Welcome, friends! I’m currently busy time traveling so you should be reading this in the future while I am busy in the backwoods of South Carolina for some military training. I’m sure currently having a grand time dealing with summer in the south and proabably not having a shower. (Actually this is a lie because I forgot to schedule it and now that I’m back it kind of destroys the joke.) Anyways, back to this weeks post.
I still need to do the drawing for the Writers Toolkit so I imagine that will happen tonight. If you haven’t followed the blog or signed up for the newsletter this is your last chance to be entered in this drawing. I’m definitely going to do another giveaway, though I am thinking of giving away a signed Patrick Rothfuss or Brandon Sanderson book for the next one. I’ll have more details later.
First, A Little Bit About Beginnings
Beginnings are the most important part of a submission. I’ve touched on this before, but I wanted to have an entire post to explore this in depth. When I am reading through the slush pile, I’m looking for a reason to reject as quickly as possible. Generally, I can reject the average story in the first two pages.
Most of the time, you can tell that something isn’t quite working, i.e. The prose is weak, purple, the plot isn’t there, the characters are bland, or some other mistake that needs worked out in revision.
I don’t want to make this post about all the reasons why I reject something because I feel like I’ve done that before. Instead, I want to talk about the ways how writers screw up plans and get me to read their entire story which is the only way I’ll consider giving it a bump.
7 Signs of an Awesome Submission
1. I have to be able to visualize the story without rereading. I read because I enjoy it, not because it is work. If I don’t understand half of the words or the syntax is wonky, I won’t finish the piece. The prose can be poetic (I love Patrick Rothfuss after all) but I find it is much easier to use a transparent style that lets the story shine rather than your vocabulary.
2. I need to be able to see the characters beyond the story. This is often referred to as character depth, but that is a little too pithy for me. I want to have a sense that the character has had a life before the story started and will continue to do so after it’s over (unless they die, but that’s another matter). In addition, they should have desires and interests that are not directly related to the primary conflict. This helps me think of the characters as real people.
3. The characters must have clear motivations. I need to be able to say exactly what a character wants at pretty much all times of the story. This includes the first page even if that motivation isn’t the primary drive for the overall plot. I believe character motivation is also a great way to create depth. An example of this is having your character equally want two separate things that are in direct conflict with each other.
4. The plot needs to create an emotional impact. Rachael K. Jones uses the idea that the outer conflict (plot) should climax at the exact time as the inner conflict (character arc) in order to achieve the desired emotional kick to the teeth.
Another way to think about this is the outer conflict is the problem that the character must overcome and the inner conflict is often a choice that will change the character as a person. (See Jospeh Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in regards to thresholds.)
5. The ending should fulfill the promises set out in the beginning. Promises are an important part of a story and these do not simply involve a resolution to the primary conflict. Promises include things like tone, character arcs, and yes, the primary conflict. A good tragic story will have parts of the tragic tone on the first page. The same goes for a thriller, horror, romance, ect. Stories that defy this guideline often feel like two different stories that have been smashed together. Writing Excuses has an awesome epidsode all about this concept that I highly recommend.
6. The setting should take me somewhere. This doesn’t mean that the setting should be created from scratch, but it should actually take me somewhere. If the setting is a generic forest with nothing different than any of forest, you will have to make up for its blandness in either the plot or characters. Even if you do, a well-realized setting is vital for emersion and is one of my main factors when considering if I will bump a story.
7. Everything has to work together. Novels have more leeway with this, but short stories have a restriction on the word count. Everything that is put into a story must drive towards its overall purpose. This doesn’t mean that every word must progress the plot, but there shouldn’t be any paragraph level elements in the story that could be taken out and the reader would never notice.
Delving into this on a deeper level, every element should not only be vital but be interconnected. A minor setting detail (such as a half-empty glass on the edge of a table) should convey something about the view-point character (maybe, there is a reason why they describe it as half-empty rather than half-full) and the plot (will it be important if it falls off later in the story?)
See You Soon!!
Thanks for reading, friends. I hope everyone is having a wonderful day, and I will try to jump on with my phone, but I might not have much service. If you don’t hear back from me soon, I will definitely reply on the 29th when I return from training. Good luck, with your writing and be aware that PodCastle reopens to submissions for Halloween submissions in the middle of August. We pay $0.06/word for unpublished work and $0.02/word for reprints. We are a SFWA pro market, and I’d love to read some of your stories in the slush.