26 January 2016

tips 2

Here's the second set of tips for 2016. Last time ended up being a bit negative with all the "don't's" so here are some "do's." What do all these "do's" have in common? Uniqueness. Good luck creating your unique story!

Next time I'll blog about the first production meeting with the new editors. Should be interesting!

19 January 2016

the first tips of 2016

As you're reading this, the submission deadline for the first 2016 issue of Electric Spec has passed. I hope you got your story in! (If not, don't fear: we are accepting submissions for the second issue of 2016.) We are hard at work on the new issue.
Here are some tips which may or may not pertain to your particular story:
  • Do obey the submissions format guidelines:
    • Submit an rtf file, not a doc file (or anything else).
    • Use the subject line: SUBMISSION: Story Title by Author's Name (Word Count). The word SUBMISSION is particularly important so it gets through our spam filter.
    • Do stay within the 250 to 7000 word limit.
    • Don't do any unusual formatting, such as unusual fonts, headers, pictures, etc.
  • While we're on the topic of guidelines...
    • Please don't query us on the status of your story.
    • Please don't ask us to join your LinkedIn network or anything similar.
    • Please don't send a query about submitting your story. Just send the story.
    • Please send one story at a time.
    • Since we have a variety of editors reading slush, you can address your submission letter to "Dear Editors." But, be aware, this can annoy editors at other markets.
  • Know your market! By this I mean be aware of what stories we have published in the past at Electric Spec. Every zine is different. Some tips for us, which may not be relevant for other zines include:
    • Show us the story! Very generally, narrative is telling. To me, telling reads as a summary of a story rather than as a story. Your story should probably have some dialogue--notice this is showing.
    • I understand creative folks might not be aware of very common tropes, plots, openings, so for your convenience, consider avoiding vanilla versions of the following:
      • The protagonist wakes up in the first scene.
      • The (male) protagonist kills his wife/girlfriend/random woman.
      • The protagonist is revealed as some kind of nonhuman at the end. Surprise! (Not.)
      • The epic male protagonist kills the monster and wins the female.
    • Your story must have a clear speculative element. It is popular in mainstream fiction to write stories which might have a speculative element. See, for example, The Best American Short Stories, 2014. We don't want ambiguity about this.
  • Probably, the biggest tip I can give for stories in general: start your piece at the beginning of the story. We often see stories that contain a lot of setup and filler in the first paragraphs. Look carefully at your story. Ask yourself what it's about, and where does your piece start addressing this?
This is getting a bit long, so I'll end it here.
Thanks for sending us your stories! We appreciate it!

12 January 2016


For the last month or so and continuing for the next month or so, I've been writing one short story a week. It's an interesting exercise. With limited time I really have to think about the story before I begin writing. Some elements I consider:
  • Who is the main character? What is his/her/its external and internal problem initially?
  • What does he/she/it do to solve the problem(s)?
  • What is the external plot resolution?
  • What is the internal plot resolution? What is the emotional oomph of the story?
  • What is the theme, setting, world, time, big-picture of the story?
I do this all mentally; I don't write anything down until I know the general answers to these questions. IMHO, once you start writing, you've committed/trapped yourself into something. Then, when I finish the first draft I ask What is this story really about? Usually I can't answer this last question until I've finished the first draft. Often I have to edit the second draft to make it fit in a little better with this really about answer. So, at the end I'm left with what I think is a decent story.

And then...

When I submit a story to my critique group every time they raise good questions. Every time! Like "Why does the protagonist do this? It's not motivated." or "This plot point is unecessary." or just "This part is confusing."

I relate all this to illustrate the crucial importance of feedback. IMHO every writer needs to get some other eyes on their work. Every writer! Writer friends are ideal for this. Significant others, BFFs, parents, kids, neighbors also work.

At Electric Spec we really wish we had the resources to give feedback on every submission, but we don't. Here on the blog, we will give some general feedback (based on slush) for the rest of the month.

05 January 2016

Emotional Complexity

I've been pondering what makes a story great. Yes, I have pondered this before. About this time last year, I blogged about genre versus literary fiction. The editors I quoted there have some significant insights.

Of course, you can't go wrong in reading what awesome authors say about the issue. I quoted Norman Spinrad in true literature. I quoted Ursula K. Le Guin on Fiction.

Back in the beginning of 2011 I also considered a great story?. And in 2006 I considered Short story first lines. A great first line does hook the reader. You can't show off your great story if no one ever reads it.

Here and now in 2016 I think the one thing that makes any story great is emotional complexity. This works for short stories, and for 'TV' shows and movies as well. For example, in a recent movie a protagonist has to chose between love and personal safety. The creators of this work successfully created a character, a person, that has a whole host of emotions. Personal safety would be the safer, and probably easier, choice. What does the character do? He does what he has to do.

As you write your stories, consider: do they have emotional complexity? Does your character have to chose between options he/she/it has strong feelings about? If not, work on it. Good luck!

The deadline for our first 2016 issue is Jan 15, midnight (US Moutain time). Get those stories in!