10 September 2008

What say again?

I'm caught up with my slush. For now. It's a fleeting thing.

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. : )


Tburger said...

Oh no! If you're done with your slush, then the Gremlin editor must have mine. Nooooooooo! :)

David E. Hughes said...

Interesting post. I think theme is an interesting topic, and I may write on it more. I wonder if an author has to be as conscious of his/her theme as Bets suggests? Sometimes a story holds together well even if the theme is hard to pinpoint. Other time the story's theme hits you over the head like a sledgehammer, which isn't good either.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Beware the gremlin.

writtenwyrdd said...

Great points, Betsy.

Short stories are difficult for me because I prefer long-windedness, er, novel length. So trimming out the fluff is hard. I think it's not just the need to have all the bits work; it's to have them all pull enough weight and trim out the bits that don't do enough. Which is not as easy as it looks.