31 March 2007

chainsaws and pruners

Over on Miss Snark, there's been a dialogue about trimming word count. Most novels and many short stories benefit from a purposeful meat cleaving. A lot of the short stories I read for the zine are flat-out too long. Think of it this way: the longer you take to say it, the longer you have to keep my interest. I'd say the single most important edit is trimming that story down until it's as sleek as an eel.

Something like two adverbs would be appropriate in your average short story. Sometimes they help with brevity, oftentimes they just look lazy. But, consider them placeholders for a decent verb or improved dialogue. Do an -ly search and kill them dead. Search "that". Pick one perfect adjective for your description. If your protag or antag is an ordinary human, most of the time I don't need to know what he looks like. And a word to the wise: David's latest sticking point is eye color. He makes a good point. Describe the single most important feature of your character. It's usually not what he looks like. Try to write without using "emotion" words. Instead, spend your word count on internal dialogue or physical reaction. Finally, read your story on paper. Do you say the same thing twice in two different ways?

I often draft a story with a word limit in mind. Think of it as going to a party and only filling your plate once.

28 March 2007

spring 2007 issue deadline posted

I just posted the deadline for submissions for the spring 2007 issue of Electric Spec.
We are accepting submissions for the spring 2007 issue through midnight on April 20, 2007 (and that's Mountain-something time). So get those subs in! Good luck!
After that, we will be accepting subs for our fall 2007 issue.

The spring 2007 issue should go live on May 31st!

27 March 2007

Showing versus telling

I've been reading a lot of fun Electric Spec submission stories lately. I've come across a lot of neat ideas. Thank you for sending them in!

Unfortunately, I have also read a lot of 'telling'. Some telling is okay with me, but a story that consists ONLY of telling is not. As writers we're supposed to be telling a story, but IMHO showing a story is much better. I'll give you an example:

TELLING: He was an attractive man.

SHOWING:He had Paul Newman's eyes, Robert Redford's smile, Sylvester Stallone's body, and Howard Hughes's money.

Which of these descriptions grabs you?

Addendum: I must admit I stole this example from someone else, and frankly it is a bit tell-y.

20 March 2007

More on conflict: external vs. internal

Yep, I'm obsessed with conflict lately. One can further separate conflict into external conflict and internal conflict. A writing teacher recently told me EXTERNAL CONFLICT is a PERSON or PERSONIFICATION or NATURAL FORCE which OPPOSES the protagonists aims, goals, wishes, dreams, etc..
While The internal conflict is the character's thoughts, emotions, opinions, values which PREVENT him/her from achieving his/her goals. And furthermore Internal conflict is dramatized by the external conflict.

Wow! This is actually consistent with Betsy's big-bang theory of writing. Or, wait, was that her theory of the best way to spend Saturday night? :)

17 March 2007

More on Rejections

A couple more things about Electric Spec rejections I would add to Bet's excellent post. Electric Spec's "standard" rejection letter is writer friendly, IMHO. We do that for a several reasons. First, most of the stories we get are pretty good, or at least have some bright spots that make us think the author has potential. We know it's hard being a writer and even harder getting a rejection, so we don't want to rub salt in the wound with a discouraging rejection e-mail. Instead, we mean it when we say we want to look at something else from the author it they think it would be a good fit. (This does NOT mean we want to see your trunk stories that have been rejected by everyone else!) Second, we recognize that considering stories is a very subjective process. One editor may love what another one hates. Third, we don't want to leave a bad taste in a future author's mouth. It's bad enough getting a rejection, but if the rejection is nasty, you're unlikely to be motivated to submit to that 'zine again (unless, perhaps, they pay lots of $$, which E-Spec does not).

At times (very rarely), I will add an encouraging p.s. to stories that stand out but are not really right for us. Other times (even more rarely) I will take out the nice, encouraging parts out of our standard rejection. I only do this when it appears from the story that author is clueless about how to write a story or lacks a basic understanding of English.

critiques vs rejection letters

I recently wrote this in the comments section of a blog post wondering why editors and agents don't give more specific reasons for rejecting a story:

I'm an editor at a smallish zine and I'm not half as busy as the folks at SF&F. I still don't have much time to write anything personal on my rejections. The sad fact is, my fellow editors and I are interested in making the best zine possible, so we put most of our time into the writers and stories that make it so.

If you get a personal note from me, it means your story was damn good, just fatally flawed in some way. I always do my best to detail it in a sentence or two if I really liked it. But understand, that's for about two stories a year. (note: and Electric Spec doesn't accept resubmissions) The rest of them get the form letter.

The sad reason we on the recieving end of writing often don't detail our thoughts is because at some point it's inadvertently invited a conversation with a writer desperate for critique. (I admit I've been on both sides of this table.) I already give much of my time to my two crit groups,
http://crapometer.blogspot.com, and sometimes to fellow bloggers. That's the time and place for it, not at my zine.

Critiques come from critique groups. Unexplained decisions come from editors and agents. Unfortunately, we're in a competitive business.

I don't exaggerate when I say I put in a lot of time critiquing others' work. I recently posted on this very topic. Fact is, I love it. I think it makes me a better writer and reader, it challenges me to stay at the top of my game, and some of the very best things I've ever read I've found in the process of critiquing.

But I can't critique the stories I get here. Example, right now I have likely 40-50,000 words in my inbox right now. I do tend to read stories to the end, somewhat compulsively, and I do keep a running crit going in my head while I do. But I can't write those critiques and have much time for anything else. I wish I could. I'm not much different from any other editor out there. If you get a critique of your work from anyone in a position to get or give you money for it, consider it a grand complement, consider what they've said carefully, and then move on.

side note: if you're interested in a crit from me, Crapometer is the place to go. It doesn't mean that I'm going to buy your story if you do everything I say, but I think you'll get valuable advice there. You might consider it a back door entrance to my inbox. I've already requested one story from there. Just note that I didn't ask for any changes when I did.

11 March 2007

What is conflict?

I hope you believe conflict is necessary in fiction. But what exactly is conflict?
A writing teacher recently told me conflict is a fight of some kind between people with opposing goals. Bad luck, natural disasters, accidents and the like are not conflict.

Show us your conflict!

09 March 2007

No Writer is too Good for a Critique Group

Every writer needs beta readers. This (in general) must be someone who is not related to you and not a friend--even if they're always honest about your butt looking fat in those jeans. You're looking for active writers to fill this role, not just people who like to read a lot.

They should always sandwich problems with your work with positive aspects in their critiques. This serves two purposes. We learn much from having the things we do right pointed out, and also a good critique group is supportive by taking your work seriously and by encouraging you.

Generally, the further away from your inner circle of friends and family, the better a working relationship you can create, because, make no mistake, a good critiquer and a writer have a working relationship. If you don't know anyone in your area, see "online writing critique," where you'll find a host of other, free online sources for critiques. I prefer my face time with my critiquers, but I've used Crapometer, a free, collaborative blog. I sometimes submit my short works there to get extra feedback, or when I'm knee deep in novel revisions and need my critiquers' full attention on my book.

The other, less glamorous benefit of critique groups is doing the critiques. It makes you read...well, critically. I generally can tell whether a submitted story has been read by a beta reader. The first clues are clean grammar, clarity of thought, and appropriate spelling. But mostly, it's because the story has creative insight that others just don't have. A good critiquer will often touch on "creative decisions." This means something along the lines of "this character doesn't work for me" or "have you thought of this mechanism" or "this plot point is not plausible based on X and Y." I've had one member of my critique group who has helped me with this extensively, but we as a group are conciously fostering this level of critiquing.

I'm fortunate. I have an excellent, rigorous critique group with whom I have a fabulous working relationship. I'm even more fortunate that they've become my friends, too. There really is no better environment for a writer to be in, among other writer-friends.

06 March 2007

Writing a Novel Isn't Like Sex

Although James Gunn posited that reading was like sex, I've formulated another theory: writing a novel is nothing like sex.

I've just finished the first draft of my second novel, and perhaps I might have a different perspective when I've finished my tenth. Also, publishing the novel may put a different sheen on the whole thing--I'll let you know when and if the time comes. In the meantime, here's the support for my theory:

1) After the "first time," I wasn't completely sure I wanted to do it again. After all, it was a lot of work, and when I was finished, no one but me seemed particularly excited about the whole thing.

2) When I went back to work on it some more, I found that it got better with the assistance of a whole group of people, rather than the close attention of a single partner.

3) Although I learned a lot from my first attempt, I wasn't completely confident that my second attempt would be that much better than my first. (OK--maybe this one isn't a complete dissimilarity).

4) When I finished the first draft my second attempt, I knew I had a whole lot of work ahead of me before I got it to the point I'd be completely satisfied.

And here's some tips for those just getting started: do a little every night, don't get discouraged if you lose your drive--it will come back if you just give it a chance, and, above all, remember not to get too hung up on an extended metaphor--it can get old fast!

What do editors and readers want?

Recently I've been pondering what do readers, and hence editors want from a story. A writing teacher recently told me:
READERS READ TO EXPERIENCE TENSION. Wow! That's interesting! And it totally fits in with Jim Gunn's comment in the Current Issue of Electric Spec, namely The release we feel when the characters we have been led to care about finally achieve their resolution is akin to the release we feel from sex. Obviously you can't have a resolution without a problem, or, in other words, TENSION.
Show us some tension!s

02 March 2007

Big Bang theory of writing

Many zine submissions reqs include story ideas considered as trope. Basically, that says "send us a story with this and we'll reject you". Well, I've been focusing more on our acceptances lately. What do these, and other published stories, have in common? I won't get into specifics on stories in our "hold for voting" file, but they seem to have some things in common.

Lesley wrote recently that good stories are about more than one thing. Sometimes people put things so succinctly, it bears repeating. Good stories are about more than one thing. However, I'd add, Good stories are about more than one thing, and all these things impact at the resolution. Internal and external goals and motivations, even seemingly unrelated, should collide into one Big Bang at the end of the story.

I recently read "Clockmaker's Requiem" by Barth Anderson in which the characters undergo personal changes, an industry undergoes changes, and even how the world measures itself changes. A lot to pack into 4000 words, but he did it brilliantly. I felt like I was reading four stories at once. Every character had discernable, conflicting goals which served to torture the other characters, this relevant industry, and the world.

I tend to torture my characters with irony, which can be a tough thing to nail down (probably why I often take up to two years to write and edit a short story while I can measure my books in months.) However you do it, everything must collide at the end. My suggestion is this: when you've got a story idea (I'd call it a story problem, but that gives me mathematical heebie-jeebies) work out goals and motives for each character. Do the same for their primary space, be it a job or home or in the middle of an ocean kicking at sharks. Then name the goals and motives for the world at large. Keep all that in mind, even if you don't quite know where the story is headed. Give the magic of writing a chance to act, and watch all those goals collide in the resolution of your story, creating a new reality.

After all, isn't creating new realities what writing's all about?