Publisher’s Spotlight: Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons is back!  After a brief hiatus, they are once again open for submissions weekly starting on Monday, and close when they reach their cap.  Details below:

  • In their own words: “We want good speculative fiction. If your story doesn’t have a speculative element, or strong speculative-fiction sensibilities, it’s probably not for us.   Some particular things we love, or are interested in:
    • Fiction from or about diverse perspectives and traditionally under-represented groups, settings, and cultures, written from a non-exoticizing and well-researched position.
    • Unusual yet readable styles and inventive structures and narratives.
    • Stories that address political issues in complex and nuanced ways, resisting oversimplification.
    • Hypertext fiction. If you have a work of hyperfiction you think might be a good fit for Strange Horizons, please query us to discuss how to submit it.
  • Genres they accept: Speculative Fiction.  (That’s the usual sci-fi, fantasy and various flavors of slipstream, etc.)
  • Word count limit: “We prefer stories under 5,000 words, but we consider stories up to 10,000 words. Note, however, that the longer the story is, the less likely we are to be interested…we have no minimum wordcount requirement; we consider short-short stories.”
  • Payment: We pay 8¢/word (USD), with a minimum payment of $60. SFWA officially considers us a professional market.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Schedule: Opens every Monday; “if and when the queue begins to significantly outstrip the reading, we’ll close for the week to give ourselves room to catch up.”

Bonus Feature: If you’ve never read Strange Horizon’s guide to tired tropes, give it a glance.  In addition to being hilarious it’ll hopefully make you rethink some of your trunk stories and challenge you to go beyond common slush problems.

The downside is that they don’t often explain why these tropes don’t work so it can be tempting to rationalize why your piece breaks the mold.  My advice?  Don’t.  Just don’t.  Find a different story to submit and in the meantime shop the other one out to trusted beta readers who can guide you away from the tropes.

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

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“Mistress Morphine” now available in HAVOK!

My story, “Mistress Morphine” is now available in the latest issue of HAVOK magazine!

Love comics?  Epic battles of good vs. evil?  Then you will love this issue!  There are nine original flash fiction stories, including “Mistress Morphine” by yours truly.

Check it out today!

For more information on how to submit your own writing to HAVOK and Splickety Publishing check out their info in Publisher’s Spotlight.

Make ’em Laugh: Comedic Writing (Part One)

Last week I left off with a few subcategories from the NYC Flash Fiction contest that deserve an in-depth look.  Today we’re going to be discussing the comedic genres, particularly these three:

  • Comedy
  • Political Satire
  • Romantic Comedy

So, what’s the difference between these?  Way back when we only had two dramas (Comedy and Drama) a Comedy meant it had a happy ending, usually a wedding, while Drama ended with a tragic death of some kind.  These days we use Comedy to mean that which makes you laugh.  The differences between the comedic genres come from how it makes you laugh and why.

Comedy

In a broad sense, comedy covers all the sub-genres but in general, let’s talk about Classic comedies, aka comedies that are not making fun of something in particular but are their own self-contained stories.  Early examples include Commedia dell’Arte with stock characters and improvised situations, and Shakespeare’s comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It.

Some common tropes of comedic genres:

  • Mistaken/Hidden Identities
    • Twins
    • Long lost relatives
    • Disguises
  • Trickery of some kind
  • Stock Characters (i.e. the Lovers, the Servants, the cuckolded buffoon, the greedy miser, the doddering professor.  Since you’re meant to laugh, flat caricatures do well here even though they can be hallmarks of bad writing in other genres.)
  • Gender bending (A classic trope from Shakespeare to Bug Bunny.  Beware of distasteful humor regarding transfolk here, the same way you’d do well to avoid racial/ethnic humor in your stock characters.*)
  • Differing personalities having to work together  (Buddy Cop movies)
  • Mad cap adventures
    • Babies
    • Animals
    • Cross-country races for fabulous sums of money

For a more complete list, and/or if you’re out of ideas and forced to write something comedic, start clicking through this page until inspiration hits you.  (Be forewarned, lots of TV Tropes links are coming, set yourself a timer so you don’t fall down the rabbit hole.)

*Before anyone starts arguing about political correctness and its place in modern comedy, I want to first say that you can of course write whatever you want.  But if you’re a novice comic I would advise you to avoid polarizing tropes.  If you’re trying to make a point about race it takes a lot of skill, and even then people may not get the joke. And if you’re not, it’s just lazy writing to rely on outdated tropes.

Romantic Comedies

I’m not going to go into too much depth on this because it essentially has a combination of the above tropes, with the added emphasis on one or more couples and a focus on their romantic relationship.  In dated works it meant the couples got married at the end, in modern takes it means the couples either “get together” or maybe even rekindle a fading romance.  Unlike the other Romance genre, this one should have a happy ending, regardless of how unrealistic it may be. Indulge in a little wish fulfillment.

For flash fiction you should probably stick to the relationship itself, but it should be noted that Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, one of the earliest examples of the RomCom, has its dramatic moments, so don’t feel limited if you want to include some heavier plot elements.  It’ll flesh out the story and add depth to your characters.


Sitcoms are good modern examples of short-form stories, but if you’re looking for novels most of the greats tend to parody certain genres (Terry Pratchett: Fantasy, Douglas Adams: SciFi, Christopher Moore: everything from the Bible to Shakespeare to Vampires.)

This is as good a place as any to talk about the difference between Parody and Satire.

Parody

Parody is the practice of copying the mannerisms, style or appearance of a work or its author’s voice to make a point about that work (or sometimes unrelated other works)…it is often good-natured or affectionate. It only attacks the style and content of a fictional work and not real-life events. -TV Tropes

Remember when we talked about what fell under Fair Use?  That’s parody: “Something you’ve seen before in a different form.”  You’re making fun of someone else’s concept or intellectual property or a genre or whatever.  You’re joking about a concept that you yourself did not invent.  (Side note: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sounds like it ought to be a parody, but it’s actually played straight and gets away with it because the Jane Austen work is in the Public Domain, same as the Wizard of Oz and Wicked.)

While Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is original content, it’s a parody of the SciFi genre in much the same way Galaxy Quest is a Star Trek specific parody.  What do I mean by that?

The protagonist, Arthur Dent, rejects his call to adventure and spends most of the novels as a reluctant hero.  He and the main love interest never really get together.  The climax of the novel, leading up to Arthur being the chosen one for having the ultimate answer question to Life the Universe and Everything is never actually resolved.

A parody can be funny without having any real jokes in it.  For example, the episode Pillows vs. Blankets on Community is funny precisely because it’s played straight – a pillow fight documented in such a way that it parodies the Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.  It’s the absurd situation that makes the comedy, and it’s not quite as funny if you don’t get what they’re parodying.

As for Satire… I’ll be honest, this post is much longer than I expected it to be, and I don’t want to rush that one, so we’ll have to get into it on Friday instead.  But before we go, I want to leave you with this:

General Pointers

Everything I’ve listed above are plot-related comedic tropes.  You should note that when it comes to comedic writing there are other ways to tell a joke that have nothing to do with the plot.  They include but are not limited to:

  • Timing
  • Sarcasm
  • Hyperbole
  • The Unexpected

The last one is my favorite.  There’s just something about the unexpected that makes me laugh, and I love that good comedic writing will work jokes into the description as well as the dialogue and situations. Like the quote below:

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t. – Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Comedy is an art, and I can’t really go into what’s funny or why.  I can’t teach you how to tell a joke; it would take far too long and I’m out of time as it is.  But check out the following resources to unlock your inner comic:

Got any tips and tricks for comedic writing?  Authors/novels you love?  Share them below!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Deadline Round-Up

Have you been keeping track of all the publishing deadlines coming up this summer?  No?  Well, let’s see if I can make that a touch easier for you.  Below is a list of all the Publishers featured on our Publisher’s Spotlight with links to the original posts AND the deadlines for their current calls.

Also, here’s a link to all publishers with rolling submissions, meaning they do not have a deadline (but they might close for the holidays; check individual pages for details.)

Freeze Frame Fiction is currently CLOSED for submissions.

As always, don’t forget to check out their individual sites as it will have all updated info.

Happy Submitting!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Haunted Waters Press

It’s time for another three-for-one special on this week’s Publisher’s Spotlight!  Haunted Waters Press is a small, independent publisher that offers several opportunities to submit, including the following open calls below.

From the Depths 2016: Outsiders Theme
  • In their own words: “From the Depths is the annual literary journal of Haunted Waters Press. Featuring works of prose and poetry, the journal is released in the fall of each year. Described as “one of the most compelling and beautifully illustrated literary journals,” From the Depths was created to showcase and celebrate the writing of new, emerging, and established authors.

    Inspired by the Grand Prize Winning Entry and Runners Up in the 2016 Haunted Waters Press Fiction & Poetry Open, the theme for the 2016 issue is Outsiders. We seek fiction and poetry highlighting the unique struggles, circumstances, and journeys that set individuals apart from others. We look forward to reading your work!

  • Genres they accept:  Any. “We are interested in stories that entertain us, stories that captivate us, but most of all, stories that haunt us.”
  • Word count limit: 7,500 or less for fiction and flash fiction; poetry any length.
  • Payment: $0.01 to $0.04 per word for fiction and $20 for poetry.
  • Reading Fee: $3-$10 donation for their Expedited Decision.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No Simultaneous Submissions unless submitted via Expedited Decision.  Expedited Decision submissions are reviewed within seven days.
    • Note: Expedited Decision is the only option currently open, so Yes, they do.
  • Multiple Submissions**: One active submission per contributor. Please wait until a decision has been reached prior to submitting additional work.
  • Previously Published Submissions: Yes, but “entries must not have appeared in print. Please be certain there are no known copyright restrictions.”
  • Schedule: March 1, 2016 – September 20th via Expedited Decision.

So what is “Expedited Decision?”  Essentially it’s a reading fee – you send them a contribution between $3 – $10 and they’ll fast-track your submission so you get it back within a week.  They do have a free reading period, but the deadline for 2016 has passed.

“Hey Liz, I’m strapped for cash.  Any chance of a free submission?”  Why, yes!  Check out…

Penny Fiction Competition 2016
  • In their own words: “Tell us story in exactly 16 words—no more, no less.  Extra points will be awarded for those writers who adhere to the rules. Not really. There are no points. Just read the contest rules below and impress Penny with your ability to follow instructions.”
  • Genres they accept:  Any, but “no poetry, tag lines, or jokes.”
  • Word count limit: 16.  No, really.  But on the plus side, “One entry per author, per round. (Contributors are encouraged to submit multiple stories in a single entry, but may only transmit one submission per round.) One story is fine. Four is cool. Twenty is borderline obnoxious. We like obnoxious! Just remember: a single entry with multiple stories!”
  • Payment: Grand Prize: $25 and publication in the 2016 issue of From the Depths.  Selected Runners Up will also receive publication.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No.
  • Multiple Submissions**: See above.
  • Previously Published Submissions: No.
  • Schedule: Round Three – June 1, 2016 – July 31, 2016

“I mean, that’s great and all, but $25 won’t go far.  You got anything with a bigger pay out?”

Yes, increasingly particular imaginary construct!  I do!

Short Shorts: A Summer 2016 Flash Fiction Contest
  • In their own words: “We seek flash fiction of 500 words or less.  Winning entries will contribute to our upcoming “Outsiders” theme highlighting the unique struggles, circumstances, and journeys that set individuals apart from others.”
  • Genres they accept:  Any.
  • Word count limit: 500 or less. Up to three works may be included in each entry.
  • Payment:
    • Grand Prize
      • $250
      • Publication in the 2016 issue of From the Depths

      • Featured Author Interview to accompany published work in print.

    • Runners Up
      • All entries eligible for publication in the 2016 issue of From the Depths.

      • Contributors to be paid $20 for each published story

      • Online Featured Author Interview.

  • Reading Fee: $10
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Yes (see Submission page for details and limits.)
  • Multiple Submissions**: Yes (see Submission page for details and limits.)
  • Previously Published Submissions: Yes, but “entries must not have appeared in print. Please be certain there are no known copyright restrictions.”
  • Schedule: May 5, 2016 – September 20, 2016

Keep this in mind in case there’s a Short Fiction you want to submit to From the Depths.  Since it’ll cost you either way, it’s probably worth it to pay your $10 here in case you’re selected for a Runner Up slot.

Ok guys, I think that’s plenty of info for now.  Don’t forget to refresh your memory with the reminders below and check out the links for more info on these opportunities!

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.

Happy submitting!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Phobos

Let’s get back into the swing of things and get back to a typical Publisher’s Spotlight.  This week we’re looking at the Deep Black Sea theme for Phobos magazine.

  • In their own words: “For our fourth issue, Deep Black Sea, we want short stories, flash, and poetry hauled from the brine of oceans both real and fantastic: the shipwrecked rocket bobbing in the black ocean waves of a starless planet, its bloodied crew and their flashlights at the hatch that opens into the perfect dark, and the heavy thump against the hull; the work song of a dozen sailors, and the lilting mezzo-soprano that begins to harmonize from the empty crow’s nest; the fleeing galleon’s dreadful captive gnawing the last rivet from its iron box; the granddaughter that chucks a sharpened stick and spears a skull-sized opal blob galloping across the sand on its little wet fingers.”
  • Genres they accept: Any, but especially the weird stuff.  “We publish macabre, astounding, unsettling, thrilling, baffling, and terrifying stories in the tradition of Shirley Jackson, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.”
  • Word count limit: 2,500 words for short stories and poetry, up to 1,000 words for flash fiction.  “Flash stories under 1,000 words have a much greater chance of being accepted.”
  • Payment: $0.05 per word or $20 minimum for poetry.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Unknown
  • Multiple Submissions**: Unknown
  • Schedule: Reading from May 1st to July 31st, 2016

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Past issues can be found here.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.  They also have an FAQ page for anything not covered in the guidelines.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

NYC Midnight: Flash Fiction Challenge

This is going to read less like a Publisher’s Spotlight and more like a personal story, because it is.  If you only care about the contest, skip to the  quick and dirty.  The rest of you, feel free to join me in a little reminiscing.


The end of July will mark the one-year anniversary of me getting my writing life back on track.  I was in a bit of a writing funk.  Diving in here and there but never really devoting the time and energy to my writing that I ought to.  It had been a year and a half since my short story, Needs More Salt, was published and I didn’t have drive to keep it up.

Then in July I saw an ad on Facebook for a contest: NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge.  The entry fee was steep – if you know me at all you know I hate paying entry fees at all, so $50 made me cringe.  But skeptical as I was, I did a little digging and here what I found out:

  • NYC Midnight runs four contests a year on a rotating basis, one of which is the Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC).  (The others are screenplay-related or for Short Stories.)
  • The entry fee for the FFC gets you:
    • two rounds of competition with two unique sets of prompts
      • an additional two rounds should you place high enough in your groups
    • official feedback from the judges
    • unofficial feedback from the forums should you choose to participate
    • access to prizes, given out to the top 10 writers of the final round competition

So, why did I join?

I hadn’t written finished anything in a awhile.

Lord, what would I become without a deadline?  Don’t answer that.  For perspective, I had the idea for a superhero story sitting around in my computer since early 2014.  I only wrote/finished it on May 6th because of a certain Heroes vs. Villains contest deadline.  (It was well received; thank you for asking.)

I liked the odds.

Because they split the contestants into different groups, you’re only really competing against 30 – 40 writers.  That said, some of the finest writers I’ve had the pleasure to meet were in my group.  That hurt my chances a bit, but on the plus side, we made friends with each other on the forum and I was invited into a writer’s group who have kept me active over the last year, even when the contest wasn’t in session.  So, win-win.

Also, you only have to beat out half of the group (roughly) to get points for this contest.  With two rounds built into your entry fee you have two chances to score high enough to move on.  Your points for both rounds are tallied together, so even if you get 8th place in round one (8 points) and 5th place in round two (11 points) you’re still going to do better than someone who took 1st (15 points) in round one and 14th for the second (2 points), even if you didn’t get in the top 3 for either round.

It was an even (more or less) playing field.

George R.R. Martin would not win this contest.  If you want to win you have to come up with good ideas – fast – and polish it as best as you can within the time limit.  Prompts like “Action-Adventure, a Dumbbell, and an Underwater Cave” will throw anyone for a loop.  You could get a genre that you’re not familiar with, but chances are, there are other writers in the group who are just as lost as you are.

I got to read the competition.

Here’s the thing: when you’ve collected as many rejections as I have you start wondering whether you’re really any good.  Did I come really close to getting published or am I at the bottom of the pack?  I did my first round of the FFC without any beta readers at all – no help, no outsiders allowed.  I did that partially to test myself.  How well can I write when left to my own devices?  It turns out I’m pretty good at being creative under pressure.  The judges didn’t think so, but that’s another matter.

The judge’s opinions are subjective, but at least in this contest you get to read what the competition wrote (assuming they submitted it on the forum, which is locked to outsiders, so it counts as a workshop, not a first publication.)  Some are going to be better than yours, and that’s great!  Learn from them!  Be awed and take notes!  And also, some are not.  Be kind.  Give advice to help someone improve.  That’s what you’d want for your piece, right?  Advice, not mockery?  And yes, enjoy the ego boost it gives you when you find a piece that isn’t quite as awesome as yours.  You worked hard.  Celebrate.

Oh, and one more note before moving on… Just because you thought someone else’s story was awful, doesn’t mean you get to trash it if they scored higher than you.  Not cool.  To be 100% on the level, the judging for this contest is erratic.  I got 0 points on both of my stories.  That sucked.  Hard.  You put on a brave face, you bitch to your friends, you send a note to the contest runners if you think the judges (legitimately) screwed up.  But do not trash the other contestants.

I couldn’t can’t afford a writer’s workshop.

Listen, writing conferences are expensive, take up valuable time, and rarely exist within driving distance to me.  96 hours of balls-to-the-wall writing without having to leave my apartment?  Literally hundreds of stories to read through on the forums to critique (and compare myself to?)  Yes, please.


And that’s my biggest take-away from this experience.  For me it’s not about the contest (because again, the judging isn’t always the best) but about the writer’s workshop portion.  If you really want to get your money’s worth, invest in the forums.  There’s a camaraderie with participating with thousands of other entrants and seeing what you all managed to crank out.  And really, $50 for a writer’s workshop is the cheapest I’ve ever heard of, and I don’t even have to take time off work to join it.

For the record, I also participated in the Short Story Challenge and made it all the way through to the final round, something I’m extremely proud of despite my last story not placing in the finals.  There were many talented writers, so being among the top 40 was no small matter.  I say this because the judging is erratic, not necessarily bad.  And that’s frustrated a lot of participants to the point that I can’t blame them for not joining.

But then again, what other contest is this transparent?  In any other contest you get to read your entry and maybe a handful of the finalists that get published at the end.  You’re tossed into a group with a thousand other participants all writing to the same prompt hoping that you’ll rise to the top.  That’s a lot of pressure and a lot harder than out-writing 15 other people who got the same crazy prompts 48 hours ago.  And you just have to trust that the judges are ranking you fairly, you don’t get feedback, you don’t get ranked, you don’t know.

Am I going to participate this year?  I’ve thought about not.  Partially because I’ve had the experience, I’ve met my people, I don’t technically need to pay to play anymore, I’ve got the motivation and support I need already.  And Lord it is expensive.

But I can honestly say that my writing has improved and I know it will continue to improve by participating.  I know I need a deadline to get things done, and I know it forces me to test my skills by making me write for genres I’d never considered.  I hate writing Mysteries, but I wrote one I’m really proud of that’s currently under consideration at a publication.  That’s a story I never would have thought of, much less written, and it’s close to being a new credit on my resume.  How cool is that?

And more than anything, I really don’t think I can wait another year after this for it to come around again.  Even though I placed higher in the Short Story Challenge, it was a much more stressful experience.  I need the rush of 48 hours, which is just enough time to get an idea and get it out the door before I overthink things.

So yeah, sign me up!


All right, all right, I promised you some quick and dirty details, so here we go:

  • In their own words: “The Flash Fiction Challenge is an international creative writing competition, now in its 8th year, that challenges participants to create original short stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments. “
  • Genres they accept: Depends on your prompt.  “When the competition begins, writers are placed in groups where they will be judged against other writers within their same group.  Each group receives its own unique genre, location, and object assignments (see past examples here).
  • Word count limit: 1,000
  • Time limit: Prompts are e-mailed at midnight on Friday-into-Saturday.  Submissions are due by midnight on Sunday evening.
  • Entry Fee: The entry fee is US$45 by the Early Entry Deadline of June 16th and US$55 until the Final Entry Deadline of July 21st.  Click here to register.
    • You also can get $5 off the entry fee just by tweeting.  Click here to make a post to your Facebook or Twitter account to receive a promotional code for $5 off.
  • Prize: The top 10 entrants after four rounds of participation get cash prizes.
  • Schedule: 
Early Entry Deadline: June 16, 2016
Final Entry Deadline: July 21, 2016
Challenge #1: July 22-24, 2016
Challenge #2: September 16-18, 2016
Challenge #3:* November 4-6, 2016
Challenge #4:* December 9-11, 2016

*Note: you must place high enough to participate in Challenge #3 & #4.

For more Information:

How the Contest Works

The FFC 2015 Winning Entry

FAQ

Who to Contact if I have trouble registering/technical issues

My handle on the Forums, if you want to be friends.  You can also check out my stories for FFC 2016 if you’re a registered member.  (I share all my stories in the forums but I have removed the links to stories written for previous contests.)

Still not sure?  Check out the entry on Jen’s Pen Den that convinced me to join a year ago or ask me questions below in the comments.

Word Counts Part Two: How to Trim

Remember when we were talking about how to write for a specific Word Count limit?  Yeah, neither do I.  It’s been a long month, mostly because I started a new day job.  (In case you were wondering why the #MFM Contest winners were posted later than advertised.)

Anyway, refresh yourself by reading Part One and then continue below for Part Two.  Also, note that most of this advice is going to be geared toward Short/Flash Fiction where you have to stay within the bounds of a certain word count.  It will always be easier to write to a designated word count limit than to trim a piece you’ve already written without serious revision.

And yet, it can be done.


I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.

– Stephen King, On Writing

I think most drafts can lose about 10 – 15% of its word count without sacrificing content.  Personally, I don’t freak out if I’m 100 – 150 words over the word count when I finish a 1,000 limit.  I know that I write in a meandering sort of way – I can cut a paragraph’s worth of words just by trimming my sentences one by one.

Anything more than that and I know that it won’t help to switch every “was wondering” to “wondered” – I’ll still need to trim a scene or cut a paragraph, maybe even lose an extraneous character who isn’t contributing much.

So how do you do that?

1.) Lists.  Oh sweet reader learn to love your lists.  List your characters.  List your scenes.  List your plot points in order.  Anything that’s taking up space, write it down.  Then take a break and come back to your lists looking for things that stick out.  Do you really need all those characters?  Does your subplot tie into the main theme?  If you had to write your story all over again from scratch what absolutely, positively has to make it into the final cut for it to say what you want to say?  That’s your bare bones outline.  Anything else is filler.

2.)  Focus and simplify. Cut out anything you listed that is distracting or that doesn’t contribute to your overall theme.  One way to do this is to limit your scenes/dialogue to two people whenever possible to save on dialogue tags.

3.) Read every sentence and look for wayward phrasing.  “Get out!” Sarah shouted angrily might’ve seemed just fine when you were in the zone but you know better than that.  And if you’ve cut characters you can trim dialogue tags here.  Watch out for unnecessary adjectives. Do you really need to say “he turned the knob, opened the door and left” or can you just say that he left?  Trust your reader and tighten your prose.

4.) Use Beta Readers.  Find someone (preferably more than one) whose opinion you trust. They don’t have to be a writer, but they do have to be a reader.  Someone who understands stories, someone who will help point out things that are extraneous, and things that don’t make sense (if you go too crazy in your subsequent drafts and start cutting out important details.)  I owe one of my betas a serious debt of gratitude for catching some major issues with a second draft.

Remember: every word counts.

Got any tips for how to trim?  Leave them in the comments below!

 

Smoke and Mirrors

The ropes around Frieda’s wrists cut into her skin with a coarse friction that left them raw and bleeding.

“Not so tight,” she murmured.

“Got to make it convincing.”  Her partner winked at her.

She wanted to frown, but the thousands of eyes upon her demanded that she smile.  She let him slip her bonds onto the meat hook that would hoist her high above the water tank.

As she rose into the air she felt the fibers of the rope weaken against the metal.  The tension was all wrong. Her hands were bound too tight, the rope too weak.

“David!”

He ignored her.  She wrapped her fingers around the hook itself and felt where the ropes had been scored with a knife.

Frieda glimpsed metal in David’s back pocket.  He wouldn’t.  Not here.  Not now.

The perfect cover for the perfect murder.

“How long can you hold your breath, Frieda?”

Publisher’s Spotlight: Splickety Publishing

It’s a three-for-one Publisher’s Blue-Light Special Edition!  I’d like to introduce you to Splickety Publishing Group, which offers several different magazines with upcoming themes.  Luckily, each imprint publication has the same general guidelines, so I decided to group them all together instead of doing them separately.  It’s for the best, but it also means I’ve got quite a few links below.  Let’s take a closer look:

  • In their own words:Splickety fills gaps in the modern reader’s day with concise, poignant fiction under 1,000 words. We want stories that hit fast and strike hard––stories that, no matter the genre, can cut through the day’s troubles and grip readers with short attention spans.”
  • Genres they accept:
    • Splickety Prime is our premier flash fiction magazine. We strive to publish the finest quality flash fiction in multiple genres including (but not limited to) action/adventure, suspense, mystery, thriller, contemporary, women’s, young adult, and historical fiction.
    • Havok is the premier publication for speculative flash fiction. We publish stories in the following genres (but this is not an exhaustive list): science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, paranormal, supernatural, horror, techno-thriller, superhero, and more.
    • Splickety Love is the premier publication for romance flash fiction. We publish stories in the following genres (but this is not an exhaustive list): romance, romantic suspense, historical romance, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, inspirational romance, women’s fiction, and more.
  • Word count limit: Between 300 – 1,000 words with the following bit of advice from the publisher: We acquire for each issue approximately 12 stories, with the breakdown as follows:
    • 701 – 1,000 word stories — 2-3 stories acquired
    • 500 – 700 word stories — 8-10 stories acquired
    • < 100 words — 1 story acquired
  • Payment: $0.02 per word via PayPal, unless it’s a contest, in which case prize money and entry fee varies.  (Next contest: $100 grand prize, $10 entry fee.  BONUS: every entrant receives a complementary 1-year digital magazine subscription.)
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Doesn’t specify.  My personal recommendation is NOT to submit simultaneously to other venues unless they explicitly say you can.
  • Multiple Submissions**: Yes, but please send separate emails.
  • Schedule: Your piece must fit into one of the upcoming themes.  Follow the link for further information regarding upcoming deadlines.

Note: while they don’t say anything on their website regarding personal feedback, a few of us from my writing group sent in stories for their Fairy Tale call, and we all got a little note saying what knocked each individual piece out of the running, and included a few copy-editing notes.  They’re also pretty good about getting back to you within a week of the final submission deadline.

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.  Download their free PDF issue here.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  (Guys, seriously, their instructions are VERY specific and do not follow the Shunn standard.  Read them.)

Happy submitting!