24 April 2018

death?

We, the Editors, are working hard on the marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec. In particular we are finishing up the fiction in the so-called slush pile. I've read quite a few stories recently and have to say Wow. I came across many stories in which the protagonist dies or kills others at the end.

Whenever we get several stories with similarities it makes me wonder what's going on with our cultural zeitgeist. While stories involving death have existed as long as stories have existed, we seem to be getting more. Should we be worried?

I agree that death is dramatic. But it's hard to make a reader care about death in a short story because your tools, i.e. words, are limited in number. (Speaking of zeitgeist, are we all getting too accustomed to death in culture? I don't know.) But, recall, the number one goal of an author should be to affect the emotions of a reader.

A good way to affect reader emotions is to show characters in the story being affected. If the characters care, I'll be more likely to care as a reader.
The bottom line is if your story requires death, make sure it is effective.

Good luck!

Next time I'll discuss the production meeting.

17 April 2018

advice from slush

By now, the deadline for the new issue has passed. We've been reading the submissions in the slush pile. Sadly, we can't give personal feedback to authors. But as we do occasionally, here is some advice gleaned from reading these stories in the slush pile:
  • Use 2nd person point-of-view with caution. This pov can be annoying. This pov can be amazing--but it's difficult.
  • Don't use overused cliches. For example, do not start your story with the protagonist waking up. Do not show your protagonist looking into the mirror to describe him/her/itself.
  • Do not start with a page of backstory/exposition/description. This may be a market-dependent tip; online readers like a more dramatic opening. If you need a lot of exposition, put it later in the story. You don't have to use linear time.
  • Do grab the reader's attention on the first page. This can be done with great characterization, a unique situation, unique voice, and a variety of other ways. Violence on page one generally doesn't work because readers don't care about the characters in peril yet.
  • Do not exceed 7000 words; this is our word limit. Secret tip: there is a sweet spot in terms of word number. Less than about 1200-words is tough to tell a full story. More than 6000 words can seem draggy.
  • Do not annoy the editor. This can be done via an annoying cover letter, an excessive number of spelling errors, no punctuation, etc. If in doubt: don't do it.

I guess that's it for now.

Thank you for sending us your stories!

10 April 2018

ideas!

The submisison deadline for the marvelous May 31 issue of Electric Spec is April 15!

Sometimes writers are asked where they get all their ideas. Most writers I know find this rather hilarious. Ideas are everywhere. Unique ideas are all around us, because human beings think and perceive things differently.
Look around! I guarantee there are some good story ideas in your vicinity right now.

I sometimes teach a workshop on speculative fiction. A great writing method is to combine two disparate ideas to create a more unique story.

I'm actually participating in a short story challenge right now where another writer gives us all a story prompt and we have to write a story within seven days. Phew! It is challenging. A lot of the prompts are not topics I would normally write about. But it has been great for getting my creative juices flowing.
So, if worst comes to worst: ask someone else for a story prompt.

Good luck with all your creative ideas!

03 April 2018

To Market, To Market

Wow. Time flies. The submission deadline for the Marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec is fast approaching: April 15!

I recently went to a sort of editor-fest where I got to see a bunch of editors at work. The thing that really struck me was: editors are very subjective. I rarely agreed with the other editors and they rarely agreed with each other. Thus, market is a very important consideration. Each 'zine is a different market. Each 'zine's editor has different subjective opinions. Therefore, it is to your advantage to become familiar with the markets before you submit to them. With Electric Spec it's easy and free! Just click and start reading!

There was also a discussion about why authors should bother submitting to 'zines in this age of self-publishing. You could self-publish your stories--and in some cases that's the best option. But if you publish with Electric Spec, you'll reach a different group of people than you would otherwise. We have a built-in audience. And we include your bio info and archive you story on our website, so people can always find it and find out about you.
Moreover, at Electric Spec editors work with authors to make their stories the absolute best they can be.

So, send those stories in!

27 March 2018

paragraph power

As an editor 'lo these many years I've picked up some editor-ly tricks. In particular: white space or the lack thereof has power. White space is just the absence of letters on the screen or page.

Long paragraphs with little white space cause readers to slow down and concentrate. Thus, they're great for complicated prose when you want the reader to linger.

Short paragraphs with a lot of white space are quick and easy to read. Our attention span has decreased in modern culture; more white space is compatible with this. White space is great for dramatic, exciting sections. To some extent, this white space is a manipulation of the reader.

I think a lot of white space works particularly well for the very beginning and very end of stories or chapters. In the beginning, it entices the reader into the story in an easy way. In the end, it makes the reader think something dramatic is happening.
And psychologically, we tend to recall beginnings and endings of things. Don't you want to be remembered? A long-remembered story is considered a better story.

So, consider more paragraph breaks in your stories!

20 March 2018

try fail cycles

Try/fail cycles are a plotting mechanism. They are very effective. The shortest short stories basically consist of one try/fail cycle: the protagonist tries to solve a problem and either fails or succeeds. Longer short stories can have two, three, or even more try/fail cycles. A novel chapter generally has at least one try/fail cycle, and often multiple try/fail cycles.

There are two versions of the try/fail cycle:

  • No, and...
  • Yes, but...

In the first case, No, and..., the protagonist doesn't solve the problem and something happens to make it worse. This increases the drama in the story, and, consequently the tension in the reader.
In the second case, Yes, but..., the protagonist does solve the problem but then some other problem happens.

If you ever watch television shows (do we still call them that?), you're familiar with the try/fail cycle. Generally there's a, No, and..., right before the first commercial break, right before the second commercial break, the third commercial break (you get the idea). Right before the end of the show there's usually a, Yes, but..., setting up the next episode.
This pattern works great for novel chapters.

Depending on your market, you probably want to end your short story with a plain Yes or No. Most readers like things to be resolved. But, it's up to you. :)

Send us your try/fail-laden short story!

14 March 2018

Editor Interview

Check out our Electric Spec editor interview over at Blackbird Publishing: here!