27 March 2012

Tales from the slush pile

We've been diligently wading through the slush pile. Thank you for sending us your stories! We appreciate it! :) But I do have a little advice... First and foremost: Please read at least one issue of Electric Spec. We do have a certain style, if you will. We do not publish stories with no dialogue. We do not publish stories in which nothing happens. I'm sure there is a market for such stories, but Electric Spec is not it.

That being said, writing an awesome story is very difficult. IMHO, here are some things a story should have to approach awesome:

  • No major grammar or spelling issues.
  • Dialogue tags can only be said/says or asked/asks. I'm not kidding.
  • You must have a protagonist with some kind of external problem who acts to remedy said problem. He/she/it does not have to be successful, but they have to ACT. Note: this is the external plot.
  • Your protagonist must also have some kind of internal emotional motivation that you convey to the reader. The events of the story should change this in some way (although a lack of change can work--as long as it's deliberate.) This is the character arc. Note: the internal character arc and the external plot need to be inter-woven. Note, too, the author's job is to manipulate the readers' emotions. Your primary tool here are the emotions of the characters.
  • Your opening (this means the first 250 words) should address your story problem. In other words, your opening is your set up.
  • Your opening (this means the first 250 words) should speak to your ending. Generally, this will be an echo of the same theme, or the theme's opposite. As an example, if your opening shows the reader thousands of clones, the ending should show how the protagonist is just one of many (defeat) OR he is special, one-in-a-million (victory).
  • You should be able to summarize the story's big idea or theme in one simple sentence. I'll come back to this below.
  • You should consider utilizing a symbol in your story to make it richer and illuminate the theme. If I was going to give this list a symbol, it would be some kind of light. :)
  • You should use similes and metaphors in your descriptions.
  • Your suggestion here?

A story I learned a lot from is Connie Willis' "The Last of the Winnebagos." (That's another tip: study awesome stories.) This story takes place in a dystopian future where a virus has killed off all dogs and the Humane Society has extensive police powers. Ostensively, the story is about a Winnebago hitting a jackal on the highway, a photojournalist trying to get some pictures and the Humane Society investigating the jackal's death. But what it's really about is the journalist sacrificing someTHING he loves dearly to save another human.

So, as you prepare to send us your story, how does it stack up to the list?

24 March 2012

Naked Backstory

I FINALLY had the opportunity to watch HBO's "A Game of Thrones." I thought they did a great job adapting one of my favorite novels into a TV series. I always find it interesting to see how screenwriters transform a story from page to screen. One part of the "A Game of Thrones" screenplay I thought was fascinating was a series of scenes that were not in the book. They were, in essence, big info-dumps with backstory or world building. As we know from the writing world, info dumps are BORING. To solve this problem, the writers added something important to each of these scenes: sex. Yes, every one of these scenes had some pretty graphic sex going on during the info dump. My conclusion? These screen writers were smart. I doubt the TV audience got bored during the info dump scenes (I know I didn't!). Unfortunately, I don't think the technique would translate well back over to novels.

20 March 2012


Fiction genres can be slippery. Supposedly there's a new genre called slipstream. According to wikipedia, "Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction/fantasy and mainstream literary fiction."

Slipstream has actually been around since at least 1989 when Bruce Sterling first discussed it: "Slipstream" in CATSCAN 5. He said, ...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books "slipstream." And "Slipstream" is a parody of "mainstream," and nobody calls mainstream "mainstream" except for us skiffy trolls. Read the article, it's interesting.

The reason I bring this up is "The Wall Street Journal" discussed slipstream in a book review from the end of last year: "The Future of Science Fiction" by Tom Shippey. I'm all for TWSJ discussing science fiction in any context. :) According to Shippey, "literary authors have started "slipstreaming"—to borrow Bruce Sterling's term—writing books with sci-fi scenarios." and he gives various examples including works by Iain Banks, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood. Shippey makes some good points:What slipstreamers seem to like in sci-fi is the scenarios, usually utopian or dystopian. Yet what's missing in Ms. Atwood's own speculative fictions is what sci-fi fans really like: explanation and analysis. Sci-fi futures need to show not just when and what but also how.

IMHO, trying to differentiate between "slipstream" and "Sci-fi" or whatever else you want to call it, is pretty much splitting hairs. Authors can call their work what they want. And if it helps them sell books, all the better.

What do you think?

13 March 2012

In media res

I just finished a long novel so I've been catching up on my short story reading. And wow, these shorts are all starting with a bang. In fancy literary jargon we call this in media res, which is Latin for "into the middle of things." I'd go so far as to say, all the first lines are bang! pow! dramatic. I'd heard literary conventions were shifting to take into account our decreasing attention span and these stories definitely bear that out. So, artists of the short story: take note.

An interesting related issue is: how soon in a novel does the author have to hit the reader over the head with excitement? Should it be the first line? The first paragraph? Or do we have at least until the end of the first chapter? Of course, this does vary by genre. (Literary novels never have to have anything exciting happen. :) Ha. I kid the literary authors.) A few years ago, I would have said we had until the end of the first chapter. But now, with the increased pressure to sell books I'm thinking a bang! pow! first novel line is not a bad idea.

What do you think?

06 March 2012

Basking in the Afterglow

Ah. Isn't it great? The Electric Spec staff, artist, and authors are no doubt basking in the afterglow of a job well done. I'm talking, of course, about our recent February 29,2012 Electric Spec Issue! It's chock-full of stories and features and all kinds of good stuff. (Check it out if you haven't already!) I've been hearing a lot of positive feedback, including some questions about how the heck we get from our production meeting to publication so quickly. The short answer is: divide and conquer. We divide up all the publication tasks amongst the staff. Personally, after I edit the stories I've been assigned, I pull in the authors and get them to proofread the final version. Invariably the new format puts the story in a new light and they find things. That touches upon another invaluable tool in our arsenal: our content management system (CMS). A previous author set us up with a crackerjack CMS that makes publication almost a breeze. So, thanks, again, to everyone who helped out.

What's your favorite story in the issue?

In the meantime, I'm sorry to say, we've started in on the slush for the May 31, 2012 issue.

I guess there's no rest for the wicked...