I write all kinds of stories, but my favorite ones are where my character is presented with an opportunity for violence and rejects it. It’s where my real life persona bleeds into my writing.
It’s difficult as a writer to create stories centered in nonviolence. A death, fight, or even the threat of violence creates stakes in a work that keeps readers interested. If no one is going to die or be harmed, then what drives investment?
Build interesting Characters. Characters a reader wants to learn about benefit ALL works, but building a curiosity about “what will happen next” when a reader is confident the character is “safe” is crucial if you aren’t going to hold anyone’s life at gunpoint. Readers have to invest because these your characters are funny, charming, quirky, intelligent, or determined.
Build Relationships. Core to the soap opera genre is the “will they won’t they” “What will happen when Susie finds out?!” kind of drama. While soap operas also offer violence, often because serials have gone on soooo long, every relationship twist has been picked clean. If you create deep complicated characters with established relationships, they you can hold interest with their interactions a long time, without ever threatening anyone’s life.
Have a lot of characters. People are social animals, and we like social interactions. Instead of two main characters. Have ten. Let them have their own side plots, spread them out in your world. Let them argue, separate, go their own ways and meet back up. Conflicted goals and ideas can create a rat race to see who achieves their ends firsts. Watch the “good people” get lost in less than moral means to their ends and the “bad people” gain humanity as they see all the harm created from theft x.
Add Mystery. If people aren’t going around stabbing each other and shooting up schools, then there needs to be something else happening. A quest, a pilgrimage, a strange ritual, or an action element that’s out of place. Something curious or suspicious that makes readers wonder “what’s really going on?”
Add Movement. Violence is often equated with action, but it doesn’t have to be. Dance, chases, cooking/cafes/restaurants/hotels all incorporate motion by design. Giving the reader little actions to focus on
To be included in this issue markets must pay at least $.01 a word. Some flat rates only pay that if writers stick to the minimum word count, and royalty pay = all bets are off.
Speculative City: open word count suggests nothing above 5,500 word count. Looking for a speculative work using the theme “knowledge” has a preference for under represented characters within the genre but accepts all stories. responds in 90 days. pays $20-$75
Shooter:2,000-7,500 words the theme is rivalry “Send us stories, essays, reported narratives and poetry on anything to do with competition, antagonism, warring forces and individual foes. The context might be sports, business, romance, politics, survival; the characters might be students, frenemies, parents, current and former lovers, courtroom opponents. As ever, the theme is open to wide interpretation.” pay $25 a story
Pseudopod: 1,500-6,000 words “We’re looking for horror: dark, weird fiction. We run the spectrum from grim realism or crime drama, to magic-realism, to blatantly supernatural dark fantasy. We publish highly literary stories reminiscent of Poe or Lovecraft as well as vulgar shock-value pulp fiction.” pay is $.06 a word
One Story: 3,000-8,000 words looking for literary fiction that stands on it’s own. 3 month response time. pay $500 and 25 contributor copies
Bikes in Space, the Non Binary Edition: 500-8,000 words on bikes in space scifi/fantasy genre with author and characters with non binary gender expression pay is at least $30 with 5 contributor copies
Lamplight: up to 7,000 words “dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”” pay is $.03 a word
Gehenna& Hinnom Books: 250-3,000 for flash and 3,001-5,000 word short story “We are looking for stories that fit the themes of Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror. Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy are all welcomed, as long as they fit in the realms of Weird and Cosmic. All stories must also be speculative in some way. What we mean by this is that we don’t want stories based in realism. ” pay is $45 for flash and $55 for short story
Apparition: up to 1,000 words on the theme security pay is $5 flat rate
Nothing’s Sacred: 3,000 words max “The horror within can range from subtle to grotesque, psychological to physical, dark to full out terror so long as it is character driven. Theme wise, Nothing’s Sacred is relatively open outside of distasteful stories of rape, the degradation and/or humiliation of women, and child porn of any kind.”pay is $.05 a word and accepting the magazine’s hypocritical title
Moonlit Dreams/ Moonlit Nightmare: 1,500-10,000 words “short stories that explore the nature of the psyche, the world (or worlds) around us, and that speaks in some way to the theme presented. Stories should be well crafted and flushed out, having elements of a great story that could be told for generations to come. Including such things as romance, intrigue, comedy or drama are all par for the course as far as I’m concerned – the key is to write a story that lingers both in your heart and mind by the time the last page is turned.” pay is $.01 a word
Mickey Finn 20th Century Noir: about 5,000 words under 3,000 is probably too short and over 8,000 will be too long “An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, Mickey Finnwill pick up where the three-volume Fedora anthology series left off, pushing hard against the boundaries of crime fiction. Contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule.” won’t hear back to Feb 2019 pay is royalties
The Twelfth Planet Press:17,000-40,000 words “We want gritty pieces that challenge the system and punch the patriarchy in the face. We want stories that resist and rebel… and maybe also books that comfort & inspire. For when things are bad out there in the world. We are looking for books that feed the angry soul.” pay is $300 plus royalties
Moonlight a Queer Werewolf Anthology: 1,000-2,000 words “Whether your werewolves are in space, school, or ruffing it in the outdoors, it doesn’t matter to us! We are looking for stories that span genres and tones. Your werewolves may be moody or the life of the party. All that matters is that they are openly queer and that there is an engaging story around them to be told.” pay is $.07 a word
Crannog: under 2,000 words no genre or guidelines pay is $50 per story
Apparition: 1,000-5,000 words on the theme of resistance “Apparition Lit is seeking original, unpublished speculative fiction that meet our quarterly theme. Speculative fiction is weird, almost unclassifiable. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and literary. We want it all. Send us your strange, misshapen stories.” pay is $.03 a word
Podcastle: up to 6,000 words “looking for fantasy stories. We’re open to all the sub-genres of fantasy, from magical realism to urban fantasy to slipstream to high fantasy, and everything in between. Fantastical or non-real content should be meaningful to the story.” pay is $.06 a word
Martian Migraine Press Monstrous Outlines: 1,500-7,000 words “an anthology of horror and weird fiction with a focus on the theme of camouflage: people, entities, monsters, gods, even concepts, that masquerade as things other than themselves. Predators in plain sight, deities on their down time, sublime extra-dimensional terrors slumming in 4D. We want to see stories of exceptionally well done camouflage, all the more baffling and frightening for its seamless nature. We want to see stories of seeming where the hidden thing is poorly hidden for a number of reasons: perhaps there are layers to its camouflage, or perhaps it doesn’t care how well it hides. Imagine the moment when the perfectly hidden thing reveals itself. When the poorly hidden thing reveals itself. We’re also interested in duplicates, doppelgangers, and shapeshifters.” pay is $.03 a word
Remnants: word count varies a post apocalypse shared world story/series go to the site for details. Pay: royalties
2100 A Health Odyssey: “give us your best 3,000-word short story that challenges today’s assumptions about the future of health care in the U.S. We’re offering a first prize of $10,000, second prize of $5,000 and other prizes for runners up and current employees, students and alumni of Jefferson.“
This post speaks to my personal writing process for “Halloween Spirit” and as such is contains spoilers for that work. For a deeper understanding of the elements included or explained in this post please read my flash fiction (it’s short and free ^_^).
Zach Standfield challenged me to write a piece of flash fiction in August. One of the ideas I had was to create an elaborate detailed summoning rite that brought about the end of the world. The short work would focus on my strengths: lyric description and magic set in a modern world. It would avoid my weakness for action scenes and it side steps issues I have about over explaining or creating a finite conclusion.
I wrote two flash works for Zach (neither of which he’s seen) and they both took a grim turn resulting in the brutal murder of the female main character from outside forces she surrenders to. Waaaaay too close a metaphor for the suicidal tendencies slipping into my own head because I’m not handling stress well at work. For the record, I’m not contemplating a plan to end my life, it would be stupid to take a permanent solution for a fleeting problem. But the stress from ongoing conflicts at work is leading me to think “it would be much easier if I wasn’t around” and that was coming through too literally in my writing.
I shelved the third flash idea since I didn’t want it to morph into a 30 something female woman sacrificing herself on the boardroom floor, using the energy of her death to open a hell dimension that forces the people who mistreated her their to suffer for eternity.
Then, I had an idea for our blog. Each of us should write a Halloween themed flash for our blog. Awesome idea, except I suck at short stories and had no idea what I would write.
I thought maybe I’d lean into my fae angle and do a “Wild Hunt” style thing, but “The Most Dangerous Game” already exists. Plus, the idea took over 1,000 words to explore. If I wanted to do something new/interesting, it would take more than 1,000 words.
Next I thought “what’s my thing in the writers’ group?” My literary device is some kind of magic. This reminded me of the summoning story I‘d planned for Zach’s challenge. The problem: no Halloween tie in. So I changed the summons and instead of focusing on a cinematic summoning ritual, I focused on the holiday and hidden darkness that lingers in the fall. I played on the “Wicca” God and Goddess creation myth where the Goddess Births the God, they become lovers, and he dies on Samhain, to be birthed out again in the following Yule. I tossed in two cult classic “Wicker Man” (1973) references to hearken the reader back to a certain time and tone.
For birds gathering, I chose crows over ravens primarily to reference the figure “The Crow” (1994) and foreshadow the death elements. Also, crow mythology pegs the creatures as watchful, resourceful and often tricksters… all elements I wanted to elicit in my story. I thought about using Ravens in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, but those birds are larger, live in only specific regions, and mythologically relate back to winter.
I wrote the first 600 words in one afternoon and would have finished, but I had to stop and go to work. I reread/edited what I had so far and finished the first draft four days later. Ran everything through ProWritingAid and posted to Google Docs for the Writers’ Group to Critique. I read it out loud one last time and added it to our queue for publication.
While the creation process was painless, I’m torn on whether I like the final product. There are great single lines and ideas, but the word limit combined with the time constraint kept me from digging in to find a perfect moment. I usually only consider works done after months of review and reflection, so I figure in six months time, I’ll know what would make this story engaging.
Interested in reading more from Jessica Donegan? Check out the NEWG bliz round robin exercise here with Jessica’s ending available here
I spent last weekend enjoying DragonCon 2018 in Atlanta. I attended as many of the writing panels as I could manage, including two 15 minute one-on-one mentoring sessions with Jody Lynn Nye and Robert J. Sawyer, which were great.
Here, in no particular order, are the 12 best pieces of writing advice I collected. It was going to be 10, but I thought of a couple more. Check out Twitter (@NAWG and my personal Twitter @CMPalmer) for any new ones I think of.
Small presses and online only markets are great for building confidence and getting your name out there, but you should make a habit of submitting to the highest paying, most prestigious markets first and working your way downward. You’ll probably garner more rejections, but when you do get a hit, the reward will be worth it.
Telling your whole story to someone can sap your will to actually write it. You may want to consider just sharing your “elevator pitch” with others until the story is finished. Build anticipation from others as well as yourself.
Similarly, some writers avoid writing the last scene or last chapter of a work until they’ve finished revising the rest. Write up to the end, go back and revise, and when you’re happy with the whole thing, go ahead and write the last scene/chapter. Once you’ve written the ending, your brain says “You’re done!” and saps your energy for revision.
Don’t over-read or over-edit. Finish a story, but it aside for a week or two and work on something else, then come back to it with fresh eyes. If you obsessively read through a story, you’ll either not see the errors or (in my case) start overthinking it and hating it.
When revising and editing, know the difference between “better” and “just different.” Any edits will make your story different, but do they make it better? When you’ve removed and reinserted the same comma five times, it’s time to submit it somewhere and move on.
When writing novels, remember that most publishers are accepting works that won’t be published for a couple of years. Chasing the current hot trends isn’t always a good idea because that trend may be dead by the time a potential book would be published.
If you’re not writing what you want to write and the kinds of things you like to read, you’re probably not going to be successful. Writing what you think is “hot” even if you don’t like the style or genre is a bad idea.
If all you have is non-pro sales, only include them in your cover letter to pro-markets to inform the editors that you can be worked with. Too many people can’t handle editorial input and a pro-editor isn’t going to invest the time to mark up your work if you’re going to be obstinate about making any edits to your precious baby.
In writing science fiction in particular, if the idea is old enough, you can use it as a standard trope, but it shouldn’t be the focus of your story. In other words, you shouldn’t write a book about discovering a ringworld and exploring it, but your space opera universe might include ringworlds. Science fiction is always “standing on the shoulders of giants” and expanding the vocabulary. You shouldn’t steal, but you can borrow.
The main difference between writing a short story and a novel is the complexity of the plot. Short stories have one, maybe two, plot points. Novels have to have many more.
John W. Campbell used to read slush pile manuscripts with a red pen, but usually his only mark was a red line under the point where he stopped reading. Ask your writer’s group and beta readers to put a red line where they would have given up if they weren’t committed to reading through your story. This is pretty hard advice, but I’d love to know. I know I give up on stories even in magazines and “best of” anthologies sometimes.
With a short story, you’ve got a first line and maybe one or two paragraphs to hook a reader (and an editor is just a reader with way too many stories to read). For a novel, you might stretch that to a few pages. One editor last year said, “Nobody wants to read your story. Particularly the slush pile editor. It’s your job to make it impossible for them not to read your story once they’ve read the first paragraph.”
Looking at the path from spoken story, to recorded story, to printing press, and now to online and print formats, I can see that technology historically is huge for the aspiring writer. It seems that as technology and communication improve, the different ways it can help writers also exponentially increases. I’m awed and overwhelmed with the different tools at our disposal. To help sort the varying tools, I’m creating a series that explores different services mean to help an aspiring writer. This week we have tools meant to increase daily word count or to encourage a daily writing practice.
750 Words is my favorite of these sites. The purpose is to write 750 words or three pages every day. Once you’ve created an account, it will provide a space to enter text and you just type. When complete, send in your work and 750 will analyze the writing to see whether you were happy or relaxed based on keywords. The site will break down when you paused and when you were in a hot streak. For those who like to compete, you get points and a score board if you keep to the daily 750 word assignment. Best of all, all your writing is private. First thirty days are free and it’s only $5/mo afterward.
Write or Die is an software that puts pressure on the writer to produce text in a set amount of time or…consequences. The most disturbing thing the software does: it deletes words if you pause for more than a few seconds. Write or Die will either help you up your word count or obliterate every letter on the page. It costs $20 and I’ve often toyed with whether it might be worth the price tag to place my feet to the iron. I’m afraid I don’t have the stomach for the software.
Word Counter does a lot more than count your words! If you create a free account, you can create goals to work towards and the site will track progress for you. The site is linked to Grammarly, so spelling and grammar can be altered through them. Beyond that, Word Counter offers stats similar to those available on Hemingway App. It provides a reading level, how long it would take to read or speak, and it also offers a “word density” that may suggest whether you need to crack open a thesaurus. For strict editing, I prefer ProWritingAid, but if I was looking for a hybrid motivational tool and editor, Word Count seems like a capable option. It’s free to use.
Rescue Time, the wonderful Christopher Palmer mentioned this site to me, and I think it’s great for the aspiring writer. The light version lets you set goals and tracks how much time you spend on the web and where. It let’s you know how much time in front of the screen you’re wasting not writing!
What do you think? Do you use any of these softwares? Do you know of any other sites or apps that encourage word count or daily writing? What do you use to track your writing metrics?
I’ve read science fiction all my life and, while many of my stories deal with the out-of-the-ordinary in some way, my latest story, tentatively titled “Cold Water” is one of my first forays into aliens, alien planets, and space opera’ish settings.
The story started in a stupid way. One of my writing exercises if I’m stuck on something is just to write stream of consciousness drivel. On that day, I didn’t even write real words. I wrote a string of gibberish: Whee. Sallah-bwii. Sallah-boynda. Then I started imagining this as an alien language and the story started building in head. Of course, at some point, I had to figure out what this sentence meant.
Inspired a bit by the “Soo Soo Sook” line from the water seller in Dune, I decided it was an alien water seller. The line means: “Here! Fresh water! Cold water!” and with that, I started a small vocabulary for my aliens.
The aliens started taking form next. The Chirukh are about one and half meters tall. Imagine a cross between a bearded dragon and the Pokemon Sandshrew. Spiky skin, double-pupil eyes. They have two hands on each arm, a clawed overhand and a more delicate underhand because they evolved from creatures with eight limbs. They are venomous, ritualistically eat their dead, and have a weird defecation habit. Their world has been environmentally devastated and is a hot, radiation blasted semi-waste. But the Chirukh have a certain nobility about themselves and the universe, they are non-violent, gregarious, open to strangers, and believe poetry and mathematics are the same thing. To learn more about them, you’ll have to read the story, but I will discuss a little more about the bits and pieces of their language that I worked out.
Knowing the translation of the water seller’s call, it’s pretty easy to figure out what each word means and a little of their grammar. “Sallah” means water. “Whee” is “here”. “Bwii” is “fresh”, “Boyna” is cold. Adjectives come after the noun they modify.
I only had to create a few words and phrases. This isn’t like Klingon or Dothraki and I’m not a linguist. I just wanted a little flavor and to give a little insight into the alien’s thought process. Knowing they are mathematicians, the next line I wrote was “Gesta chi harra, sallah-boynda ges ii” – “The hotter the sun, the colder the water.” A direct transliteration is “Relationship between sun heat water colder implied causality will be,” which I think has a kind of mathematical notation to it.
One more: “Bu trosh agram-ii ayon mallah kham e” is “My honor it would be your flesh to eat.” I liked the idea that “sallah” is water and “mallah” is flesh because they would rhyme in the Chirukh language. “Sallah gi mallah” is “Water and Flesh.” That syntax is pretty close to Japanese.
All told, I only created a handful of phrases and less than twenty words in my Chirukh vocabulary and, whether the constructs are linguistically sound of not or whether the reader will dig into them, I’m pleased with the internal logic of them and they make my world feel more real.
1. “Motherland” by Jasmine Ang started Feb strong. Emotionally charged, the work explores the theme of separation. The “science fiction” angle comes in, I believe, by providing an example of how technology both lessens the sense of separation and intensifies it. Feb is the coldest month of the year here in Alabama so feelings of isolation and sorrow seem to dovetail my weather perfectly.
2. “Lingua Flanka” by David M. Armstrong was heavy handed. The opening and the middle felt intellectually insulting. I’m including it because it covers themes that I think are important to discuss but even then, the work feels muddied. Like Armstrong wanted to be controversial but didn’t understand how to do even that basic part well. I appreciate the attempt for artists by interspersing different narrative elements, but the execution left a lot to be desired. Great theming and ambition.
3. “Dispell” by Preston E Dennett was cute. The fantasy theme was notable, and given my preferences, made me more likely to enjoy it. There were elements that I found distasteful. The female voice, in particular, felt stilted, as if the author had never spoken for very long with a woman or as if the author has only known and women in very shallow ways. But I thought the punch line at the end was worth the read. And I want to give the author some props for trying to explore an element of society it seems clear he doesn’t get. There’s both a thoughtful and boorish execution to it.
4. I really love Mary E. Lowd’s work. “Heart of the Gas Giant” is a continuations of her other stories. I’m beginning to see a larger picture where her characters go to the same places in space to achieve different goals, or where we will focus on a different main character but still get an update on the last main character. Her ability to summarize the last stories in a line or two, are pretty inspiring. I’d like a collection of all her little works in a larger work. She brings a childlike joy and wonder to the vast array and variation of space. But her stories are written in a way I think all ages could appreciate them.
5. “Resolve, in Four Heartbeats” by Kell Rajasalu is great. The work is confusing in several angles, but by the end, I understood the basics of what had happened and felt like I’d read a longer arch than she’d offered. She had deeper characters in her short than make authors achieve in novel length works.
6. I really enjoyed “Kicking the Football” by Margaret Sessa-Hawkins. It’s sweet and very tightly written. While it has a huge advantage because it’s about characters we are all largely familiar with, it still successfully captivates it’s own unique concept. This to me, is the spirit of excellent fan fiction and what elevates something from copyright infringement to it’s own concept.
7. “The Ones Who Chose the Rain” by George Edwards Murray was a sad story. I don’t know exactly what I liked, possibly the genre, but the work struck me. It’s filled with ennui and pain. Don’t read if you’re depressed.
9. “The Sword” by Mari Ness was a fun update on a “classic” medieval scenario. I didn’t love it, but it was a cute short story with a reasonable close. There was a story earlier this month that I waffled on whether in include and ultimately dismissed it because there wasn’t enough going on and this one made it in because there was a “diverse voice” and I am swayed by scenes I see less if even when I think they lacked some indefinable element.
10. “Fight for the Stars” by Shannon Fay was a well constructed complete world. She took a story that I’d have hated to see play out in the three hour movie and boiled it down to an enjoyable 1000 words. The story kept me engaged in each word. Instead of liking it “in spite of it’s length” as I do many short stories, I actually think the format os part of what allowed me to be taken in and really become enchanted by it.
Overall, February was an interesting month for Daily Science Fiction. The works I chose were by authors who had a lot less on their resumes than last month’s authors. I wonder if there is a trend to how Daily Science Fiction groups it’s works. It has felt random as a reader, but collecting through collecting all the works I found value in, I hope to find patterns. Impatience is a major fault of mine though, so I’ll have to see what next month brings!
Want to check out January’s Science Fiction picks? Check it out here
Did you set any New Year’s Resolutions? If you haven’t there’s no time like the present to commit yourself.
I love new things. They’re shiny, unassuming, and a perfect for a fresh start. You can always “start again” on your journey to improve. No need to wait till January. March, November, or any other time of year works too as long as you’re ready to put in the work. Still, there’s something about the crisp cold dry air paired with scales and exercise equipment hanging out in every retailer that just seems to beg of you to start a project now.
If you’re like me and over commit, you’re starting with a spreadsheet of some 30 odd goals to track with the silent prayer all those little measurements will lead to a larger goal down the road. I was planning for March to see major changes when I wrote my resolutions, but two weeks in and I’m already pushing back to April.
Three paragraphs in and finally I’m ready to talk about my writing commitments for 2018.
Writing Daily. I’m using 365 Writing Prompts to start each day. I’d like to write at least 500 words per prompt. Of this year I’ve missed 3 days so far, but I haven’t given up on writing most my days
Taking these prompts and creating at least one edited complete story with them a month. This is a lot harder for me but is the logical conclusion with the goal being toward churning one full edited story every two weeks. A June goal at earliest at this rate
Reading 36 books this year. Need to look at the larger writing and publishing world around me. Also I require full books to research elements of stories I want to write.
More consistently reading and providing candid, honest, helpful feedback to my writer’s group. I want to take part more in collective writing efforts.
Starting up our North Alabama Writers Group Blog. Pushed the group to set this up over the summer and I’ve let it lay fallow. No time like the present to force posts.
Not so secret yearly goal I’ve no way to measure my progress to: I want to be published and more widely read. Words can’t contain my burning, heart pounding, chest expanding, all encompassing desire to have a readership—to share my words and know others look at them. Don’t even care if people like them so long as they read them.
As an impatient person, progress is not going as quickly as I’d like. Who’d have thought changing 30 points of your lifestyle wouldn’t lead to a seamless transition of success? But, I am seeing marked progress improvement and I am moving closer to having a life more inline with what I wanted starting January 1st.
Our writers’ group also has goals for 2018. As a group we’ve pledged to:
Have a more structured group meeting
Have a writing exercise every other week
Havemonthly write-ins besides our standard weekly meeting
Increase our group size
Do something with the Group Blog (which I’m taking on as a personal crusade but I expect others to join as they are ready)
What about you, mysterious anonymous reader? We’re 1/24th of the way through the year, and no time like now to come clean regarding your declarations. Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Did any of them involve writing? And how are they going?