Short Stories – Successes and Not So Muches

Posted: February 1, 2016 in Original Fiction, Uncategorized

I received word last week that a story that I had submitted is going to be included in an anthology! This will be my first paid writing project.

I’ll share details about the anthology as soon as it is clear that I should. What I can share is the process, as several people have asked me about it.

My assumption has always been that we should write the stories that we want, and then find a way to get those stories to our audiences. That simple description is based on the probably flawed assumption that we only have one story to tell (at a time).

The Cloudless Admiral

My first attempt to get a story published was by sending a story to Broken Eye Books, for their Ghost in the Cogs anthology of steampunk ghost stories. This was a bit out of my realm of experience, as it was the first short story that I ever tried to sell to someone, and I’m not a steampunk reader. That is, there are probably underlying conventions to the steampunk genre that I am simply unaware of.

In that case, I envisioned a story that literally matched the call, that is a ghost story that involved an airship. I invented some intriguing characters and placed them at the scene, and then did terrible things to them. In the background, I tried to weave tidbits suggesting an alt. history backstory. I had to cut the story short to fit with in the parameters of the call for submissions, and eliminated an entire character.

Lastly, I had my wife and two of our friends edit the manuscript, and then made the suggested edits. After formatting the story to match the formatting guidelines of the publisher, I sent it off. Alas, they did not choose to accept the story, and referred me to another publication that was looking for similar stories.

What I Learned

Writing can be fun. A hard part about the empty page is that there are too many choices. Each choice seems dire, in that, right now, maybe I have only one story that could succeed critically, and if I deviate from the mysterious path, I’ll wander from the road to readers. But that is hogwash, reading the above should be as clear to you as to me while writing it.

When writing to match specified criteria, you have guidelines. It has to be a tale that can reasonably be described as fitting in the steampunk genre, and it has to have ghosts or similar supernatural elements.

The page then focusses down to a manageable size. Ideas come spilling forth, the skeletons of potential characters dance in your mind’s eye. Like a potter, you begin to shape the clay into a mold, turning the story into the vague form required. The rest is the art and is unchanged from writing ‘what you want to write’.

Round 2

The second submittal was a similar process. This time I knew more about the genre and could write freely without worrying that I was missing important genre conventions. The anthology has a comedic element, and I knew that I was on the right track because I giggled throughout the writing process. I then let is sit for a few weeks and edited it, my wife providing valuable feedback as my beta reader on the last day that submissions were to be accepted. Once again, I followed the publishers guidelines for how they wanted submissions formatted, and sent it off.

This second story was significantly less work than the first. Partly is that it was half the length of the first, but partly because I was ‘write what you know’-ing.

A few months later, I got an email stating that my story had survived the initial culling, and then last week, work came in that my story had been chosen. A contract was included, which I reviewed, signed and returned. Voila!

Random Plot Generator

There are such things, Google it. And then write a story with that plot. Okay, random sometimes ends up looking nonsensical, but the challenge is intriguing. A story that you can hold in your mind, start to finish, without planning, may end up being obvious to the reader, or rather, predictable’s unpopular cousin, boring. That may be what drives pantsers, people who prefer to write where the story goes rather than preplanning the outcome; the fear that plotting will eliminate the magic. If anything about the process of submitting short stories has taught me, is that I am much more comfortable knowing what I need to write, rather than trying to figure out what I should write. The story will attend to itself.

I have more years than this one planned, so I needed worry about writing my one and only novel the first time.

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