P.7: A Story in a Day

I’ve been reading some tweets and blog posts from short story writers, talking about how they challenged themselves to write a story a day for runs of a week or even a month at a time.

I’m not so sure I’d ever want to do that, but thought it would be fun to take on the challenge today.

I have a long list of files, digital and otherwise, filled with story ideas… but, like more often than not, couldn’t pick one I wanted from the bin.

However, I was listening to a Hozier album when I felt a little inspired to start fooling around, jotting down a few sentences of nothingness. It was one of his dark songs, where hell and sin mixed with beauty and temptation, and as I wrote, the story came to me. The story isn’t anything like the plot of the song, but the places my story went, touched with a dash of hope, ended up being helped a lot by the song’s dark tone.

It’s just 600 words, but I finished the whole draft in a day, and it’s a solid draft, too. I made it very plot centric, and yet I managed to actually create a character who grew along with the story, and it already feels pretty polished. It’s always easier to get something clean and polished when you’re working with flash fiction, but I’m still really, really happy with it.

I’m going to sit on it for a few days and then see what I think, but I actually like it enough at this point that my guess is it’s just about ready to go. We’ll see.

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P.6: A Flood of Advice from Sunil Patel

Sunil Patel, an author who’s sold 9 short stories since he starting submitting stories two years ago, wrote a couple great posts on A Dribble of Ink about what he learned to help him break through the submission process.

I thought it was filled with great advice — so I wanted to share it.

Here’s part 1 and part 2.

It’s definitely worth reading for aspiring writers or anyone interested in the process.

H/T io9.

P.4: The First Thing I Learned about Taking Writing Seriously is Don’t Screw Up

You may not be able to have it all, but don’t miss out because you screwed up.

One of the frustrating things about writing — and trying to get published — is that it’s not just about writing. It would be great if all you had to do was create some interesting characters, stick them in a compelling plot, then polish everything up and PRESTO! You’re published.

Unfortunately, there’s much more to it than that — and, unfortunately, very little is spelled out for any of us. No matter how much reading about writing we do along the way, a lot of the times we have to learn the hard way.

Case in point: While I’ve written my share of stinkers, I have a couple stories I’ve written this year that have made it past slush piles at sci-fi/fantasy literary magazines that are high up on my list of goals. One, in particular, has done very well insofar as it’s been held for lengthy periods of time nearly everywhere it’s been sent and I’ve received actual, personal emails about it from editors, with real-live feedback.

So when there was a submission call for a great magazine releasing a themed issue that really fit my story to a T, I got really excited. It should have been one of the best chances I had at being published thus far, but I screwed it up.

What did I do? After I sent it, I realized I misread a key submission guideline. I thought there was a 1000 word minimum when there was really a 1500 word minimum — and my story was just over a hundred words short.

I could have easily made my story comply, adding some description to my characters or adding an extra few lines of dialog. I could have taken it as an opportunity to step back for a few days and see if I could make my story even better.

Instead, it was rejected the next day — probably not even read. That stung, a lot — but especially since it was my fault.

Sadly, there’s going to be a lot of things that sting along the way, when trying to be a writer. Every writer says that. There’s going to be rejection after rejection after rejection, even if your story is good.

But you don’t want to be rejected because you screwed something up — something that could have been fixed.

Thankfully, when I decided to take writing seriously over the past year, I did so promising myself that I’d deal with rejection proactively. I created my own little rule, what I call my Rejection Day Ritual. Any day I get a rejection letter, instead of getting down about it, I write, no matter what — for at least an hour.

It’s been an awesome ritual, keeping me positive and focused on my goals and tasks.

I decided to be proactive about this mistake, too — thinking of how I could come up with a way to make sure I never repeated the same mistake again.

So, I created a checklist. I tried to design it to cover every aspect of the submission process, from format guidelines to word counts to cover letters to making sure I attach everything and send it in the right format.

And I never click send on a submission before I’ve checked everything off.

It’s been a huge help for me so far — I’ve caught submission errors twice since using the list, which means my stories have probably been given a fair shake two more times than they would have been.

If anyone’s curious what my checklist looks like, I copy and pasted it below. Feel free to take it for your own benefit — maybe you’ll spare yourself from sending something with errors in it that could prevent your story from getting the serious reading it deserves.

1. Story Title

2. Submission Magazine Name:

3. Allowed Genres at Magazine (sci fi, fantasy, etc.):
Submission Genre Type:
Does your submission comply?

4. Allowed Formats at Magazine (short stories, poems, etc.):
Submission Format Type:
Does your submission comply?

5. Word Count/Line Magazine Range:
Your Submission:
Does your submission comply?

6. Special Content Magazine Rules (no nudity, violence, violence and character ages, etc.):
Your Submission:
Does your submission comply?

7. Allowed File Formats:
Your File Format:
Is it attached to your email?

8. Any Specific Cover Letter rules (do they want an exact word count? Email heading format? Etc.):
Does your submission comply?

9. Any non-standard manuscript rules (ie if they want it single-spaced, special fonts, don’t want author’s name to appear on manuscript, etc.):
Does your submission comply?

10. Are there any other special rules or requests you can find in the submission guidelines?
Does your submission comply?

It’s nothing fancy, and I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it’s kept me from making further mistakes. If anyone has any other suggestions or improvements, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

For those of us crazy enough to try to get published in a professional market, we’re going to have to fail a lot before we succeed. Most of us will have to write a critical mass of really good stories before one of them sneaks through and gets published. Given how hard it is to do that, we have to do everything we can to make sure we don’t make it any harder on ourselves than it the competition already makes it.

As the Jay Brannan song says at the top of my post, we can’t have it all — but let’s make sure we take what we can get.

P.3: Grit, Strength and Positivity

 

I’m really excited for Dawn of Justice, but the new DC movie universe leaves me with a question: Where are all the paragons of virtue?

Here’s a confession: as much as I love fantasy, sci fi and everything geek culture — I’m not the diehard comic book fan I wished I could be, given the giant footprints comics have on today’s best stories. I’ve dabbled here and there (and currently subscribe to one series), but I’m not the person who’s lining up at their neighborhood comic book shop every new-release Tuesday (comic books come out on Tuesdays, right?) to buy my favorite 2 or 10, like I know some of my friends do. I enjoy some indies, particularly the hard sci fi or fantasy stuff, but the caped crusaders aren’t quite my cup of tea on the page. That said, I have seen almost every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every Sony and Fox comic movie and nearly all of the WB’s DC films, before and after their new Zach-Snyder-led movie-verse.

What interests me is how nearly all comic book movies released in the past 20-30 years can be divided in two: they either rely on whiz-bang heroes and laughs — or gritty, dark vigilantes, living in grimy, grim worlds.

With the rise of the MCU and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, as well as the transformation of Superman from Richard Donner’s confident, charming paragon of virtue to Snyder’s vision of doubt, angst and flaws, these divisions in our super hero films have only grown larger.

That’s not to say I’m picking a side on this divide. Marvel’s the king of the box office, but if fun and whiz-bang were the best, I wouldn’t have a Joel-Schumaker-sized black hole in my brain — and Sony’s decision to go emo with the Amazing Spider-Man led to one of the worst superhero films of all in Amazing #2.

What I do want to comment on is disappointment in how some fans of the grit seem to think grit equates to strength, or that Marvel’s levity is some kind of weakness. While Marvel’s heroes aren’t quite the heroes I’d want them to be were I in their universe, it’s not because they’re funny and colorful. It’s because in that humor and fun, we don’t often think about how dark and flawed they truly are — even if it’s all laid out there on the screen, clear as day. Marvel’s movie heroes aren’t our paragons of virtue, either.

At this point, all of our movie supers seem flawed and dangerous. What we seem to be lacking in our movies are superheroes who are warm, competent and inspire hope — characters who act like grown-ups, play nice with each other and stay on task.

Some may say we don’t have supers on screen today who resemble Donner’s Superman in character, even if not quite in power, because they’re bad for story telling, but I’m not so sure. Donner’s Superman still holds up as one of the best super hero films of all time – and as much as Tobey McGuire’s Peter Parker didn’t have all his stuff together, he was almost there. Further, insofar as he wasn’t, his youth and the learning curve as a new super held him back, while his hope, heart and inner-virtue kept him going or got him out of his funks. Compare Tobey’s Spidey to any of the Avengers and you can quickly see that all the Avengers are the superhero versions of test-taking crammers, fatally flawed in some way until there’s not a moment to spare.

All I know is if I was dangling from the top of a bridge or in a plane falling from the sky, I don’t know if I’d want Christian Bale’s Batman or Robert Downey Jr’s Ironman to save me. If I had my pick, it wouldn’t be Henry Cavill’s Superman, either — it would be his cousin, Kara.

From what we’ve seen of the upcoming pilot for Supergirl, Melissa Benoist’s take on Super Girl could lead to one of the strongest super hero characters we’ve seen on the screen yet. It doesn’t come through the dark grit we see in DC movies today or any kind of machismo, it comes through hope, perseverance and positivity — and, of course, a yellow sun. She’s a paragon of virtue who we haven’t seen since Christopher Reeve last donned a cape.

Benoist’s Super Girl doesn’t bicker with her compatriots like Marvel’s supers, threatening to destroy the world before they can save it, and she’s not brooding for revenge like Ben Affleck’s new Batman. She’s strong, powerful, works well with others and has two of the most important super characteristics of all: unbridled empathy and hope.

The biggest evidence that strong, hopeful and competent supers can work in stories today is the heroes we see on TV. I get a little tickle out of the fact that DC’s top TV show runners, like executive producer extraordinaire Greg Berlanti, get these issues so much better than any of his compatriots making DC movies — and I think Marvel could learn a thing or two from what Berlanti’s doing, too.

We have vibrant, hopeful, powerful characters from Berlanti, like Grant Gustin’s Flash and now Benoist’s Super Girl — and these are exactly the kind of super heroes we’re missing on the Big Screen today. Heroes don’t need to be dark or incompetent to make their stories interesting — their hope, empathy and virtue can be every bit as effective when used as story telling devices, and could serve as inspiration for generations of movie goers as Donner’s have before. I wouldn’t want the paragons of virtue to completely replace the flawed characters Marvel and DC are putting out every summer — gritty, funny, whiz-bang or otherwise — but it would be nice if they could be a part of the movie-going conversation again.