P.14: The Other End of Word Counts

Two posts ago, I wrote about that frustrating moment when you write something you really like, but it comes out too long.

I forgot that there is a moment even worse in word count agony. It’s when you write something you really like, and it’s a full and complete story — and it’s too short.

As frustrating as it is to cut, it’s even more difficult to add. Adding enough words to a story to create a whole new scene or more changes a story in a way cutting rarely will. When a story feels finished, I never never want to add. But you can cut in ways that don’t change the spirit of a story, and often will make that story better.

Normally, it wouldn’t matter too much — if you have a story that’s not right for one outlet, you can send it to another — but it is a bigger pickle when you specifically wrote that story for a submission call.

Like I did with this one.

Gah.

Thankfully, the deadline for the submission call isn’t for a while, so I have time to cook up some other part of the story, but it’ll probably take me almost as much time to figure that out as it did to write it in the first place — because I have to figure out what that new component will be and where it could possibly fit, to make sure it feels like a natural part of the story that was always supposed to be there.

Back to the drawing board for me, trying to think up possible new scenes and figuring out ways to squeeze them in.

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P.13: Check Out Rati Mehrotra’s The Singing Tree, Tyler Young’s Dear Monsanto CEO and More

  • The Singing Tree” by Rati Mehrotra. Urban Fantasy Magazine. This is an absolutely gorgeous story, almost lyrical at points and yet an easy read. I really love the voice of the protagonist. She felt so real, as did her entire family. Definitely check it out.
  • Dear Monsanto CEO, This is the Sentient Strain of Corn You Developed and We Need to Talk” by Tyler Young. Daily Science Fiction. This story had me cracking up! But it was also really, really good and makes for perfect speculative fiction.
  • Getting Archaeology Right in Fantasy Fiction” by Alter S Reiss. TOR.com. Reiss’s article on using archaeology in fantasy is a fantastic tool and I almost think much of it could be applied to a lot of sci fi, as well. He offers great tips on both what writers should concern themselves with, as well as what isn’t really a big deal. As a bonus, it was a very enjoyable read.
  • In an amazing dose of “I can’t believe no one’s ever thought of this before,” some of Edgar Allen Poe’s best stories have been professionally animated with top voice talent. Check out the trailer i09 posted. The movie, if we can call it that, is out this fall, including the DVD/digital release. Flexing my descriptive writing muscles and tapping into my inner geek, I’m super-duper excited.

P.12: Eek, Word Counts

Here’s what I imagine is a common, painful dilemma for any short story writer.

I have a story I started a while ago, then got stuck at for a long time. It was one of the more action-packed, plot-focused shorts I’ve written. Most of my stories are more character-driven thinking pieces, so the fact that I wrote this story, with this world, was a pleasant surprise.

But I couldn’t finish it — and sat on it for way longer than I’d care to admit, even if I was about 75% done. I tried to finish it on numerous occasions, but kept getting tripped up. I just couldn’t bridge the scene I was stuck on to the ending.

I recently came back to it and skipped the scene I was having trouble with. I decided my real problem was the ending, so I wrote that, hoping the bridge would come to me.

It did, but now I have a new problem.

Word count.

The ending I wrote was more intricate and way longer than I thought it would be. It’s in a good way, giving the story some of the pieces it was really missing before — missing pieces I didn’t see.

It made my story better, but now I’m at that nearly-a-novelette bubble that’s difficult to publish, without a whole ton I could cut (and I can be a merciless cutter when I want to be).

Part of me thinks I should flesh it out a little more and turn it into a novelette. It would be no easier to publish, but maybe worth it if I’m on the cusp of a novelette anyway.

But then I had an even crazier idea…. is this secretly a novella or a novel?

I have to figure that out. I love the world and the characters, and there’s a lot more that they could do and explore…. so it’s a difficult choice.

I didn’t expect that this would be the story to do this to me… but it did, and I love that it did, even if it’s causing me problems and sucking up way more time than I’d like.

I think it’s worth it. Ultimately, this is a good problem to have.

We’ll see where it goes. I’m going to polish it as a short story first, then reassess.

P.11: Check Out Tade Thompson’s “Child, Funderal, Thief, Death,” Arie Coleman’s “20/20,” and Other Things I’ve Read

  • Child, Funeral, Thief, Death by Tade Thompson. Apex Magazine. I feel like I visited just visited Nigeria and bore witness to this story. The writing is gorgeous, the story builds quite nicely and I loved that Thompson was able to build an entire mythos here, and wasn’t afraid to go where he went with the ending. Loved it.
  • 20/20 by Arie Coleman. Strange Horizons. I really enjoyed the slipstream elements of the story — it’s so hard to pull off well, and Coleman succeeds here. Plus, as someone who’s known my share of nurses, I deeply appreciated just how real the writer made life working at a hospital out to be. Also, as a bonus, the wonderful Anaea Lay does a reading of it for the Strange Horizons podcast.
  • The Circle of Life by Aline Carriere. Daily Science Fiction. I love speculative fiction that tackles overpopulation, and this one succeeds in a very short word count. Some vague-so-as-to-avoid-spoilers food for thought: I can’t decide if I think the narrator is creepy as in a sociopath creepy, or creepy, but in her own empathetic and caring way. That said, I’m leaning toward the former. I don’t think the narrator’s decision is really about the person who she thinks it is. That’s just my 2 cents.

P.10: My Current Submissions and Why I Sent Them, 9/6/2015

For my tenth post, I thought I’d do something different and list all my current submissions, along with why I sent them to the particular magazine in the first place. Hopefully this should give a little insight into the thought process behind where people should send their stories (and why) – and where readers can find stories they’re not reading, but should.

  • I have a 1200 word dark, speculative fantasy piece at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. They only publish second world fantasy settings, which is a particular favorite of mine as a writer. I sent a previous story here that was rejected, but I got praise for the world building I did and was asked to send more. I sent another piece where I thought I did a really good job with the world building, with a story that I think is stronger and tighter than the first.
  • I have a 2700 word piece with my take on a new kind of supernatural creature at Urban Fantasy Magazine. Their guidelines say they liked stories with creatures like vampires or werewolves, but that since they get a lot of them, the competition for those stories were fierce. That’s advice for writers to consider different creatures or themes. The story I sent I think does a great job at creating my own urban supernatural creature, that I think does a really good job at being unique, with its own mythos, and yet feels ‘real.’ It also has a real-world setting that the magazine requires, and I spent a lot of time trying to make my characters feel like they come from Small Town, USA.
  • I have another (different) 2700 word uber-dark fantasy piece at Fantasy and Science Fiction. Their guidelines don’t offer much suggestion for stories they’re looking for, just that they liked character-based stories and I know from the magazine that rich, other-worlds are a good place for it. Those are the two things I think this story does best.
  • I have a difficult-to-classify dark fantasy poem at Interfictions, that’s bordering on a prose poem. Interfictions is a magazine that’s looking for difficult-to-classify or genre-bending poems and stories, so I thought this was a good fit. I don’t write much poetry (just the occasional dabbler), but I really liked this piece, so I figured “what the hell.” One piece of advice I’ve taken from a number of other writers, including here, was to not be afraid of sending things out. I put a lot of work in it, especially for its ~200 words, so I wanted to give it a shot.
  • I have another difficult-to-classify 5000 word piece at Interfictions. Is it an urban fantasy? Dark fiction? Horror? Coming of age tale, with deep autobiographical inspirations? I couldn’t exactly pin it, and Interfictions is all about blurring the lines, so I thought it would be a good fit. I also did something almost no short stories do and gave it two different character perspectives, a serious no-no from one of the writing blogs I linked to yesterday. I’m hoping that Interfictions is one of the few places where the editors may look past that, and given that I’ve spent a lot of time on it trying to get it right (because it’s so personal to me), I was glad I got it in their window.
  • I have a 3400 word sci fi piece at Crossed Genres, for their pronouns and gender themed issue (they have a different theme every month). I love the concept of themed issues, and the opportunity that gives authors to compete against just that one theme, instead of all the themes in the cosmos and fantasy realms. I really liked this theme in particular, and had an idea I had been kicking around for a while that this theme gave me an opportunity to explore — so it was worth the effort of crafting something particularly for this issue.
  • I have a 600 word dark fantasy at Daily Science Fiction. I sent DSF one of my strongest stories that I’ve written before, but unfortunately while it fit within their maximum word count range, it was longer than what they typically publish by a hefty amount. I didn’t want to make that mistake again, and so I sent something much shorter. This was the story I wrote while listening to Hozier, when the idea popped in my head.

Hopefully, this will give a sense to other aspiring writers the level of commitment it takes to just have a shot at getting published in short story markets. You need to write a huge swath of the absolute best stories you can, and then you need to find places where they could fit, and keep sending them because no matter how good you are, your stories are going to get rejected a lot before you find success. More good stories gives you more good shots.

The submission process is a huge time sink, but unfortunately you can’t get published without it — at least not professionally. So hopefully a peak into where I’ve sent things, and why I sent them there, will be helpful to some.

P.9: Check Out Wendy Nikel’s Rain Like Diamonds, JT Gill’s Full Circle, and Other Things I’ve Read

  • Aidan Mohler of A Dribble of Ink says goodbye. I’m terribly sad that A Dribble of Ink is getting put on the shelf. It’s one of the first sci fi/fantasy blogs I loved. I wish I found it years and years earlier.
  • Rain Like Diamonds by Wendy Nikel. Daily Science Fiction. A really nice spin on a story about a queen and a dragon, with a really strong ending. Loved Nikel’s descriptions. I also really enjoy Daily Science Fiction’s propensity to include a brief statement about what inspired the author to create the story. DSF should be required reading for aspiring authors.
  • Short Story Elements don’t have to be Confusing, a blog post from Kat Hutson. Here’s some good tips on writing clear stories. I liked these. It offers a great approach for writers to take on writing high quality stories — though I think stories can work without all these elements, if writers are prepared for them to be a bit more niche.
  • Full Circle by JT Gill. Every Day Fiction. Strong writing. I really liked how he painted society discovering clear evidence of an alien vessel. It was in an entirely mundane way — there were water cooler conversations, cognitive dissonance in the face of clear evidence, and a guy worrying more about his girlfriend than whether there’s an imminent invasion coming. You get the sense that if the story continued for a few more days, aliens would become old news fast and people would be on to the next story that dominates the headlines. Ah, 24 hour news cycles.
  • io9 thinks Killjoys is an okay B-TV show that suffers from an overstuffed plot. I don’t necessarily disagree with the criticism that Killjoys unloaded a lot (maybe too much), especially in its early episodes, but it was never a huge issue for me — it never distracted me from the show. The only real problem with Killjoys is that SyFy didn’t know what it had. It’s an amazing, fun show — but it’s a B-TV show that needed an A-TV budget. Imagine Killjoys with Firefly’s or BSG’s far better production values and more intricate sets, and maybe a slightly more fleshed out cast. I think it would have easily stacked up with those shows.

P.8: Guardians of Galactic Diversity

As someone who’s fully on board Team Diversity, it baffles my mind that there’s anyone out there who wants less of that. Yet, about when I decided I wanted to take my writing seriously and bring it to the next level, we had a number of people in the sci fi and fantasy community who started organizing around making fantasy and sci fi a place where diversity wasn’t welcomed or celebrated at all.

Being the half-glass full kind of guy, I think that has a lot to do with the fact that most people don’t have a ton of exposure to all the differences that exist in the world, including the different experiences many people face in life because of something like their gender or the color of their skin. Exposure can change that, and give people an a-ha.

Weirdly, many of those a-ha movements have come from the ultimate popcorn movie: Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that’s as whiz-bang and as fun as it gets. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. More than any movie like it, Guardians gave us a galaxy filled with diverse characters, who not only look different, but behave or think differently, as well.

I felt really inspired when I read about a kid on the autism spectrum, who found his fictional hero in Drax because Drax was just like him — he didn’t get metaphors. It was something so simple, but so powerful to a kid who grew up in a world where there were no super hero characters he could relate to. It allowed the kid to feel cool and powerful, just like Drax.

Another kid, with dyspraxia, a disorder which can effect speech and fine motor skills, was inspired by Groot. Like Groot, he was limited in what he could say. Groot changed his whole behavior and the way he interacted with the world — even the way he spoke, letting him open up.

“He would start mimicking Groot by changing the way he would say ‘bah.’ Groot became his voice — he was able to change ‘bah’ to ‘Groot.’ His behavior changed, and his communication with others did as well.”

Increasing diversity in fiction (or elsewhere) isn’t about repressing those who have enjoyed the comforts of being in the majority, of being “normal.” It’s about making sure those who didn’t grow up that way, or aren’t growing up that way, can have characters they can relate to and feel inspired by. It’s about letting them feel empowered, seeing opportunities they maybe couldn’t before.

Making sure fantasy and science fiction is at least as diverse as our own world can only have positive impacts. I hope some of the skeptics, the people who’ve grown up with fantasy and science fiction that mostly looked like them, read about the hope and inspiration these kids with neurological disorders have derived from characters like Groot and Drax. I hope they try to imagine all the other kids out there, looking for their characters, trying to find their own hope and power through fiction. I think they’d be glad Groot and Drax existed — and that they’d want more of them.