Thursday, May 28, 2009


I'm done! I'm doing the dance of doneness!

Today I finished reading just over 300 stories in the space of about three weeks. Of those I accepted 54 for advancement to the second round of selection. That's about 18% of the stories, which is somewhat below my usual average.

With that large a backlog it became necessary to reject quite a lot of stories that were marginal and that I might otherwise have passed through. But I still took the time to communicate personally with several authors--generally first-time authors. It's a personal touch that I find valuable about FFO's philosophy.

As usual there were a number of stories that were, quite frankly, not ready for publication. But what dismayed me the most was the extraordinary number of authors who had obviously failed to read our submission guidelines.

I mean, do people really do that? It's been drilled into me from my very earliest forays into publishing that you read and follow the editorial guidelines to the letter!

To be truthful, there are a few markets out there that I purposely avoid submitting to because they make you jump through some crazy hoops for very little (or no) return other than the publication credit. FFO isn't one of those. Our demands are pretty few and pretty lax--for now. We have format and word count requirements, and content restrictions that are pretty typical in the general marketplace.

After what seemed like a flood of such stories, I ended up getting rather terse in my responses to them. Something along the lines of 'Your submission has been deleted unread due to length issues. Please read our guidelines before submitting,' to 'We do not accept erotica, porn, sexually explicit stories, or excessive violence. Your story violates at least three of these and may be illegal to possess or distribute in some states.' (It was porn involving minors, no less. Yuck.)

But I'm glad the flood has passed, even though I had a blast swimming through it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Too Short

Conduit was, in two words, TOO SHORT!!

For me, at least.

I had wanted to make a weekend of it--at least Friday and Saturday--but only ended up being able to participate on Friday for a few hours.

But it all worked out fine. I taught my flash-class on writing sci/fi and fantasy for the flash market and spent a few hours with Kathleen.

How does one teach others how to write flash fiction in an hour? Talk very fast!

Of course I had to address the unique problems that speculative fiction brings to attempting to write very short stories. In particular setting (alien worlds and fantastical realms), characters (not WHO they are, but WHAT they are), and the rules of science/magic. I discussed the idea of using speculative trope in helping a writer avoid eating up his word count in description, and focusing on the characters and the conflict.

I taught mostly about controlling those elements of writing that tend to increase word length, and did so in relation to conflict. There are just some things that can, if not handled well, breed secondary conflicts like rabbits, therefore increasing the need for words in a genre in which word count is EVERYTHING.

I called them:

Big Brother stories--in which a large ORGANIZATION (like a conspiracy of wizards, or a corrupt government), with all its people and intricacies of detail and dark rooms, is an integral part of the plot. This one alone can necessitate an increased number of characters, scenes, settings, chronology, etc.
Chosen One stories--in which a great deal of CHRONOLOGICAL TIME is needed to completely tell the story. As in, the hero is born, he lives his life, he comes the point in his life at which his heroic deed is needed, he dies.
Revenge (and Other) stories--When a character seeks revenge, it means there is an entire story's worth of HISTORY (or BACKSTORY) before the revenge story begins. Of course there are many other story types that might need a great deal of history to tell. But flash can't support a whole lot of history before it becomes a story summary instead of a story. In general, a single paragraph of history/backstory gives a good balance in a flash fiction story.
Around the World in a 1000 Words stories--SETTING is the things here. Settings require some description to place the reader or help the reader visualize the stage. You only have so many words to tell the story. The fewer times you have to describe the stage, the more words you have to tell the reader why the character is there. In relation to conflict, there's a reason why your characters are moving from one place to another, and that reason should have to do with conflict. Is the reason they are moving directly related to the central conflict? Or does it give rise to new conflicts? Move with caution.
Friends stories--How many CHARACTERS can a flash fiction story support? Not a lot. As with any length story, a flash can support an unlimited number of nameless, faceless background characters. But named, acting, speaking characters--now that's another story. The average, it seems to me, is two. I've seen as many as four or five, and one is fairly common. Characters bring conflict with them. Choose carefully who they are and why they're there.

Happy Flashing!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Conduit Workshop

I just heard from Charlie Harmon of Salt Lake's Conduit committee.

I'll be teaching a workshop entitled, "Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Flash Fiction Market," on Friday, May 22.

That means I have some work to do.

I've already written out a workshop outline, but it needs plenty of tweaking, and I want to include mucho input from my colleagues at FFO.

I have already received the gracious cooperation of Amy Treadwell, Mercedes Yardley, and James Van Pelt, who have given me permission to use their recent-ish FFO stories ("Spinnerbait," "Ray the Vampire," and "Just Before Recess"--in that order) as examples of successful sf/f flash fiction.

Very exciting!