19 October 2006

What do we want?

Electric Spec wants well-written short stories in the speculative fiction genre. But what does “well-written” mean? I thought Kate Wilhelm described it well in her book Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop when she said:

A successful short story is a marvel of compression, nuisance, inference and suggestion. If the novel invites one to enter another world, the short story
invites one to peer through a peephole into the world, and yet the world has to
have the same reality as in a novel. It truly is the universe in a grain of
sand. This is done by compression and implication. Every single word has to help
the story, or it hurts it. The short story is the least forgiving form of
narrative fiction, with no room for redundancies, for backing up to explain what
was meant before, for auctorial intrusions that may be perfectly allowable in
the novel.

Does every author we end up publishing accomplish this? No, but they’re much closer than the ones we reject. We also try to get them closer to this standard through the editing process. There have been a number of times where I’ve cut words from stories where extra words “hurt” the story. I realize this guidance is still pretty general. In later posts, I'll try to be more specific, and maybe my co-editors will want to chime in as well.


Betsy Dornbusch said...

I think poetry is the least forgiving, but maybe that's cuz I suck at it.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I wouldn't consider poetry "narrative" fiction, except maybe Beowolf, Shakespeare plays, and the like.

How about posting a poem and letting us judge for ourselves whether it sucks?

Betsy Dornbusch said...

nice try, but no cigar.

but some poetry is pretty narrative: one of my favorites is My Last Duchess. It's very narrative in style.

You understand, of course, that I know little to nothing about poetry.