30 September 2014

earn your death

We're looking for some good macabre stories for our noteworthy November issue of Electric Spec. Macabre can evoke the grim and ugly aspects of death, but we tend to focus on the associated emotional facets. Perhaps it would help to think of it as suggestive of the allegorical dance of death.

Over the last decade we've received hundreds (thousands?) of stories of men killing their wives and/or girlfriends. In recent years these are often flash fiction pieces where the characters are introduced and then, bam!, the woman's dead. Sadly, after reading these I think, "Eh." I've seen it before, and, frankly, I don't care about any of the characters. And thinking up a unique way to kill off the woman doesn't help.
Consider bucking the trend and writing a macabre piece that doesn't involve murder. :)

In your story if you want to kill off your woman, make me care. How do you do this? You create a three-dimensional murderer and murderee, with good and bad characteristics, loves, hates, and desires. Real people want something(s) and so should murderers (and I'm not talking just murder). The murder should arise as a consequence of their characters. The protagonist's character should not consist solely of murderer.

Is this hard to do in flash fiction? Yes. Very. It's difficult to do in 5,000 words, too.
But no one ever said writing was easy. Or, if they did, maybe they deserve...
Good luck!

23 September 2014

tips from the slush pile

We, the Editors, have started going through the slush pile for the notable November 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Thus, I've got some tips for authors...

Short fiction is an art form, and, frankly, you can do anything you'd like. That's part of the beauty and allure of short fiction.
However, if you want to be published in Electric Spec:

  • You must have at least one protagonist. Another name for protagonist is 'main character.' I can't stress this enough. If you don't have a protagonist the reader has no one to identify with.
  • You must have at least some showing. This means you cannot have all telling. Telling puts a layer of author between the reader and the story. The reader wants immerse him/herself in the story, to go on an adventure, not think: this is a clever author.
  • You should very probably have dialogue. It's very difficult to have a protagonist and showing without any dialogue. It can be done, if there's only one character total in the story for example, but it probably shouldn't be.
  • You must have a speculative element. We aren't called Electric Spec for nothing.
  • Something needs to happen. Another way of putting this is: something needs to change in the story.
To summarize, if I read a story from the slush pile and it doesn't have a protagonist, some showing, some dialogue, a speculative element, AND change, I will reject it.

17 September 2014

what's your destination?

I recently attended a workshop taught by the fabulous fantasy author Carol Berg. See the excerpt from her new novel Dust and Light in our last issue of Electric Spec here. The workshop was about plotting a novel without outlining. It turns out Carol is not an outliner! If you've read her excellent and complicated novels this will come as a surprise to you. It was a surprise to me.

The take-away from the workshop was: when writing, you must know your destination. In a novel you should know the ending of your large story arc and you should know the destination for each of your chapters. But it's totally fine to figure out your chapter destinations as you go along.

IMHO, as a short story writer you should know your final story destination when you start writing. Personally, I've written myself into a lot of corners and tangents when I didn't know my destination. Don't do that! :)
So, I ask you: What is your destination?

09 September 2014

short story cheat sheet

We hope everyone's still enjoying the awesome August 31, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Tell your friends! :)

Editor Betsy and I recently taught a workshop on how to write short stories. I'm not sure I said everything I meant to say, so I thought I'd compile the list of bullet points here, in, well, bullet points.

Short Story Cheat Sheet:

  • Inspiration:How should you start? Write what you're passionate about. Notice this initial concept could be a person/character or an idea/plot topic.
  • Protagonist:Every short story must have a protagonist. Your protagonist needs to be a sentient being with something to lose. Your protagonist needs to have a problem in the beginning (ideally, the first 250 words) of the story.
  • Conflict:Every short story must have conflict. When your protagonist acts to solve his/her/its problem something or someone needs to oppose him/her/it.
  • Plot: Thus, the simplest possible story plot is: A protagonist has a problem and acts to solve said problem. Something/one opposes the protagonist--causing conflict. The protagonist thinks he/she/it will fail--dark moment. The protagonist tries again and either succeeds (hurray!) or fails (aw!).
    This is also called the external story arc.
  • Emotion:A good story needs to impact the reader's emotions. How do you do this? The reader needs to empathize with, essentially become, the protagonist. This is achieved through your characterization of the protagonist. Do not describe the physical characteristics of your protagonist (you want the readers to imagine themselves). Instead, show the protagonist through his/her/its thoughts, feelings, words and deeds and through the words and deeds of other characters in the story as they react to the protagonist.
    It's hard to evoke emotion in the reader unless you really torture your protagonist, i.e. give them a significant problem and make it seem like they truly won't succeed. The dark moment is when the protagonist and the reader thinks the protagonist will fail.
    Make sure to resolve your story. The reader needs to know if the protagonist has succeeded or failed in his/her/its actions.
  • Change: Something about the protagonist him/her/itself needs to have changed as a result of the events of the story. This is the internal story arc.
  • So what?When you finish your story, you need to ask: So what was the point of this story? What happened? If there was no point, if nothing happened, you need to work on it some more.
    Honestly, it can be difficult to get the distance from your work to ask this question effectively. Consider asking your friends, family, critique partners, "What happened?" If they can't answer you...back to work.
Good luck with your short stories!