27 March 2018

paragraph power

As an editor 'lo these many years I've picked up some editor-ly tricks. In particular: white space or the lack thereof has power. White space is just the absence of letters on the screen or page.

Long paragraphs with little white space cause readers to slow down and concentrate. Thus, they're great for complicated prose when you want the reader to linger.

Short paragraphs with a lot of white space are quick and easy to read. Our attention span has decreased in modern culture; more white space is compatible with this. White space is great for dramatic, exciting sections. To some extent, this white space is a manipulation of the reader.

I think a lot of white space works particularly well for the very beginning and very end of stories or chapters. In the beginning, it entices the reader into the story in an easy way. In the end, it makes the reader think something dramatic is happening.
And psychologically, we tend to recall beginnings and endings of things. Don't you want to be remembered? A long-remembered story is considered a better story.

So, consider more paragraph breaks in your stories!

20 March 2018

try fail cycles

Try/fail cycles are a plotting mechanism. They are very effective. The shortest short stories basically consist of one try/fail cycle: the protagonist tries to solve a problem and either fails or succeeds. Longer short stories can have two, three, or even more try/fail cycles. A novel chapter generally has at least one try/fail cycle, and often multiple try/fail cycles.

There are two versions of the try/fail cycle:

  • No, and...
  • Yes, but...

In the first case, No, and..., the protagonist doesn't solve the problem and something happens to make it worse. This increases the drama in the story, and, consequently the tension in the reader.
In the second case, Yes, but..., the protagonist does solve the problem but then some other problem happens.

If you ever watch television shows (do we still call them that?), you're familiar with the try/fail cycle. Generally there's a, No, and..., right before the first commercial break, right before the second commercial break, the third commercial break (you get the idea). Right before the end of the show there's usually a, Yes, but..., setting up the next episode.
This pattern works great for novel chapters.

Depending on your market, you probably want to end your short story with a plain Yes or No. Most readers like things to be resolved. But, it's up to you. :)

Send us your try/fail-laden short story!

14 March 2018

Editor Interview

Check out our Electric Spec editor interview over at Blackbird Publishing: here!

13 March 2018

Gaiman on libraries, reading, daydreaming

Excellent Author Neil Gaiman gave an amazing lecture on "Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming" in 2013 that was reprinted in The Guardian. Some highlights include
  • Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading.
  • And the second thing fictton does is to build empathy.
  • You're also finding out ...The world doesn't have to be like this. Things can be different.
  • Fiction can show you a different world.
  • But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about eduction (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
  • Libraries really are the gates to the future.
  • We all -- adults and children, writers and readers -- have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine.
The whole article is really wonderful. Read it here.

06 March 2018

from Author Haynes

We're still enjoying the recent issue of Electric Spec. One of our favorite stories was "Waiting on a Sunny Day" by Michael Haynes. Here, the author shares some thoughts...

This story started as part of a weekly story-writing contest on the Liberty Hall website (which, alas, has since shut down). I don’t recall what the writing prompt was for that week’s contest, but I remember being pleased with how the first draft turned out. Like more stories than I care to admit to, it ended up sitting around on my hard drive for a while before I made revisions to it about a year later and started sending it out.

What happened a few months later is what made this story one that will always stand out in my memory. My father fell on an icy sidewalk outside his house and when he was taken to the hospital for what turned out to be a broken leg, we were told that there were -- I no longer remember the term… spots? -- on his pre-operative chest X-rays. The surgery still had to be done, but in the next few days, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer.
His health was a bit up and down over the next few months -- we held a birthday party for him and his spirits were high during that -- but mostly the trend was down.

And the end came with a fairly-sharp decline. On a Saturday in mid-April, three days before he passed away, I sat with him for a good portion of the day. I read to him from a film magazine, and I read him a story I had written. This story. He’d always been proud of my writing and liked to talk to me about the stories I’d had published. He told me -- and I’m not sure if it was this day or a bit earlier -- that I should keep writing, that he thought I had talent that I shouldn’t pass up.

So when I think of this story, I think of my father, and that it was the last story we got to share. I’m glad it was a good one and I'm glad the story has found a home.

Thanks, Michael. We're glad the story found a home as well. Thanks for sharing!