Friday, November 30, 2007

Ramblings from the slush pile

I've been reading slush for Flashing Swords for a little while now. It has proven most educational for me, as a writer and reader and editor.

As a writer, it helps me to see things like plot holes and story structure, good and bad. I get to see when those things work and when they don't. I'm hoping this will make my own work stronger.

As a reader, I've also learned some things. Flipping through the slush has helped me determine a little more what I like and don't like about stories. Some things work for me, and some things don't. It's all just my opinion.

Here are a few things I've found or noticed:

  • I'm seeing a good bit of fiction set in the Bronze Age, usually related to Babylonia, or with some kind of link to that time period. Is this the new, big thing for fantasy? I don't know. For the most part, these stories don't work much for me. Why? Because I'm not seeing anything new. Tiamet might be a weird, mysterious creature to someone who doesn't know better, but come on ... the majority of fantasy readers are going to be familiar with her and Marduk, etc.

  • The stories, over all, are not as bad as I would have expected. I'd say at least one in four are worth publishing, though maybe with some rewriting.

  • I've yet to see a story that I've been completely repulsed by.

  • I don't care much for experimentation. This is just me. But when I'm reading a short story, by the gods, I want to read a short story. I don't want to read some faux historical text or something that twists around the ending and puts it at the beginning.

  • Good antagonists are hard to find. Make your bad guys bad, but with a purpose. Don't just make them orcs or goblins or vampires or whatever. Villains need to be something more than just a thing for the good guys to kill.

  • Good protagonists are hard to find. Make your main characters real people. Give them weaknesses, fears, dreams. Don't make them generic.

  • I'm also seeing a good bit of Norse related material, some good and some not so much. Be careful here. Remember you're not writing an ancient saga, but a short story for a modern audience.

  • Despite the fact I like to write darker material, for the most part I prefer reading jaunty stuff with a fun little attitude, at least when it comes to fantasy.

  • The first paragraph can be everything. I'm not seeing a lot of good, let alone great, first paragraphs. Usually I'm seeing one of two things, lots of exposition that is quite boring, or action that is so convaluted I can't tell what's going on until I'm at least four or five graphs into a story. A little exposition up front can be good; for example, if there's a fight scene, I need to know fairly quickly what type of environment it is happening in ... a castle, cellar, open field, where? I also want to be able to tell pretty quickly who the protagonist is.

  • For stories, I prefer what I call a "neutral modern" voice. This means if your story is supposed to be set in an ancient time, I don't want to see modern slang and cursing. But I also don't want to see a lot thees and thous and names so weird I can't pronounce them. Keep in mind your audience. You're not writing for a history professor nor are you writing for your peeps. You're writing for a modern audience that doesn't want to be distracted by the oddities you might use.

None of the above thoughts are set in stone. I'm sure I could find a story that goes against everything I said above, but I'd still love. I just haven't seen it yet.


Howard von Darkmoor said...

Astute observations, Ty. And many I've learned/seen also.

I'm tackling my story for Infinity Swords again this week - after a 2 month hiatus during which I've been pretty much non-stop editing for The Return of the Sword antho. I'm hoping that working over some great stories by some great authors I both respect and enjoy reading will have a nice impact upon my tale.

Well, actually, I did until last night when I read a certain story by a mutual friend. When I was done, I pretty much told my wife that my story (that I am so proud of) is distinctly inferior to that one. Yet I plan to give it my best shot and at least hope he gives me some good feedback when he rejects it.

Ty said...

I might have to blog about this ...

You're last paragraph there reminded me of myself when I'm going through slush stuff. I read a lot of stories I just don't care for, or at least find unpublishable without work, and I never think "Hey, I can write better than that." But when that one story comes along that I really like, it pops into my head "Man,I wish I could write that well!"

Good luck on the antho. Maybe we'll both get lucky and share a TOC.

Howard von Darkmoor said...

You are absolutely right - I have never thought "I can do better" but I have on occasion thought "Damn, and I thought I could write."

Interesting. I look forward to your blogging about it. ;)

And good luck to you sir - I think yours is different enough to have a decent shot at it.

Howard von Darkmoor said...

actually, I will admit to thinking "Now why the hell couldn't this bleeping idiot follow simple format/guidelines/instructions!?!?! I mean, I can do that, especially when it's easily found in black and white."

I have thought that several times. ;)