25 February 2014

originality via specificity

If you're a reader of Electric Spec you know we enjoy original stories. I mentioned recently we had some stories in hold-for-voting that seemed to be based on similar memes, so how did we chose between them? We chose the more original, more unique, more specific stories. The protagonist in a story should be the only possible protagonist that could be the actor in that story. This should be reflected in how he or she is described. Do not use height, weight, hair color, eye color, skin color, clothing. Use unique qualities. Similarly, avoid obvious metaphors, like the crack of dawn--they're too cliched. Do use similes and metaphors; they should be unique to the character(s), e.g. the yawn of dawn for a not-morning person.

The world in a speculative fiction story should be extremely specific, as well. Don't use bland adjectives like pretty. (World-building is a great place to use similes or metaphors--again, they should be unique.) Don't use any generic nouns. For example in your story don't use 'a guitar', use 'a Fender Jag-Stang,' or whatever's appropriate. Also, don't explain, never explain.

I'll get more specific about the next exciting issue of Electric Spec (coming March 15, 2014) starting next week!

18 February 2014

Fiction Inspired by Fiction

Fiction has a long history of being inspired by other literary works. This is true even in the speculative fiction realm. For example, one of my favorite novels of all time (no pun intended), To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997) by Connie Willis, was strongly inspired by Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome. Interestingly, Jerome's novel is also mentioned in Robert Heinlein's Have Space Suit--Will Trav el (1958). As another example, I recently read Triggers (2012) by Robert J. Sawyer which seems to have been influenced by Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1953)--I'll let you read for yourself to see why I say this.

You may be wondering why I mention all this. Well, I'll tell you: our upcoming marvelous March 15, 2014 Electric Spec issue has two stories inspired by other famous literary works. One was inspired by William Carlos Williams' poem "This Is Just To Say". One was inspired by William Shakepeare's play "The Tempest." Of course, any story inspired by something else must stand on its own two feet; it must make sense whether you're familiar with the other work or not. If you are familiar with the reference work, it can add some lovely layers and complexity.

However, be careful not to let the other work overtake the story. In an early draft of the Tempest-inspired story the author was too slavishly following the plot of The Tempest. Readers raised important questions like 'Why is the Cal[iban] character so bad? Why's he trying to hurt the hero?' Once the author looked at the story with fresher eyes, it became clear the story could lose some of The Tempest influences and be stronger for it.

We'd enjoy reading more fiction-inspired fiction in the slush pile...

11 February 2014

tales from the production meeting

We had the Electric Spec production meeting for the March 15, 2014 issue recently. Folks with stories in hold-for-voting should have heard from us, or will hear very soon. If you made it into hold-for-voting you should congratulate yourself, no matter what happened.

We'd especially like to thank our Associate Editor Nikki Baird who helped us read stories. Thanks, Nikki! You rock! :)

At the meeting we had a spirited discussion about stories and what makes a story good. (Okay, we also had buy one get one free drafts.) Once a story makes it to hold-for-voting the competition is fierce.
Some thoughts:

  • One thing that makes a story really good is an emotional payoff, a resolution, at the end. This is hard to do without a clear protagonist; readers want to know who to root for. This protagonist needs to have a clear problem at the beginning of the story, needs to act to resolve it, needs to be changed at the end of the story. If things aren't different at the end of the story or if they're different because of another character's actions it is not as satisfying.
    Note: if one or more people die at the end of the story, it's difficult to make this satisfying.
  • The beginning and end of the story need to speak to each other and be consistent with the title. More specifically, the first paragraph should at least hint at the main story problem. The last paragraph should at least hint at the main story resolution. The title should reflect the core of the story (without giving it away) and not be peripherally related to it.
  • Authors, try not to be dazzled by a really neat world. In speculative fiction authors must create a new world, be it spooky, fantastic or futuristic. The world-building needs to serve the needs of the story, not replace the story. (See point one, above.)
  • Be original! If readers can guess what will happen in your story, it's not optimal. How do you avoid this? Read! At Electric Spec we definitely strive for originality.
  • Do not be political in your stories, at least for Electric Spec. It's not that we don't want to offend anyone, it's more that we don't agree amongst ourselves. And, ultimately, all the editors have to agree on a story in the end.
Yes, writing is hard. Good luck!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more info about the new issue!

04 February 2014


Soon, we will have our production meeting for the next issue of Electric Spec and I'll give you an update about that. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, it occurs to me we have more than one story in hold-for-voting involving utilizing sentient creatures as food sources. This seems to be a rather odd coincidence--especially since these stories were submitted during the American holiday season including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years. (!)

Furthermore, it's not the first time we've had such coincidences. The meme 'meme' is an intriguing idea. Wikipedia says, A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing …or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

Very cool idea! Our culture has definitely evolved over the years and possibly memes were the mechanism.
What do you think? :)

I think I will not be asking our authors what they did over the holidays...