beth_bernobich: alice (alice)
...big projects. Now that I've survived the maelstrom that was my October schedule, I need to slow down, catch up on some long neglected tasks around the house, tie up a few loose ends with the Kickstarter, and give myself a chance to breathe.

This is not to say I am not writing. In fact, I will probably do more writing this month than last. First off is Current Novel, which I need to revise with the lessons I learned in the Writing the Other class. After that, I really do need to settle down and finish revising my pirate novel.

But then, oh then, I want to write something entirely new.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (book love)
No, not that living word. The living word in stories.

Now that I'm in between novel projects, I'm catching up on critiques and the process reminds me of the long frustrating struggle to sell that first story, and the even longer struggle to sell to pro markets. For years, the whole process felt like hit or miss. Then I took a week-long workshop with Gardner Dozois and Kris Rusch. We wrote, we critiqued, we analyzed. We even had to act as editors for our own pretend anthology, which meant reading slush. (Though not, I am glad to say, writing rejection letters.)

That week made a huge difference in my writing, and it made a difference in my reading and critiquing. It was as though someone had handed me a pair of glasses, and I could almost see the dividing line between stories that were just a dead collection of words, and those that had potential. I obviously can't predict whether a particular story would get published, because sales also depend on finding the right market at the right time But those dead collections of words? Nope. Those either needed to be binned or set on the far back burner until the writer acquired more skills.

And from time to time, I try to figure out how to describe that difference. "Vivid" isn't quite right. "Zing" comes closer, though some people react badly to the word because they associate it with marketing speak. It's definitely not an absence of mistakes. I've read stories for critique (or ones already published) that have flaws, but they all posses some combination of prose and story and character that injects them with electricity. The monster gets up and walks.
beth_bernobich: red mushroom (collage)
I'm not a slush reader, but at the Oregon Short Story Workshop, we all took the part of editors, reading for an unnamed anthology. The slush pile consisted of stories we wrote during the workshop, our submission stories, plus stories we submitted under pseudonyms, and a few that Dean Wesley Smith threw into the pile. (Some with his name, some under pen names.)

We all worked independently. We could each choose our own theme.

We read.

And we read.

We were looking for quality, of course, but we were also looking for stories that worked together. We were also looking for stories that would keep us within the given budget for dollars and word count.

And we came out of this exercise enlightened.

It wasn't so much that we now had full sympathy for all editors everywhere. (Dream on.) It's that reading so many stories in such a compressed timespan showed us how alike so many stories are. These were all decent stories. Competent. But there were those that stood out. Why?

Openings that deftly captured the reader's interest. Characters that intrigued. Situations that made her curious and dragged her along a path of words into the heart of the story.

It's not so much what the stories were about, but how the writer told them.

When writers start out, they spend a lot of time learning about the rules about grammar and paragraphing. They learn about POV and punctuation. They become aware of the tools and the basic ways to use them. This is good and necessary, but it's just a start. Stories at this level won't cause anyone's eyes to bleed, but they also won't catch and keep a reader's attention.

Over and over, Kris and Gardner told us that there's a grayness to the slush pile. Writers who sell, who break through to the next level, their manuscripts don't look like anyone else's. Sure they follow standard manuscript format, but the paragraphing is different. The prose twist and twirls. Even the punctuation can send you off-tilt. And yeah, sometimes it breaks the rules, but unlike the newbie's manuscripts, these "mistakes" are for a reason.

Stories that take risks.

Strong voices.

Find yours.

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