28 June 2011

revision: a watch list

I got some good advice about revision recently: create a watch list. What is a watch list in this context, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. :) A watch list is where an author examines his/her work and makes a note of their own common mistakes or repeats, writes them down, and then corrects them during the revision process. For example, my characters seem to smile or grin several times a page. Logically I know it's a bad idea to repeat actions on the same page, but when I go back and look: there they are. During revision, then, I need to get rid of most of those. As another example, I have a critique partner who always uses waive instead of wave. (Of course, spell-check doesn't catch this!)

How about you? Do you have anything you need to watch out for?

Do you have any revision tips?

21 June 2011

education and writing

In Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, he says in the introduction that the "Big Lie" is Writing can't be taught. I agree with Bell that writing can be taught. And yet...

As you read this I am at Residency for my MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. There's no question the faculty and mentors in my program give the students a lot of good information about writing. We also have sessions where we critique others work and have our work critiqued in turn. Therefore, there's also no question some of the students have learned a lot and some of the students' writing have vastly improved.

I tell you a secret though: I am not one of those students. I think this is because I've been working very hard for over a decade to be a better writer. I read lots of non-fiction writing books. I analyze lots of novels, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. A huge turning point for me was joining a local writers group: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I've been going to their free (with membership) classes and workshops for years. I have a great critique group that helps me a lot. I've also been going to the annual conference for years, first attending workshops, and now teaching them. Thus, I've learned more working independently and with my local writers group than I've learned in my MFA program. So, I have mixed feelings about formal writing programs at colleges and universities. I'm not sure they're effective for everyone.

What do you think? What's the best way to learn to be a better writer?

14 June 2011


I recently had an odd experience. I submitted a short story to a speculative fiction magazine and the editor wrote back and told me my formatting was all messed up. I opened up my copy of the file; it looked fine. I couldn't quite figure out what the editor meant. Of course, by the time the editor received the file it had been reformatted according to their rules and emailed. So I'm guessing somewhere in there something went awry. (Gee, go figure.)

I was quite embarrassed and a little angry that the editor took me to task for sending in a file with the 'wrong format.' :( I do admit it was my responsibility as the author to ensure the format was okay. But... I thought the editor went a little overboard. What do you think? Is the 'wrong format' an rejectionable offense?

Here at ElectricSpec I've read some stories that had some odd formatting. I, personally, have not rejected anything because of formatting. Maybe I'm too lenient? :) I have no immediate plans to change my ways. Curious about our desired ElectricSpec format? Check out: Fiction Submission Guidelines.

03 June 2011

art vs. entertainment

I hope you're still enjoying the new issue of ElectricSpec!

We editors have started going through the slush for the next issue, and I must admit I've seen some odd things. This brought up the whole art versus entertainment dichotomy for me. Certainly short stories should be art, but ... they need to be entertaining as well, IMHO. (The other editors may weigh in if they disagree.) Perhaps it is a market thing? Perhaps our market is not the most experimental?

Anyway, if you want to publish a story in our 'zine, ignore short story conventions at your peril. For example, most short stories utilize simple past verb tense. Sure, you could use simple present, present perfect, past perfect, future, or future perfect, but will they convey the story to the reader in the most entertaining way? Generally, you don't want your "art" to interfere with your story. As another example, most short stories have a protagonist. Is it really a story if there's no protagonist? I'm a bit skeptical. For a final example, most short stories have a plot, i.e. something happens. Again, if nothing happens, is it really a story? Some things to ponder...

Can anyone think of any other good short story conventions?