Tag Archives: short stories

Writing Better Fight Scenes

28 Nov

Today’s post comes from Editor Ed, a long-time friend of mine who is also a small press publisher, editor, and author in his own right. You can find his books at Pickman’s Press.

As an editor, I read a lot of stories—including a lot of bad ones.  Badly written fight scenes are a personal pet peeve of mine.  As best, I’m simply bored.  At worst, I get confused, can’t clearly visualize what’s happening, and grow frustrated. 

Consequently, I spend a lot of time pondering why one fight scene worked while another, similar fight scene didn’t.  So here are six little writing tweaks you can use to keep your fight scene action quick, clean, exciting, and most importantly, readable.  These might seem like tiny nit-picky changes, but a few dozen such changes can have a huge cumulative effect.

1.  Be careful with pronouns. 

This is the most common problem I see. Pronouns can confuse readers and make them lose track of who’s doing what, especially in fight between two people of the same gender.  For example, “he punched him” is unclear.  “Bob punched Mike” is much clearer.  After writing your fight scene, check it carefully for any ambiguous pronouns, and replace them with names.

2. Keep cause and effect in the right order. 

This is the second most common problem I see.  Although this may seem obvious, some writers like to reverse the order, describing the effect and then explaining the cause.  For example, “Suddenly Mike screamed and fell to the ground, for he had been stabbed in the back”.  This is awkward for the audience, who has to reverse the cause and effect in their mind before they can properly visualize it, causing a brief snag in the flow of action.  Also, sometimes the effect makes no sense without knowing the cause, and the audience has a brief moment of utter confusion, wondering why in the world Mike is screaming.  Writing “suddenly Mike was stabbed in the back, screamed, and fell to the ground” is much easier to understand.

3.  Use short, simple, common language whenever possible. 

A fight scene is NOT the time or show off your big vocabulary of long, complex, or obscure words.  When you use words the average reader doesn’t know, you’re creating a brief instant of confusion and incomprehension for the audience, a “speed bump” that slows down the action flow while they re-read the word, trying to figure out the meaning from context.  Using long, multi-syllabic words can also slow down the action, as it takes longer to convey the same amount of information. As a general rule, try to avoid any word with more than three syllables, and if you can replace a three-syllable word with a one-syllable word without altering the meaning of the sentence, do it. 

4.  Use short, simple sentences

This keeps the action flowing quickly and adds a sense of urgency.  Avoid joining any more than two sentences with a comma, as this forces the reader to keep more information in their head (and mind’s eye) simultaneously, slowing down their visualization.  If you can separate compound sentences without adding extra words, do so.  Look for excessively wordy sentences and simplify them.  Finally, look for awkwardly phrased sentences and reword them to read more smoothly.

5.  Use the strongest verbs possible. 

This is a cheap trick, but it works.  Find any weak verbs and replace them with stronger, more dramatic ones.  For example, use “slash” instead of “cut”, “scream” instead of “yell”, or “dash” instead of “run”.

6.  Whenever possible, use present tense or tense-neutral verbs instead of past tense. 

For example, “Bob was screaming, punching Mike again and again” works better than “Bob screamed and punched Mike again and again”.  This gives the action more immediacy—it reads like it is happening now, like the reader is in the middle of the action and watching it happen in real time.  Overuse of the past tense can make the reader feel one step removed from the action, like they’re sitting around a campfire listening to grandpa tell the story of an old battle.

What do you think? Do you find yourself falling into these mistakes? Is there a trick that we didn’t mention? Tell us in the comments below!

Difficulty of Diversity: LGBT+

17 Nov

Today Editor Ed finishes his series on diversity in genre fiction to address LGBT+ authors. Ed is a small press publisher, editor, and author for many years.

I mentioned in a previous post that when organizing my first anthology, I idealistically aimed to select a diverse range of authors that represented a variety of gender, race, and sexual orientation—and promptly ran head-first into a brick wall.  For female and minority authors, the problem was a depressingly low number of submissions from those groups.  But there was a different problem with LGBT+ authors, one I hadn’t anticipated …

How do you know if an author is LGBT+?

Unlike race and gender, which an editor can usually determine from an author’s name and photograph on social media, the editor generally can’t determine someone’s sexual orientation just by looking at them.  They have to tell you.  And, for the most part, they don’t.

You see, an author’s sexual orientation isn’t generally the type of information they usually include with their submission cover letter.  They’re typically more concerned with genre, word count, and plot summaries.  Perhaps they understandably fear discrimination if they disclose an LGBT+ orientation.  Or maybe they just don’t think it matters, or shouldn’t matter—and they’re right, it shouldn’t.

In my last submission call, only one author identified their sexual orientation (bi) in their cover letter.  I was able to determine another author’s orientation (also bi) by searching Facebook profiles.  And that’s it.  Two.  Worse, one of them had their story automatically disqualified for some uncomfortably racist subtext.

And all the other authors?  I had absolutely no idea.  For all I know, maybe I did publish a LGBT+ author in that anthology, but just didn’t realize it.

And here’s the thing: it would be horribly inappropriate (and quite possibly illegal) to ask.  I mean, can you image that?   “Excuse me author, I know this is a very personal question about a very private part of your life that’s really none of my business, but what type of people do you like to have sex with?”  I can imagine the lawsuits already!  Besides, I imagine I’d get a lot of answers along the lines of “Why does that matter?” or “What does that have to do with my story?”  And the honest answer is “Nothing.”

I haven’t yet found a solution for this dilemma: How can an editor ensure LGBT+ diversity among an anthology’s authors when the editor doesn’t know their orientations, and can’t ask?

If you readers have any advice or suggestions, please let me know by leaving a comment.  Have you heard of other publishers who have found a way to solve this problem?

Difficulty of Diversity: Race & Gender

16 Nov

Today’s post is brought to you again by Editor Ed, continuing his exploration of diversity in anthologies. Ed is a long-time small press publisher, editor, and author.

In my previous post, I discussed how genre anthologies are frequently criticized for being dominated by straight white male authors, and how I wanted to have a more diverse collection of authors in my first anthology.  I also mentioned how my open submission call resulted in disappointingly few stories from women, even fewer from people of color, and a completely unknown amount from LGBT+ authors.  Finally, I said I had a few guesses about why that happened. Today I’ll offer my theories (and ask if you readers have any others).

For my first anthology, Corporate Cthulhu, fewer than 5% of the submissions I received were from racial minorities.  Worse, one of those stories (from a Latin American author) was automatically disqualified for some shockingly misogynistic content.  Worst of all, 0% were from African-Americans.

Why?

I’ve mulled this problem over for the last few years.  Perhaps the underrepresentation of racial minorities in genre fiction has less to do with discrimination and more to do with… well, numbers.  According to the 2010 US Census (a decade ago now, so take it with a grain of salt), 72% of the US population is white.  In retrospect, I guess it’s not really surprising that most of the story submissions I received came from authors representing this largest segment of the population.  In contrast, African-American are less than 13%, Asian-Americans are around 6%, and Native Americans are just under 1%.  Was it perhaps simply unrealistic of me to expect a large number of story submissions from such a small segment of the population?  Possibly.  But there’s still quite a gap between the US population being 28% minority, and the submissions I received from minorities being only 5%.  That suggests there are other factors at work besides simple numbers… I just don’t know what they are.

But what about women?  They form half the population.  So why were only a fifth of the stories I received submitted by women?  Could it possibly have been the genre?  After all, if I’d been organizing an anthology of romance stories, I suspect the majority of my submissions would have been from women.  Perhaps women just aren’t as interested in horror stories as men?

I dug around on the internet trying to find market research info, but wasn’t very successful.  The closest data I could find was an analysis of the horror movie audience—not the same as horror fiction writers, of course, but better than nothing.  That study found that horror movie fans are roughly 60% male and 40% female.  Still, given that only 20% of the submissions I received were from women, there’s still a sizable gap to be explained.

There’s one last underrepresented category of writers to consider: LGBT+ authors.  Fairly representing that group in an anthology, however, presented an entirely different set of challenges.  I’ll get to that in the next post.

Do you guys have any ideas about what other factors could be at play?  Things I missed, or just didn’t think of?  Are there any other editors in this blog’s audience who have experienced similar problem?  If so, how did you fix them?  Please leave any thoughts in the comments, I’ll be very interested to read them.

Difficulty of Diversity: Race

15 Nov

Today’s post is brought to you by repeated guest, Editor Ed, who has worked as a small press publisher, editor, and author for many years.

When I set out to organize my first anthology, I was aware that genre fiction has been criticized for decades for being dominated by straight white male authors.  Wanting to be a Good Guy™ and help remedy that pattern of poor representation, I added to my submission guidelines “We’re particularly interested in submissions from writers traditionally underrepresented in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fiction, including racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, women, LGBT+ individuals, and people living with disabilities.”  In my mind I was saying, “Behold, ye underrepresented huddled masses!  I, your straight white male savior, have thrown open the gates of my anthology!  Give me your fiction, your stories, your rejected manuscripts yearning to see publication, the hidden treasures of your overflowing hard drive!”  And then I sat back and waited for the flood of submissions from women and minorities.

In retrospect, I was unbelievably naive.

After submissions closed and the demographics of the submitting authors were analyzed, these were the disheartening statistics: Only around 20% of all submission came from women, and less than 5% were from racial/religious minorities.  I didn’t receive a single submission from African-Americans.  And LGBT+?  I have no idea (more about that later).  In the end, my first anthology included stories from one woman, two racial and one religious minority (all men)… and 23 white men (no idea if they were straight).  I’d published exactly the kind of anthology I’d set out NOT to publish.

What happened?

Conventional wisdom has a ready answer to that question: editors and publishers are racist sexist homophobic bigots who discriminate against women and minorities.  Before I did my own anthology, I believed that simplistic explanation—I had to reason not to.  Now, I’m not so sure… at the very least, the situation is a clearly a lot more complicated than I thought.

I’ve been pondering this question for years, and I have a few guess as to why submissions were so low from these author groups.  Just to make things even more complicated, I suspect there might be different explanations depending on if we’re discussing authors of color, female authors, or LGBT+ authors.  In follow-up posts, I’ll share these theories with you, and invite you to share any theories of your own.

For now, what is clear is that simply saying “I welcome submission from women/minorities/LGBT+” is obviously not enough for an editor to assemble an anthology with a diverse selection of authors.  As far as I can tell, indie editors need to actually go out and find women and minorities, and actively encourage them to submit stories to the editor’s anthology.

But how, exactly, does one do that?  Good question.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments.  If you have any other theories as to why submissions from racial/ethnic/religious minorities are so puzzlingly low (or how to fix it), leave those in the comments too, I’d love to hear them.

And the next time you notice an anthology is full of white male authors, please don’t automatically assume the editor is a racist sexist homophobic bigot.  It could simply be that they didn’t have a very diverse pool of story submissions to draw from!

What Editors DON’T Want

29 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

I’ve written several guest posts about what editors are looking for in short stories when reading through the slush pile.  This time, I’ll list things we’re never looking for.  Submitting any of the items below is almost certainly a waste of both your time and the editor’s. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I have, all of them.

DOESN’T FIT THE SUBMISSION GUIDEINES

Submission calls are always accompanied by submission guidelines—they may be long and detailed or short and simple, but they’re there.  If your story doesn’t fit the submission guidelines, don’t submit it!  If you submit a 10,000-word story when the required word limit is 5000, it will get rejected.

WASN’T PROOFREAD

I think most editors don’t mind a few minor typos (almost everyone gets “its” vs. “it’s” wrong at some point).  But reading a manuscript filled with errors is jarring, annoying, and will almost certainly bias an editor against your work.

THE FIRST CHAPTER OF YOUR NOVEL

…is NOT a short story. It’s all exposition with no resolution. Readers will be annoyed by the “short story” not really going anywhere, and wonder why they wasted their time reading it.  There are always exceptions, of course—the first chapter of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, for example—but they’re few and far between.  So unless your first chapter is essentially a self-contained short story, don’t both submitting it, it will get rejected,

WRONG GENRE

Wow, that’s a truly excellent romance story with a five-handkerchief ending.  Unfortunately, this is a horror anthology.

RESUBMISSIONS

Editors can tell when a story wasn’t originally written for our magazine or anthology, but was hastily rewritten to “fit” by changing a few key names here and there.  It’s kinda obvious.  Besides, do you really believe simply changing the name of your magical school from “Starlight Academy” to “Miskatonic University” automatically transforms your urban fantasy into Lovecraftian horror? (HINT: It doesn’t.)

POLITICAL RANTS

I’m not talking about a “moral of the story” or even a “message”, but a full-on lecture about the author’s personal (often controversial) socio-political views, either by using a character as a mouthpiece (bad) or speaking directly to the audience (worse).  Even if the editor agreed with you 100%, why would they risk publishing your story if it might alienate half their audience and lose all those sales?  If you absolutely cannot stop yourself from including contemporary political opinions in your short stories, then for God’s sake at least keep them subtle, nuanced, and preferably metaphorical—or better yet, write a non-fiction opinion piece for a newspaper, magazine, or blog.

FAN FICTION

It may be the best Star Wars story ever written, but the editor CAN’T publish it unless they own (or leased) the copyright to that franchise.  If they do, they’ll definitely mention that in the submission guidelines.  Otherwise, assume they don’t, and post your story on www.fanfiction.net instead.

EROTICA

A brief, tasteful sex scene in your story might be acceptable, but erotica (a story revolving mostly around a long, detailed, graphic sex scene) is almost never a good fit. Unless the editor is specifically requesting erotica stories, assume they don’t want them.

FAN FICTION EROTICA

Do I even have to explain why?

There are always exceptions to these general guidelines, of course.  Fan fiction that uses characters in the public domain (Don Quixote, Frankenstein, Tin Woodsman, etc.) is acceptable.  Sometimes a resubmission IS a perfect fit for a different anthology.  Some magazines or anthologies DO want fiction with a prominent political slant (like Trumpocalypse).  So take these guidelines with a (tiny) grain of salt, use your best judgment (and common sense), and hopefully you can save yourself some wasted time, wasted effort, and the pain of an unnecessary rejection letter. 

Do you agree with Editor Ed? What do you think he missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Improving Your Author Visibility

14 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

In yesterday’s post I explained how editors, when faced with several excellent stories competing for one open slot, may take the author of the tale into consideration.  Specifically, we look at the author’s popularity (through number of previous publications and social media following) and their demographics.  While these criteria do tend to slant in favor of popular, established authors over talented but unknown beginning authors, there are some things new authors can do to balance things out.

Have a Social Media Presence

The more social media followers you have, the more might buy a book or magazine that published your story, and thus the more sales the publisher might make.  Editors pay attention to these things.  At the very least, have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but more platforms is always better.  If you have a separate author page on Facebook, that’s even better. Presumably all that followers that page are interested in your writing, as opposed to a personal page where a large number might be acquaintances with no interest—or even knowledge—of your writing career.

Have an Author Website

If an editor is going to research you as an author, make it quick and easy for them to find all the information about you that they need.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, detailed, or even ad-free—seriously, we don’t care about that.  There are plenty of places where you can build a simple website for free (although it’ll probably have ads).  A blog is a bonus, even if it’s not updated regularly.  If you have a common name like John Smith, make sure the landing page of your website introduces you as “John Smith, a fiction author of (genre name)” so that we can instantly tell we’ve found the right person, instead of wondering whether or not John Smith the Accountant from Wisconsin is you.

Link to your Social Media Accounts from your Author Website

Editors rarely have the time to check all social media platforms for all authors who submit manuscripts.  Personally, I check for a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and that’s it—so if most of your followers are on Instagram or TikTok, I’ll probably miss it.  However, if you make it easy for editors to find all of your social media accounts by having prominent (i.e., toward the top) links to them on your website, we can quickly and easily count ALL your followers.

Have a Bibliography on your Author Website

Sure, we editors may often consider an author’s number of previous publications a measure of their name recognition or popularity, but… how do we know what you’ve written?  Personally, I use Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org).  No one location will have a list of all your publications, though, especially since there are so many obscure magazines and e-zines out there.  So help us out and have a page on your website dedicated to your complete bibliography.  Categorize them by novels, short stories, and poetry.  Include not just the story’s title, but also the anthology/magazine it appears in, the date, and (if known) the publisher.

To conclude, all these things will help make you more competitive (or at least appear to be) compared to more establish authors.  My final bit of advice is that taking these steps does require a time commitment—possibly a major one.  If you’re serious about building up your fiction writing career, it may be worth your time.  On the other hand, if you only jot off a story every now and then and occasionally submit it here and there on a whim, it may not be the best use of your time… at least, not yet.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them quickly.

Editors Evaluating Authors

13 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

I mentioned in my original guest post that when a magazine or anthology editor has read through the slush pile of submissions and eliminated the bad and mediocre stories, there will almost certainly be more excellent short stories than can possibly fit in that anthology or magazine issue. Consequently, editors have to whittle down the excellent submissions based on criteria that have little or nothing to do with the story’s quality.  I also mentioned in last week’s post how editors keep an eye out for stories that contain interesting variations on the publication’s theme.

This week, I’ll mention three other things that editors research to choose between equally excellent stories.  These criteria, however, aren’t about the story, but about the author.

1. Previous Publications

Readers are more likely to buy a book or magazine when the cover displays an author name or two they’re familiar with.  Although it’s hard to gauge an author’s popularity, one metric is the number of their previous publications.  The more stories an author has published, the more likely they are to have name recognition and a following.  So if I’ve got two excellent stories I can’t decide between where one author has three publications and the other has thirty, I’ll probably go with the more established author.

2. Social Media Following

This may not apply to big publishers like Penguin/Random House or Simon & Schuster, but for small and indie publishers (and there are thousands) this is crucial for sales.  You see, when an author gets a short story published in a magazine or anthology, they almost always post about it on social media when the book is released.  A small percentage of their followers go on to buy the book.  Therefore, the larger a social media following an author has, the more sales will be made in the first week after release (which is vital to the book moving up the search rankings on Amazon).  Consequently, if I have to decide between two equally excellent stories where one author has 500 followers and the other has 5,000, I’ll probably pick the author with the larger social media following.

3. Demographics

This is sex, gender, race, ethnic and/or religious minorities, sexual orientation, and physical and/or mental disabilities.  There has been a lot of backlash over the last several decades against genre anthologies being dominated by straight white cis men.  Consequently, many editors (not all, but a lot) these days at least try to have some degree of diversity among their authors.  So sometimes if I have to decide between two equally excellent stories by authors with a similar number of previous publications and near-equal social media followers—but one author is a woman or minority—I’ll choose that author.  It doesn’t happen very often, true, but it does occasionally come into play.  Now, keep in mind this isn’t just about politics—people with different backgrounds and experiences often bring different viewpoints and perspectives to the fiction they write (which goes back to the need for variation in an anthology’s theme).

You may have noticed a bias built into this selection process: popular published authors are more likely to get published again, while unpublished or new authors—even talented ones—are less likely to get published at all. And you are perfectly right. This is exactly why it is so hard for new authors to break into the fiction-writing field.  But the good news is that there are some things a new author can do to help level the playing field in their favor.  I’ll get into that in tomorrow’s post.

But what do you think? Do these points make sense for you? What tricks have you used to get past the gatekeepers? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Get your Story Noticed (Part II)

4 Oct

Today’s blog post is continued from yesterday and is written by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

Coming up with an original, unique idea is harder said than done. To help you brainstorm, here’s three different variations on a theme editors keep an eye out for while wading through the slush pile.

1. Atypical Setting

My experience as an editor is that the vast majority of the submissions I receive are set in the here-and-now.  By “here”, I mean the USA, with a handful set in other English-speaking countries (the “Anglosphere”), mainly England, Canada, and Australia. Consequently, if you submit a story set in, say, Japan, you’ll probably catch the editor’s attention, and there’s a good chance no one else has submitted a tale using that setting.  European countries (France, Germany, Italy, etc.) are good—they’re culturally similar enough to the Anglosphere that they require minimal research, but are just different enough to lend an exotic flair.  Non-western settings are your best option for submitting a completely unique story, but they require more research.  Luckily, while novels may require in-depth research, short stories are brief enough you can usually get away with just basic research on Wikipedia.

Even within the USA, you can find exotic settings by exploring subcultures—ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, lesser-known professions, fan groups, etc.  For example, I didn’t publish Marcus’s story “Shadow Charts” in “Corporate Cthulhu” just because he’s my brother-in-law, but because his was the only story set in a private for-profit hospital. It was a good choice, too—several reviewers called out “Shadow Charts” as one of the better horror tales.  Apparently, a lot of readers are seriously creeped out by hospitals.

As with anything, though, you can take things too far.  If you set a story on a different planet, an alternate universe, or in a completely fictional world, you might end up drifting too far from the anthology’s theme. Such extreme settings can be done successfully, but it’s riskier.

2. Atypical Time Period

We’ve discussed the “here”, but what about the “now”?  Again, the vast majority of submissions I’ve read are set in the modern day.  Therefore, to get your story to stand out, set it in a different time period.  Even the first half of the 20th century—an era before computers, mobile phones, and television—is foreign enough to provide the audience with an enjoyably different reading experience.  The farther back in time you go, the more research you’ll need to do—but the greater the chances your story will be unique in the slush pile.

You can also go forward in time too, but that’s riskier—it might be too different for the anthology’s needs.  As a general rule, unless it’s for a science fiction anthology, stick to the near future instead of the far future.

When I was selecting stories for “The Averoigne Legacy” anthology (set in a haunted medieval French province), most tales were set in either the Middle Ages or Modern Day.  Two stories, however, were set in the Roman Era.  Both ended up being selected and published.

3. Blending Genres

Most anthologies these days, even themed anthologies, are set in a single genre. Unfortunately, that risks the stories becoming tedious after a while, even to fans. One way to keep things fresh and interesting, however, is to blend the main genre with a secondary genre to make the story different and original.  Take Fantasy, for example.  Sooner or later, the audience will get weary of Action/Adventure Fantasy stories. A Comedic Fantasy will jolt them out of their complacency. But why stop there?  Throw in a Mystery Fantasy, and a Horror Fantasy, and a Fantasy Romance, and… you get the idea.  This is one of the things editors keep an eye out for when reading through the slush pile to provide their readers with a variety of stories. If yours is the only story blending Fantasy with Science Fiction—say, exploring alien worlds with teleportation spells instead of rocket ships—you’ll have a better chance of it being accepted and published.

Be aware, though, that some genres are easier to blend than others.  Blending Romance with Horror, while not impossible, is harder to write successfully that Romance and Comedy. Also, be sure to keep the anthology’s genre the primary one, and the other genre secondary. There’s a big difference between a Fantasy story with a touch and Romance, and a Romance with a touch of Fantasy. Otherwise, you risk getting one of those “not a good fit” letters.

These are just the most common variations on a theme editors keep an eye out for.  There are others, but they’re more subtle and difficult to write successfully.  If you found this helpful (or unhelpful), let Marcus know in the comments.  If there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll write another post about what variations editors are looking for.

How to Get Your Story Noticed (Part I)

3 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

Hello, Editor Ed here again!  Apparently enough people found my guest post useful enough that Marcus invited me back for another one.  So here’s some advice on how to make your story stick out (in a good way) and catch an editor’s attention.

I mentioned in my last post that many anthologies today are arranged around a theme.  Story submissions that don’t fit that theme, no matter how good or well-written, get the “nice, but not a good fit” rejection letter.

Unfortunately, editors face an equal but opposite problem: stories that are too similar.  While readers (a fickle bunch!) don’t like anthologies filled with stories that don’t match the theme, they also dislike anthologies filled with essentially just the same story over and over again.  Thus, when selecting stories, editors have to walk a tightrope of picking tales that fit the theme well while simultaneously being just different enough from each other to provide readers with sufficient variety to keep their interest.

The solution (for both authors and editors) is to find variations on that theme. Try to find an aspect of that theme for your story that’s different, original, and hopefully unique, and write about it.  Take an anthology of steampunk stories, for example.  Sure, you could set your story on an airship—but I guarantee there’ll be at least a dozen other submissions also set on an airship.  Since only one or two such stories can make it into the anthology, you’re up against a lot of competition.  Your airship story might be excellent, but could still lose out to another airship story that was just a little bit better.  On the other hand, you could write a steampunk story about, say, an underwater mining facility.  Now that will stand out, and with luck, no other submissions will feature that idea.  Now you’ve got a much better chance of catching the editor’s attention by providing an interesting variation on the anthology’s theme, AND little or no competition for an open slot!

It is always possible that a story concept can vary too far from the original theme, in which case it hurts, rather than helps, your chances at publication.  But how much variation is too much? Use this as a general rule of thumb: if you have to explain why your story fits the theme, then it’s too much variation.  The story’s connection to the theme should be obvious, even from a brief plot synopsis.

What kind of variations do you like playing with? Let me know in the comments below!

What We Choose to Leave Behind

1 Aug

There are stories all around you; I found this one in the trash. Well, it would be trash if anyone ever bothered to throw it away. When you walk around my neighborhood, you find the funniest things on the side of the road, so I took pics of what I found along my route. But there are some that I simply don’t get.

This one is pretty straightforward – the pic above is a luggage handle. Okay, you’re dragging your luggage and all of a sudden – SNAP! – it breaks off. Darn. Now you have to push your luggage on wheels. My guess is that it’s one of our homeless folks who haul all their goods with them. The only problem is that luggage was not designed to be a trailer, so really… this is inevitable.

Hubcaps make sense – you’d think you’d hear the DING! as it falls off. But since this is right next to an industrial park, I’m guessing when you’ve got 18 wheels, you’re probably not noticing a small sound.

This is the one I don’t get – clothes. You’re hot, I get it, but… don’t you think you’re gonna need this later? Kids’ shoes I understand – my kids take off their #*$&#*$ shoes all the time and can easily forget where they put them. But adult shoes? What are you walking around on?!

This is left behind on purpose – it’s just decoration. Not a decoration I understand, but hey! It’s their place!

What have you seen on the side of the road that defied explanation? Tell me about it in the comments below!

American Legion Post 138

Damn Straight 138!

Tales from a broken doll

Short stories, poetry, musings and rambling.

The Cracking

"We have this treasure in clay pots ..."

Poteci de dor

"Adevărul, pur şi simplu, e rareori pur şi aproape niciodată simplu" - Oscar Wilde

Struggle Street

Mental Health and Well Being

O Miau do Leão

Uma pequena voz da Flandres

A Life's Journey

Little things matter 🌼

Dreamy_parakeet

A dreamer, who loves to muse her world and penned it down✍️ Each words in this blog lay close to my soul🧡

Harley Reborn

♠️Rip It Up & Start Again♥️

Talkin' to Myself

I'm listening

Nature Whispering

From Sunset to Dawn

Riverside Peace

The Official Website of Australian Writer Chrissy Siggee

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

How to feel better

Another year, a decade or a lifetime - sooth your body eternally

Looking to God

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)

ROBERTO ALBORGHETTI

We may see things that we don't even imagine.

Decaf White

No sugar