Escaping the Pile: Part VI

Good morning internets. Before we wrap up the slush pile series, I have a couple of housekeeping announcements to make. First, and most excitingly from my perspective, I’m going to be Thursday’s guest for the Damsels of Dorkington weekly video chat. I’ve hung out with these crazy kids at places like VisionCon and GenCon. They are an absolute blast, and living proof that geeks can break every tired old stereotype without selling out what makes us different and awesome. We’ll be talking about… I have no idea; these people are ADHD as a sack full of ferrets and cocaine. But I’m fairly sure we’ll talk about my upcoming book launch and my experiments in stand-up comedy at some point.

Also, over the weekend, I recorded a brief interview for the Roundtable Podcast which asked a very simple question: What do you want in an antagonist? I’ll put up a link as soon as the podcast goes live.

But you’re not here to hear me drone on about my grinding journey down the road to success, you’re here to learn how to shorten your own grinding journey. So, without further delay, here’s the final entry into my series to shortcut the slush pile:

Haven’t I read this before? Here is where the rubber meets the road. Above all else, short fiction needs to be original. That is the deathblow for many stories I have read. They can be well written, with full characters and a complete story, but if it doesn’t feel new and fresh, then it will almost invariably fall flat.

Several times, I have read a story, only to find it is a well-known tale with the serial numbers filed off. One stands out in my memory. It was well-executed, with snappy dialogue, clear visuals, and convincing action. Alas, it was a carbon-copy of Blade Runner. when I asked him about it, the writer in question had never heard of the movie, or even the classic book it was based upon.

The best way to avoid this trap is also the most time-consuming; read lots of books and magazines, watch loads of movies and T.V., and play video games and RPGs. The only way to learn the tropes of your genre is to immerse yourself within it.

This is not to say that a story cannot include familiar elements. Sci-fi will always have space ships, aliens, and ray guns. Fantasy will always have elves, dwarves, and wizards. Your job is to find ways to tweak the conventions and make them your own, unique version. By defying expectations, you will grab the reader’s attention. Think of all the successful authors of vampire or zombie fiction.

If you follow these relatively simple steps while crafting and preparing your work, you will have positioned your story ahead of as much as two thirds of the deluge we have to wade through every time we open our inboxes.

Of course, you still have to get past the Senior Editors. But that’s another article.

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