25 October 2016

slush tips: plot

The slush is up somewhere around our chins...
The most important thing (or second-most important thing) in a story is plot. Basically, you don't have a story if you don't have a plot. Plot is particularly important in speculative fiction because readers expect a plot. There are many definitions of plot, such as: the sequence of events and happenings that make up a story. I prefer to think of it as the actions the character(s) take to solve the story problem(s) and the resulting resolution.

A literary professional told me recently the number one "plot" they see in queries is the wandering protagonist. She said this is not, in fact, a plot and they never request these manuscripts. It's worth repeating: someone wandering around is not a plot. On the other hand, someone seeking something for some specified purpose is a plot. A quest, then, may resemble someone wandering around, but it is a very different animal.

Some people say there are only a few basic plots, such as

  • the quest
  • overcoming a monster
  • rags to riches
  • comedy
  • tragedy
  • voyage and return
  • rebirth
Obviously, there's some overlap here and many stories combine more than one of these ideas.

I don't care what you call it or how you classify it, just show us your plot.

Next week I hope to start updating you on our next Electric Spec issue, the notable November 2016 issue.

18 October 2016

slush tips: character and voice

As you probably can guess, we're hip deep in the slush. I've been glad to see a lot of stories that have their facts right and that use similes and metaphors. :) Thanks!

One of the most important things a story needs is character. We editors are in disagreement about if character is the most important thing or the second-most important thing, but it's definitely important. Your story must have a character that acts. It's also important that the character drives the story, rather than having the character serve the story. This is accomplished by creating a fully-fleshed out person, complete with loves, hates, desires, passions, goals, flaws, and every other quality a person has. Of course, readers will not see all these qualities on the page, but we should get the impression that they're there somewhere in the background.

I admit I cheat when creating characters. I often base my characters on people I know. Surprisingly, these templates never seem to recognize themselves. Personally, I think it's because we create imaginary 'characters' out of the real people in our lives--which may or may not agree with how the people see themselves.
Uh oh. I'm getting a little too philosophical? Cynical?

Which brings me to my second topic: voice. Voice can be a tricky concept to understand. Partly because there are two different meanings. Meaning one: each character should have a unique voice. Each character should show his voice via his/her/its unique combo of syntax, diction, vocab, personality, etc.

Meaning two: the author's voice. Author voice is the author's individual writing style, created by their unique combo of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc. Some authors showcase a different voice for different works. For example Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series is much different from her Lily Bard Shakespeare series. On the other hand, some authors have a distinctive voice in all their work, e.g. Connie Willis. Personally, I love a strong voice. For example, I love Connie Willis's voice, so I know in advance that I will enjoy any Connie Willis work.

Consider wowing us with your unique voice--be it of you or your character.

The submission deadline for the November 2016 issue has passed. But we are now taking subs for the Fenruary 2017 issue.

11 October 2016


We, The Editors, are working hard on Electric Spec slush. I must admit I have a pet peeve: I get quite annoyed when a story contradicts facts. I try to stay objective if a story contradicts facts, but I don't know how successful I am. Probably, not very successful.

You're thinking But, wait a minute. Stories are fiction. They're supposed to be made-up. They're not supposed to be true. This is a good point. But...

Know facts! Use facts! If your story is set basically on our Earth in basically our society with basic humans, you need to get basic physics correct. You need to know what gravity and electromagnetism are and basically how they work. You need to know about the sun and the moon and other planets and stars. You need to know approximately where the continents and countries and basic landmarks are. If you get any of this wrong with no explanation or confirmation my peeve will be activated. By confirmation, I mean more than one character or situation is involved in this difference from our world; somehow indicate this difference is intentional.

An aside on explanations: Don't over-explain. A pitfall of alternate history can be a lot of exposition about what exactly is different in history and what the ramifications were, etc. etc. In this case, don't explain, show.

Of course, all bets are off if your story is set on another world with other creatures, or if there's magic or other extenuating circumstances (unreliable narrator?) involved.

The submission deadline for the November 2016 issue is October 15, 2016! Send those stories in!

04 October 2016

similes and metaphors

I've been taking particular notice of similes and metaphors lately. They can elevate a piece of writing from good to great. Recall, a simile is when two things are compared directly, often using words such as 'as' or 'like.' A metaphor is when two things are compared directly, but without using 'as' or 'like.'
Similes and metaphors should be unique to your characters and worlds and can be very effective in helping build both.

Similes and metaphors are extremely useful in descriptions.
Consider: The sky is blue. Kind of boring, right?

In comparison, let's look at a couple similes...
The sky is as blue as a mother's tears.
The sky is as blue as mermaids' scales.
Wow. Those bring to mind two totally different images and are much more descriptive than the declarative statement.

Consider using similes and metaphors in your writing!

FYI the next Electric Spec submission deadline is coming up: October 15, 2016. Get those stories in!