Another reader question and I complain.

13 01 2010

I was trying to expand my submission stable yesterday. I have about twenty markets that I regularly submit to and perhaps ten more that I occasionally check in on. Most of these alternate ten are publishers that only publish anthologies. Typically, anthology publishers have more convoluted submission forms than an online magazine as they don’t deal with the efficiency issues of putting out an edition on deadline But yesterday I was looking one over that posted its desired fiction in a  such a manner that it took my breath away. Here is what they asked for:

We particularly like stories with:

  • depth and insight
  • great writing
  • original ideas
  • interesting characters who have believable behaviors, motives, and relationships
  • believable dialogue
  • strong plots
  • solid science or magic systems
  • unique settings
  • well designed, innovative alien life forms and environments, and
  • richly detailed and original cultures.

Ahem. Yeeeeah. Other than solid science or magic systems and alien life forms this whole list should have simply been “great writing.” Come on! Of course you want “depth and insight,” and “original ideas” should go without saying! I usually tell you to get familiar with what a venue wants, but when they are asking for such generic positive qualifiers as this I encourage you to submit the opposite of what they’re asking for. I have submitted my “man eating plant” story that John Klima told me had no place in the world. Suck on it!

I feel better.

So RL from GA asks how she can make her writing sound better. Be more specific would be my first advice. Beyond that there are a couple of simple exercises that might be helpful.

Pay Attention: Dialog is one of the commodities you should never run out of. Listen when people talk. Ask yourself questions about what makes the particular way they talk unique. I used to play regular games of Rook with my friends and sometimes when we had a fifth person and I had to take games out I would write down the dialog that went on throughout the game. What was great was that, if I broke each of the four lines of speaking into unmarked separate pages, you could still tell who was talking. If you are like me and you stay in an undisclosed location without human contact, then you can turn on the radio or the t.v.

You Guessed it- READ: Perhaps dialog is not your problem. Then the best way to improve your writing is to read. I refuse to stop beating this drum. Read like you should eat: a varied diet of healthy, high nutrient stories, and skittles. Oh, and pay attention while you do! You have to train yourself to think of just about every activity as an organ of your writing. You like a turn of phrase, make a note. A story baffles you with its quality? Rewrite it word for word. I typed four stories from Jesus’ Son when it came out because I didn’t understand how anyone could write like that. Guess how? One letter at a time.

Force your friends to say hateful things: When you are forcing your friends to read your work try asking them to make a list only of the lines that sounded crappy. See if any patterns arise. I don’t know if this will work. It goes against that old chestnut of “something positive, something negative” that creative writing teachers are still trying to impose on workshops in America’s schools, but I think it could help.

Science of fiction, you know the score.

Next up: A genocide in America! Oh, and I answer another question. JC in GA (wow, Georgia has two readers!) asks the question: All my characters end up sounding like me. What can I do?

Well JC I think that everyone I know sounds like me, including you, so I will answer my question soon.

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