31 March 2009
30 March 2009
25 March 2009
I strongly agree that settings need to be specific, but I disagree that they are or should be "broadly representative". I think we need settings to be specific so we, the readers, can put ourselves there. That's part of the goal with fiction, right? To experience being someone else. So, instead of going to 'the store', your character should go to the Truhr family's bodega down on 39th Street, where they have pictures of their five kids taped on the old-fashioned cash register. etc. etc. Okay, that's silly, but you get the idea.
I really liked the second quote above. Omniscient description does often feel boring, but when you filter it through 1st-person or 3rd-person characters, it gets interesting. For example, is it ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit outside, or are rivulets of sweat sluicing down Tamara's back, making her want to rip off her wool-blend interview suit? And does she go into the bodega for a frosty beverage... Now I'm rambling. :) But, I think you get the idea.
So, keep sending Electric Spec your setting-laden stories.
23 March 2009
21 March 2009
- “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
- “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
- “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
- “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
- “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
Read all about it.
Congrats to all the nominees!
20 March 2009
Nathan Bransford has a great post on conflict right now. Go on and read it--now if you like. We'll wait.
Nathan makes some great points, especially that bit about rooting for Duke. But we here at Electric Spec think of conflict slightly differently, though it might be more our vernacular than actual meaning. We tend to label conflict internal and external. Nathan also failed to discuss obstacles, and how they play in.
External conflicts, of course, are the forces (hopefully sentient!--more on that in a minute) that keep characters from their goal. Internal conflicts are more the thoughts and wants and needs and guilt and past that often get between characters and their goals. I tend to think of internal conflict as "characters getting in their own way." I tend to think of external conflict more as "plot". No question we see a lot of external conflict and less internal conflict in our slushpile, but internal is what rounds out strories and characters, making them become fully realized and, well, real.
Sometimes I see stories in which the writer confuses "obstacles" for conflict. I think it's easiest to think of it this way. The difference lays in the goals: a storm's goal is not to stop the Company from getting the ring to Mordor. But the Ringwraiths' goal is just that. The storm creates an obstacle. The Ringwraiths create conflict.
In the opening scene of one of my novels, two brothers are arguing about how to go about searching for their missing mother. That's external conflict, and a bit of internal, as well, because past hurts, doubt, and guilt play into their exchange. Then they realize someone is following them. That's conflict, too. She's an antagonist, and antagonists always fall into the conflict camp. But as one of the characters tries to get away from her, he runs into friends who want to chat, a love interest, bad weather, and finally a gate which traps him in an alley. Those are examples of obstacles, even though some of them are clearly sentient.
I would argue every good story needs internal conflict, external conflict, and obstacles, but sometimes I notice one or another missing in stories in our slush. Maybe people don't think short stories need all this. But each are important in their own way. External conflict drives a story, it's the blood pumping through the heart. Internal conflict provides valuable insight into character. Obstacles can often serve double duty as world building tools.
13 March 2009
I think it was Neil Gaiman who said he could only write really dark main characters in short stories. He just couldn't stand spending an entire novel with someone like that. So, if you think of the crazy, unforgettable characters we've met in film, some we love (the kids from Narnia, Aragorn as Strider) and the ones we don't love so much (Hannibal Lector) think of them in terms of a short story.
I find myself reeling back into calmer waters, character-wise, for novels. In short stories, I tend to let myself go. Great short stories (arguably, great stories, period) have memorable characters. But I think short stories have extra leeway. Sometimes I find in my slushpile that the characters just aren't enough, somehow. Some of this rests on motivation: strong motivation makes for strong actions which leads to strong characters. But I look for quirky characters, too; characters that push the boundaries of who they are.
I recently watched Transformers, which made for great character study. The writers took stock characters -- the out-of-touch cop, the pretty girl with a secret past, the mother trying to connect with her teenaged son, the "secret agent" who means well but isn't above throwing his weight around, the heroic soldiers -- and they pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be that character. To steal a cliched line from the film, at which the writers poke fun via dialogue, there was "more than meets the eye" to every character. They shoved the boundaries, down to the car salesman played by Bernie Mac. ("Gentlemen, Bobby Bolivia. Like the country except without the runs." ) Bobby was a typical used car salesman, but so obviously more, shouting at his deaf Mammy and making snide comments about cheap-ass fathers. When Bobby left the screen I was sorry to see him go.
Make your readers sorry to see your character go, and you'll find your story in our pages.
12 March 2009
Recently, on one of my writers loops there has been some discussion of narration. There seems to be some confusion on the topic. Let's back up a bit...
The goal for authors is: empathy for characters, especially for the protagonist.
Why? Because we want the reader to BECOME the character. The wonder and beauty of written fiction is it is the only medium in which a human being can become someone else. But it can't happen without empathy. Empathy is the identification, understanding and often sharing of, someone else's feelings and/or motives.
Of course, authors have many TOOLS at their disposal to tell their stories and engender empathy. These include description of setting and action, dialogue, and narrative. Narrative is when the author communicates directly with the reader. One could say narrative includes everything that isn't setting description, action, or dialogue.
Please note these tools are used to create fiction and should not be confused with the elements of fiction. Fiction itself has several parts or elements, which include character/characterization, plot, setting, theme (a conceptual distillation of the story), and style (how it is written). The effect created by the author's style is often referred to as voice.
It has been said that the ability to create fiction and other artistic works is a fundamental aspect of human culture and one of the defining characteristics of humanity.
So, why not use all the tools at your disposal to create fiction that engenders empathy and hence insights into the human condition?
Send us your stories!
11 March 2009
10 March 2009
I would say critique group is king, but I prefer strong female protagonists, so Critique Group is Queen! :) I know/am acquainted with many working authors with contracts and they all have critique groups of some type. I don't care how much raw talent you have, 99% of writers need a critique group. Writers are too close to their own work and it takes fresh eyes to see what is really on the page.
This is true for novelists and for short story writers. Often at editorial meetings, we editors sit around and say things like: 'If only the author had developed the character arc of the protagonist; the setup was there but they didn't follow through. Doesn't this guy have a critique group?'
Dave said it yesterday. I've said it before and I'll probably say it again: critique groups are helpful!
Please keep sending us those (critiqued) stories!
An editorial note: we no longer have an autoresponse on the submissions email.