the first two or more paragraphs of the story. (The same rule applies to backstory).
- If you are going to choose only 1 physical trait to describe a character, don't choose hair or eye color.
- Get paid for a payoff. Give me an ending that brings the story together or rams the point home, and I'll try to get those idiot Electric Spec editors to buy it.
15 September 2008
12 September 2008
11 September 2008
10 September 2008
I had an odd run of submissions in which I had trouble figuring out what the story was about. Ambiguity is not something we see too much of around here. In fact, we see plots more along the lines of the adopted teenaged shepard boy (aka: long lost prince/mage/warrior of the realm) sent on a quest by a mysterious magician. Ok, not that bad, but you get my meaning.
Often the set-up was all there, but then the story took a left turn at Albuquerque. I tried to think about why this was and some points came to mind:
The author fell in love with his own voice.
I see this most often in first person, though I've seen a few thirds lately. When your critique group says Great line, but what does it mean? it's not a rhetorical question.
The author didn't know what s/he was trying to say.
What is the point? A note: some stories are meant to be lighthearted fare, but I don't think you'll see much fluff in ElectricSpec. Even our humor stories make a point. Every story should have at least one theme, no matter how simple or cliche. Interwoven themes, we like even better.
The story wasn't fleshed out. (And it wasn't even about zombies.)
Push your plot and characters for all their worth. Find ways to connect every dot, and make sure there's more than two.
Tread only the paths that lead to the point you're trying to make.
All aspects of the story should be laser-focused on your theme (see above).
Even what you don't say should make a point.
The best way I can illustrate this is with an example from real life. Picture a husband and wife. The husband wants to have a nap. The wife wants him to clean the garage. ** But she says nothing. The husband has the nap. Even an non-action can lend meaning to your theme and plot. Does she love him, knows how he loves his naps, so she tolerates it happily? Is he crabby enough to beat her for saying something? Or is her silence a statement--usually she complains, but now she's given up on him?
All this takes some doing, I realize. But most stories are not written in a day--most saleable stories, anyway. Most stories take some thought and agony and blood. Almost every writer I know with sales under their belts have stories that took months or even years to perfect. Give yourself the time to realize what you're trying to say, and let your characters show us.
**thanks, honey, for cleaning the garage on Sunday. : )
08 September 2008
04 September 2008
So, authors, how can you make your stories about more than one thing? Think about it, implement it, and send us your masterpieces! :)