31 October 2017

Avoid the Smeerps

We are working hard on the notable November 2017 issue of Electric Spec! Here are some more comments inspired by the slush pile...

When science fiction first began a few authors tried translating a standard story, for example a western, to a science fiction milieu. In such a case, they would give different elements of the story science-fictiony names, but that's all they would change. Editors and critics refer to this kind of lazy writing as 'calling a rabbit a smeerp.' Once in a while, we get a story like this. Don't do it!

Ideally, every science fiction story has some uniquely SF element that is crucial to the story. It actually doesn't matter what you call things.
The real trick is to show protagonists deal with this uniqueness in a compelling way that resonates with readers, in a way that evokes emotions in readers.

Speculative fiction has the added challenge that protagonists aren't necessarily human. In fact, the protagonist often isn't human. Think ghost, werewolf, elf, god, alien, robot... You get the idea. I've disagreed with other writers in the past, however, in that I say none of these protagonists are truly not-human. Since readers are human, they need something they can relate to. Do you agree? Disagree?

Send us a story that proves me wrong!

And, oh, yeah, Happy Halloween!

24 October 2017

In Media Res

We, the Electric Spec Editors, are working on the notable November issue, and are deep in the slush pile. Thank you for sending us your stories! Feel free to send us new stories now for our first issue of 2018.
Regarding the slush...

I've been noticing lately that our society is more fast-paced than ever. We're used to instantaneous news, texts and pictures. Our reading habits have changed as well. In particular, for on-line publications we want to grab a reader's attention more quickly than ever.

It has always been a good idea to begin your story in media res--in the middle. Now, it's more important than ever! Let's face it, you don't want to bore your potential readers (including editors) with a lot of pointless chit-chat in the beginning of your story. (In fact, drop all the pointless chit-chat). You don't want to begin with the protagonist waking up in the morning. You don't want to begin with the protagonist traveling somewhere.
Some markets like a story that begins with a lot setting descriptions; that is not this market.

You do want to begin your story when the story begins, not when the setup begins. If need be, you can give the reader backstory or a flashback after you've already gotten them hooked.
When does the story begin? When the protagonist is in trouble, has a signficant problem--which is about to get much worse.

A slow opening is one of the most common reasons for a story to be rejected. Take a look at the beginning of your tale: do you start in media res? If not, consider cutting or moving some of the setup.

Good luck!

17 October 2017

use specific details

Sadly, submissions for our last issue of 2017 are closed. Happily, we are accepting subs for the first issue of 2018.

We, the Electric Spec editors, are hard at work on the new issue. Right now that means we are going through the slush pile. Thank you for sending us your stories. We wish we could critique all the stories we get, but we just don't have that kind of person-power. So, here'a tip you might find useful.

Unique specific details make a story stand out. It's specific details that create your fictional world. The good news is: you, as a person, know a lot of unique specific details. Get them out, dust them off, put them in your story. Blow us away! For example, a black Aston Martin DB5 is much different from a silver Prius C, right?
The trick to making this work is expressing the details via your characters. When your characters convey unique specific details it actually helps you create unique characters. For example, does your character love his Prius, or hate it?

Send us your stories with unique specific details!
And check back here for more tips from the slush pile next week...

10 October 2017

showing and telling

Less than a week until the submission deadline for the final 2017 issue of Electric Spec: October 15, 2017! Get those stories in!

In the meantime, we've starting working behind the scenes to get the new issue out. I've also been reading a book on the history of storytelling, all of which has made me think about the whole showing versus telling thing.

Experts disagree on when the first novel was published. Some say it was Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory in 1485, but there are many other opinions. Let's just say, prior to about 1400, storytelling was primarily an oral tradition. Imagine those folks of long ago sitting around the fire telling stories. Some of us have had that experience while on camping trips telling ghost stories and the like. Notice my verb choice: telling. These stories were often narrative summaries of exciting events such as hunting expeditions, death-defying stunts, or scary hook-handed monsters in lovers' lanes. Telling stories orally is still quite common around the world, right? Let me tell you what happened today at work....

When the modern novel was borne showing became popular in storytelling. Some experts claim literary novels are mostly showing the details of one or more particular persons, places or things. In fact, a current writing mantra is Show, don't tell. Some would say we've abandoned the excitement of telling.

I say: showing is exciting when you're showing exciting events in the moment. This enables readers to be right smack in the middle of the action. At Electric Spec we very rarely buy stories that do not have this type of showing. However, the best stories have both showing and telling. Show the exciting bits. Tell, or summarize, the less exciting parts.

What do you think of the whole showing versus telling dichotomy?

03 October 2017

editor advice

The submission deadline for the notable November 2017 Electric Spec issue is October 15, 2017! Get those stories in!

Of course, this means we are starting to gear up for this new issue. This editor is deep in her slush pile--which means I have some advice for prospective authors. I think this advice is pretty general:

  • Do check the submission rules of your desired market and follow them in your document. This includes: file format, document formatting, word length, genre, and, basically anything else that's listed.
  • Do write a reasonable cover letter. This includes name, contact info, word-count, genre, and a short bio, including a few previous pubs. If in doubt, shorter is probably better.
  • Do familiarize yourself with the market to make sure your story is compatible. The good news is: it's free on our site. :)
  • Do avoid spelling and grammar errors--especially on the first page.
  • Do grab my attention on the first page. There are a myriad ways to do this. It could be a great character, a great plot, setting, mystery, anything. You want me to think Ooh! I need to read more!
  • Do have something changed at the end of the story.
  • Do create something unique.
For me, personally, I really enjoy a very strong character voice. It's great when a character comes alive and practically leaps off the page.
We want more steampunk. I also really enjoy genre mashups. Okay, if I'm being honest, it's hard to me to resist time-travel tales and SF involving quantum physics. Send them to us!