Congrats to all the winners!
30 April 2009
28 April 2009
There's a framework around the character Dr. Who. Let's call that the craft of writing. And then there's the person playing the part. Let's call that the writer.
Like Dr. Who actors, as a writer there are things to that only YOU can bring to the writing table. It sounds simple enough, but I think in the midst of what I call Writer's Boot Camp--you know, when all the "rules" start slapping you in the face--it's easy to lose sight of the fact that no one can write about something exactly the way you can.
Do follow the basic tenants of your craft. But DON'T forget that most important bit of every story--your particular slant. No one else can own that.
See if this sounds familiar. Early on my road to publication, I wrote some weird stories. They weren't very good. Creative, yes, but craft-wise they sucked. Then I stumbled into boot camp (AKA my critique group) and realized I needed to hone my skills. So I did, and I got pretty fair at my craft. But, I let learning craft intimidate me to the point of letting the market, the readership, and my own ideas intimidate my creative process. Craft became reins rather than a framework.
I wrote some picture-perfect stories that didn't have anything to do with me and what I wanted to say, and everything to do with craft and what I thought other people wanted to hear me say, and I didn't sell them, and I didn't have fun, and one day I decided Screw it, I'm going to write what I want to write. Even if it's bad and weird and no one likes it.
So I wrote a little piece about a homosexual shape-changer couple who preyed on humans for food. The antagonist decided to eradicate their kind for the betterment of the world. The protag, though he felt a load of guilt over it, actually liked being what he was. He began to subtly undermine his lover. It was twisty and ironic and weird. I finished it and even I thought it was weird. I knew it was never going to sell.
But sending things out is what writers do. I sent it out.
The fifth market that looked at it bought it. Since, I've found that the stories that most reflect me and my world view are the easiest for me to sell. My latest story is an ugly little piece about ugly, broken, little people. A couple of betas who read it turned up their lips and asked me flat out Where do you ever get your ideas? alongside the unspoken Why would you write that?
I hold that if you don't hear those questions at least a couple of times a year then maybe you're not quite tapped into your own writer's psyche. First lesson, grasshopper: not everyone will be comfortable with what you write.
Well. That ugly little story about ugly little people sold to the first market I sent it to.
Never, never be afraid to let you shine through your writing.
27 April 2009
For the most part, yes. I liked many of the stories in the collection, but not all. I must admit I've never read a single-author short story collection where I liked all the stories. (If you know of one, tell me in the blog comments). King has several stories where the tension is great, the characters strong, and the resolution is satisfying. The book is worth the read just for those.
I felt several of his stories could have been tighter. I'm not sure if it is because of his "bad" novelist habits or because he's Stephen King and he don't have to worry about not skinkin' word limits.
23 April 2009
So there you have it: there's only one story. What's a poor author to do?
Write something original anyway. By far the most likely stories to make it out of our slush are original in some way. As Agent Nathan says "It really does need to feel fresh, but that's not the same as being completely original. The originality is all about how it's done, not what it's about." I agree.
So, how can you make your work fresh? Your story can go deep with world-building or characterization or theme or your-idea-here. You could combine two or more genres: fantasy, science fiction, macabre, your-choice-here. You could write with a unique voice. (I'm reminded of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower.) Or, your-idea-here. What you think? What makes a story fresh?
Send Electric Spec your original a.k.a. fresh stories!
21 April 2009
20 April 2009
Phone calls. Lots of writers consider a phone call just more dialogue, but consider how handicapped one is in a conversation via telephone in real life and apply that to a story. We're missing out on an entire array of senses, relying only on hearing. Can we really get to know your characters well by listening to them talk on the phone? This could work if it's a multi-pov story, but...
Multiple Points of View. Even in a longer story, we barely get time to connect with a character. Switching can make it tough to know who to root for. This is more about scope than anything else.
Letters , Diary Entries, Captains' Logs, etc. When reading these stories I always wonder why the writer didn't just choose narrative structure. Sometimes a note or memo at the beginning of a story can act as a sort of prologue, but I usually pass on stories told entirely through these devices, even if there's a good arc. They usually lack action and dialogue and rely on a lot of telling. This device simply doesn't provide for showing very well. Unfortunately these stories often contain clever ideas that would have stood their own within traditional narrative.
Flashbacks. There are definitely exceptions to this rule. I have one story in my hold file right now that switches between past and present. It can be done effectively. But it takes a steady hand on the tiller not to steer the boat into boring seas. So ask yourself, is this flashback really necessary?
Violence/torture to shock and awe. Consider carefully whether the threat of violence is scarier than the actual thing. And unfortunately, flat antagonists usually go hand-in-hand with violence. If a baddie chasing teenagers/torturing somebody (even the deserving)/resulting blood baths is the bent of your story, Electric Spec isn't the best market. Think DEXTER rather than SAW I-IV.
There you have it. Anyone have any ideas for more, or arguments for/against my preferences here?
16 April 2009
- a sympathetic character
- a problem arises, ideally a complicated conflict
- the conflict escalates/gets more complicated
Short stories should have these 5 elements.
And how about some random tips to finish up? In no particular order:
- write what you're passionate about and let your characters show your passion
- infuse yourself in the story using voice
- protagonists should be larger than life, not fearful,
have an inner conflict(s) and be transformed by events of the story
- include subplot(s) that affect the overall story outcome/come together in the end
- make all non-protagonists do double-duty by playing multiple roles in the protagonist's life
- and finally, speaking of plot: torture your protagonist: figure out what's the worst thing that can happen to him/her and then make it happen.
Again, short stories would benefit from all these tips.
So, there you have it, what I gleaned from Mr. Maass. I must admit I did not agree with everything he said. What did you glean from him? What did you agree with? Or disagree with?
Do you have any other writing books you recommend?
15 April 2009
14 April 2009
13 April 2009
09 April 2009
And starting a story with a phone call is the worst! Can you say cliche?
I've been having trouble with a particular piece of fiction... I just realized it's because the scene is a phone call. Ugh. Can you say deadly dull?
Send us your phone-call-free stories!
08 April 2009
All that sounds manufactured, right? Well, whether it springs unbidden from the depths of unconsciousness or is a neatly plotted out story line that took a year to detail, stories are manufactured. I think sometimes writers believe if an idea isn't simply inspired--it just came to me, like I was channeling it, dude--they think they're faking it or something.
We're writers. We're faking it. That's. Our. Job.
Despite my leanings, I don't particularly advocate one method over another. I'm friends with extremely successful non-plotters. Their brains just don't work in outline form. That's cool. But I do think they're more a rarity than struggling writers like to admit, and frankly, a short story doesn't give an author much time for discovery.
I can often pick out the pantser short stories, mostly because they fail to cut authorial discovery. For instance, I just read a story which spent five pages describing a character. I finally caught the threads of a plot on page seven. The writing was decent and the character interesting, but character description does not a story make (to go all Yoda on you.) This was a clear example of authorial discovery--the writer told himself all about the character and forgot to cut it out later.
By the time I see a story, the writer should have a clear idea of the resolution from page one. Give me a plot with stacked odds and dire consequences. Make sure every plot point digs at terrors and weaknesses specific to that character. While you're at it, weave in a subplot that twists the knife even deeper.
Do yourself a favor and make my job tougher.
07 April 2009
06 April 2009
Weighing a story with too much of anything can manifest itself in all sorts of ways, of course: the fantasy that describes rooms and clothes in pages of great detail or historical accounts of why a military science fiction character can't pull the trigger (right in the middle of a battle--yup, I've seen it). Sometimes it's just the author not recognizing the difference between what they needed to discover about the story and characters in early drafts verses what a reader needs to know in a final draft. (I call that authorial discovery, and it's often the stuff that must be cut later.) Knowing "when to say when" comes with experience, I think, and all of us throw the dice on which details to include or take out. However, employing a distinctive dialect in narrative is perhaps one of the biggest gambles a writer can take.
This is not to say that the next editor won't love that voice, but this editor didn't, for a variety of reasons. As an editor, I can look at back story and description and determine easily what serves the story and what can be cut. But voice and dialect in narrative are different--they infuse every sentence to the degree that paring it down becomes a major undertaking. And, remember, all I see is your story. From your prose, it's my job to determine how easy you'll be to work with and how readily you'll accept my editing. Every time I hit send on my editorial notes I wonder vaguely if the author will be offended. We've been fortunate to work with professionals in that regard, but it is one of the reasons we don't go to the trouble to ask for rewrites from our slush.
But, when a voice overpowers the prose, I have to assume the writer is too in-love with it to see it taken down a notch. Knowing what must be cut is a sign of moving forward in writing. Sometimes I think, like in marriage, successful storytelling is more about what you DON'T say.
03 April 2009
So, send us your character-driven stories!
A final character-related quote: "Are not objective narration, first-person and close third-person pov the nearly universal choices for novels today?" Yes. And I would add they are the nearly universal choice for short speculative fiction, too. :)
02 April 2009
Our fictional characters should be so interesting! More about characters tomorrow...
01 April 2009
I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to epic fantasy authors, but, for some reason, Canadian author R. Scott Bakker (pictured here) has been off my radar. I picked up a used copy of The Darkness that Comes Before because I wanted a nice, think fantasy to take with me on a long plane trip. Since I was not familiar with Bakker, it felt like a bit of a risk trying a new author while trapped in a cigar box, but hey--I can be an adventurous guy sometimes.