Friday, November 16, 2012

on writing - short story rejections

Here are ten reasons why David Farland rejects short stories quickly
—usually within the first page:

1.  The story is unintelligible. Very often I’ll get submissions that just
don’t make sense. Often, these seem to be non-English speakers who are
way off in both the meaning of words, their context, or in their syntax,
but more often it’s just clumsiness.

2.  The story is unbelievable. “Johnny Verve was the smartest kid on
earth, and he was only six. He was strongest one, and the most handsome,
too. But the coolest part was when he found out he had magical powers!”
At that point, I’m gone, and not just because there were four uses of
“was” in three sentences.

3.  The author leaves no noun or verb unmodified. Sometimes when an
author is struggling to start a story, he try to infuse too much information
into a sentence: “John rubbed his chapped, dry, sand-covered hands
together grimly, and gazed thirstily over the harsh, red, crusty deserts of
a deserted Mars.” I may put up with one sentence like that in an otherwise
well-written story. You put two of those sentences together on the first
page, and it really bogs a story down.

By Oscar Villan

4.  Nothing’s happening. This morning I read one where a girl, Marcy,
gets out of bed, puts on her clothes (after carefully selecting each item),
eats breakfast, and goes to the school bus. It was written well enough, but
at the end of a couple of pages I start wondering when the story is going to
begin. It really didn’t matter. It hadn’t begun yet, and the author had wasted
too much space.

5.  A major element is left out. An “element” of your story includes your
character, setting, conflict, theme, and treatment. Yesterday I read a
promising story about a young woman who sings magical crystals out of
the ground. The author had good penetration, good voice and inner conflicts.
Unfortunately, after five pages I still didn’t know where the story was set.

6)    The author is unable to “imply” information. You’d be surprised by
what people write. Yesterday I had a woman who “shook,” and it wasn’t
obvious that she was shaking someone’s hand until three sentences later.
That’s a case where the author thought that his sentence implied more than
it did.

7)    There simply isn’t a story. You would be surprised at how many pieces
come in that are philosophical diatribes, or letters, or reminiscences. Those
are rejected instantly.

8)    Oily tales. Some authors think that readers like to be shocked, so they
struggle to be as bloody, violent, disgusting, or perverse as possible.

9)    Non-formed stories. A lot of people are submitting flash fiction, a few
paragraphs that might be interesting but which usually don’t have much to offer.

10)    The tale is out of chronological order on the micro-level. Some authors
love this construction: “John raced out the door, after brushing his teeth.” So I
as the reader am forced to imagine John rushing out the door, then back up and
imagine the tooth-bushing scene. If I see two of these in a short story, I’ll
forgive them. But if I get two on the first page of a story, I’ll show no mercy.

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