advice


by Camille Gooderham Campbell

Camille Campbell

This post first appeared at the author’s website, Copy. Edit. Proof.

We all read through filters of one sort or another.

Some filters are highly specific. There’s expert knowledge — the cop who rolls his eyes over procedural inaccuracies, the doctor who shakes her head over medical impossibilities — and there’s genre expertise — the avid science fiction fan who recognizes themes and plots that seem fresh to more general readers, the 18th century literature student who recognizes allusions and in-jokes that most other readers would miss. Without the resources to hire expensive expert consultants at every turn, there’s not much an editor can do but hope nothing too egregious slips by.

Other filters are recognizably subjective. When a dude dismisses a story as chick lit, or a “serious” reader with a preference for award winners and the literary elite dismisses a story as fluff, a subjective filter is being applied — the story is being judged in comparison to the reader’s preferences. The reverse can happen, too; a fondness for a particular theme or interest in a set of characters can cause a reader to overlook prose issues or plot holes, and even fill in gaps and ascribe depth to the material that isn’t there. Genre conventions sometimes permit and even invite elements that would, in a different context, be met with scorn.

The most subjective filters of all are, of course, filters of emotion. It’s virtually impossible to be purely objective when reading a story by a spouse, child, or dear friend. Nor is it reasonable to expect objectivity or even a rational response when reading a story that triggers some past personal trauma.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is capable of reading entirely without filters. The reading experience is a combination of what the author gives to the story and what the reader takes from it, and any time perception and interpretation and taste come into play, we’re automatically applying our filters to what we’re taking in — sometimes even to the point of not actually hearing what’s being said or absorbing what’s on the page.

The big question is where the responsibility lies for recognizing those filters.

One can’t say that the end reader “ought to” realize that s/he is reading through a complex set of preferences, biases, emotions, and possibly specialized knowledge. That’s not a reasonable demand, because the end reader (by which I mean someone who buys or borrows or is given a book to read for his/her own pleasure — the end consumer, in a reading sense; the general public) isn’t answerable to anyone for his/her reading. If I choose to pick up a random book and read it, I don’t have to justify that choice or provide a critical assessment of that book; it’s just… what I happen to be reading. We are all, sometimes, end readers and entitled to just enjoy (or, er, not enjoy) a story without having to explain ourselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, publishing professionals absolutely must recognize their personal filters and guard against them. When choosing and recommending reading material for others, it’s staggeringly important to be self-aware and to strive for an impartial, objective assessment. Particularly when it comes to rejections, for example, a responsible editor needs to make choices based on readership preferences rather than personal preferences. I’m not perfect, but I do my best, and it’s not unheard of for me to ask one of my co-editors for an additional opinion when it comes to a story that I recognize to be outside of my individual comfort zone (e.g., “guy humour” — sometimes I need to ask a male editor about those ones, because I *know* I’m just not appreciating all there is to be appreciated). I’m including professional reviewers and librarians in this category, with huge respect, both for their roles in recommending books to readers and because there’s an expectation of impartiality and having the best interests of the end reader at heart.

But what about independent book bloggers, commenters on stories at EDF, social reading enthusiasts connecting on Goodreads and LibraryThing? Somewhere between a public professional life in reading (editors, publishers, professional reviewers, librarians) and a completely private life in reading (someone who just reads for pleasure or self-edification and doesn’t talk about it), there’s a grey area of what one might call personal commentary. There’s no professional requirement or standard to start a book blog, to write a review and post it on a social reading site, to get involved in commenting on stories published online. And there’s absolutely no way that an external source could impose moral/intellectual requirements or standards on personal commentary, because it’s just that — personal. Websites can ask for courtesy and delete responses that fail to comply, block specific words earmarked as inappropriate, or hold comments for moderation until a staffer has a chance to review them for suitability, but there’s no way to make participants recognize or turn off their natural filters.

The question is, do readers engaging in personal commentary have any responsibility within themselves to recognize and/or acknowledge that there may be filters involved in their perceptions?

I don’t know.

On the one hand, I want to recognize every reader’s right to have a genuine and natural opinion without worrying about what it means or whether s/he should feel that way. On the other hand, as soon as one engages in expressing an opinion in public and to strangers, isn’t there some responsibility to balance that opinion with an acknowledgement of the factors that might influence it?

And then, I suppose that’s the funny thing about responsibility in general. You can’t make someone else take it. It has to come from within.

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Camille Gooderham Campbell is Managing Editor of Every Day Fiction and one third of Every Day Publishing. She has an Honours B.A. specializing in English Literature from the University of Toronto, where she was privileged to study creative writing with Professor J. Edward Chamberlin. She has also studied advertising copywriting and marketing communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

by Lori Sambol Brody

Lori

Although I could write a first draft of a flash in a sort of fevered daydream, I was unable to revise that story.  I felt like my stories were chiseled in stone, and, aside from line edits, I couldn’t see how the engravings could be any different.  I would be paralyzed after workshops, knowing that my story did not quite work, but not knowing how to revise the story.

This mindset changed, however, during a writing workshop with Rachel Resnick, who writes both memoire and fiction.  All she needed to say was one word: “re-vision.”  Meaning:  re-seeing, re-invention, finding new insight in the story.  This one word was a catalyst.  If my initial writing of the story was a daydream, my re-vision of a story is lucid dreaming, where I am in control, wresting the knife away from the monster, and changing the ending.  For me, this is the most intellectual part of writing, taking my first draft and looking at it in a carnival mirror to find its potential.

In order to take a new perspective on work, I have used a number of different techniques.  (Note that I write literary flash fiction, rather than genre, but these same techniques should apply to genre fiction as well.)

I participate in a writing group.  I always have other people read the story to help in the revision process.  These readers can identify what works and does not work and what steps I need to take in revision.  While in a standard workshop, the person whose story is being workshopped usually does not have a dialogue with other participants, a more loosely structured writing group permits a back-and-forth conversation about a story.  The key is to find “your people” – the people who get your work and are not afraid to critique it.  Workshops provide another benefit:  critiquing other people’s work also develops techniques I use on my own stories – I can approach my story as if the story has been written by someone else.

I put the story down for a (long) time.  Sometimes the story is too new, too raw, for me to have another perspective on it.  In this situation, I need distance.  While some people may need days or weeks, I sometimes need months or years.  Returning to the story after the scab has healed allows me to be far more productive in revising and to have an ability to see the story in a different way – truly to re-see my story.

I highlight themes and images to draw through the story.  Symbols or themes often appear in rough drafts by mistake or through the subconscious.  In a technique I learned from Rachel Resnick, during the re-vision process, I review the text and highlight each symbol or image that stands out.  Physically highlighting in bright colors exposes themes that I may not have intended.  I then choose themes to emphasize and images to draw through the story.  In longer works, I use different color highlighters for different themes, but for flash fiction I include one theme, use a light hand in doing so, and delete words that distract from that theme.  For example, I am currently working on a piece where a seamstress in an early 1900’s New York sweatshop looks out the window and sees an exotic water bird.  In revising the story, I realized that the bird could stand for a life outside the sweatshop of which she can only dream.  In my revisions, I added some other bird imagery to the piece, embellishing a hat another seamstress puts on at quitting time with a plume, and having this same woman, ultimately, fall from the fire escape like a seagull.

I give myself permission to play with the story.  Re-vision of a story requires a different way of seeing a story, perhaps changing much of the original version.  For example, in my story about an American woman’s visit to her Turkish boyfriend’s family fish farm, the boyfriend sees her difficulties in eating a whole trout, says “You’ll make a mess of it,” and takes her plate to de-bone the fish himself.  Earlier drafts (of which I have nine on my computer) contained, however, revelation of a pregnancy (quickly jettisoned), interaction between the boyfriend, the farm’s caretaker, and the caretaker’s wife, and a flashback scene where the boyfriend chides the woman for talking to a carpet salesman.  None of these elements appear in the final version of the story.  In drafting these alternate scenes, I gave myself permission to have fun with the story, develop conversations and actions just to see what will happen, to see if gems come out of it.  If a character in one draft refuses to respond to a question, I would explore how the conversation would continue.  If a character takes one path, I would explore what happens if she takes another path.  Only in the sixth draft did I come up with the scene where the boyfriend, disgusted at her attempts to de-bone a trout, takes it from her.

The corollary of this rule is:

I give myself permission to fail.  Not all ideas I have are successful, as revealed in the ideas I discarded in the fish farm story.

I ensure that all words are essential and have resonance.  In a flash, all words – and, by extension, all dialogue and images – must be essential to the story.  I pare my piece down to the essence.  For genre stories, everything must relate to the plot, to the ultimate end of the story being told.  For literary fiction, every word must shine and sparkle and any tired metaphor must be eliminated.  I often use the same “highlighter” method to highlight words or metaphors that are cliché, and then replace them.  In addition, in flash, words and images may have to work double-time.  For example, in the original draft of a recent story, a teenage girl describes her father hitting on a woman during a camping trip: “Dad talked to Kate over the campfire.”  I highlighted this and, in re-visions, the sentence changed to “Dad told Kate his sailing stories.”  This (hopefully) conveyed not only that the narrator has heard the stories many times (and her attitude toward her father) but also that the stories were not quite truthful.

While I may never love re-vision, at least I now can take steps to make the re-vision easier and more effective.

____________

Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California.  Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, WhiskeyPaper, alice blue review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere.  She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody at at lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

 

by Perry McDaid

P1050962

Why problems arise when building races and/or cultures, is if such endeavours are attempted in a vacuum. Fantasy, like anything else in this world, requires a foundation. The creative process involved in good Science Fiction/Fantasy is not called “world-building” for nothing. The renowned fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, provides an excellent example with his Discworld series. He may have filched a few ideas from the mythologies of Native American tribes and the Greeks, but the weave is seamless and the composite purely his.

To create a culture/tradition/set of beliefs, we must have a world which catalysed same. Early religions were based on the human mind attempting to explain what was going on beyond their control. Accordingly, our fictional characters must have retrospectively evolved in their environment. We are ‘pigeon-holers’ in the main. If something doesn’t fit within our frame of reference—what we can understand—we get a mental plunger and stuff it into a space we create. In order for both writer and reader to connect with the characters within a story, they must reflect similar tendencies.

Building a world which is not a cheap copy of reality is difficult, which is why so many SF/Fantasy writers opt for the post-apocalyptic dystopia option.

Modern fiction writing has to go beyond the primal Bunyan-esque allegory to give creations a past which is not ours. Give characters frailties by all means, but it is important that the little people, “good” and the “bad”, can at some level be ‘understood’ by readers. But they must all be loved … yes, loved … by the author/creator. If a writer makes a character so detestable he or she cannot see from their perspective, that little bit of manifest imagination is ostracised from the core creative process: leaving it nothing but a shell, a shadow. This cannot help but detract from the story.

Our own society, that of what was once termed “The First World” has ‘progressed’ to the giddy heights of what has been termed “decadence”—as do most civilisations—where nothing much makes its components flinch in abhorrence. In a world where the terms “collateral damage”, “acceptable losses”, and “pre-emptive strike” raise few eyebrows, fiction writers feel compelled to push the envelope in an effort to compete with reality, and outdo the gory narratives encountered within more and more intricately programmed computer games.

The beauty of “world building” is that we don’t have to compete on the same playing ground. The harsh reality is that a lot of work and creativity has to go into building that space. The only drawback is lack of imagination and commitment. You think human relationships are high-maintenance? Pah!

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Gordon Gomper Award winner, Perry McDaid, lives in Derry close to the Donegal hills. His diverse creative writing appears in international magazines, anthologies and websites: most recently with AlfieDog, entropy2, 50wordstories, Amsterdam Quarterly, and Whitesboro Writers. He spans genres: subjects from the fantastic to grassroots romantic.

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

I began writing fiction in January of 2007. In October of 2008, I created a blog where I posted a quote and then wrote about what the quote meant to me as a writer. Honestly, the daily posts were intended for myself. They were a way to force me to think about each quote and how it might change my writing. If people reading my comments gained from them, so much the better. I’m going to post a few of these as I wrote them—even if feel differently now. Feel free to agree, or disagree, or add your own take on the quote and what I said. Here’s today’s article.

***

Writing is Exciting (5/17/2010)

“Candy is dandy and liquor is quicker, but writing is exciting” — Nick Mamatas in “In Praise of the Short Story” [The Writer, June 2010]

I love this, and it’s so true. That moment when a tiny idea finally materializes into a completed story provides quite a high. It takes many revisions to get to the point where I’m satisfied with the results; but when it happens, there’s no better feeling.

A close second is the day I receive the elusive acceptance e-mail. Wait. Shouldn’t the latter be ranked higher? Sometimes. More often, my proudest moment is when I pull my fingers from the keyboard and say to myself, “The end.”

The hard part of writing is remaining inspired while struggling through failed stories and multiple rejections, and second-guessing my decision to attempt writing fiction in the first place. Perhaps these are the times when candy and liquor are appropriate. :)

______________________

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

 

by Lori Sambol Brody

Lori

Your cell phone chirps to alert you of an incoming email.  Will it be an Evite from a friend, a notification from Netflix, or a response from a literary journal you’ve submitted to?  Upon checking your inbox, you see an e-mail “Lit Journal X re: [Lit Journal X] My Fabulous Story.”  Your heart beats double-time, your stomach feels like it’s full of fluttering birds. 

And then you open the email.

You reread it.

Congratulations!  Lit Journal X wants to publish your story!

After celebrating with chocolate, champagne, or 50 year old whiskey, what do you do next?  I’ve put together a checklist to ensure I thank Lit Journal X, notify other publications to which I’ve submitted my story, and, upon publication, market the story.

Before the Story Is Published

  • Send a thank you note to Lit Journal X, addressing it to the editor who sent the acceptance, expressing how excited you are about seeing “My Fabulous Story” in that journal.  Because of course you are.  You wouldn’t have sent it to that journal if you wouldn’t be excited.  Sometimes the editor will need you to confirm that your piece is still available, that you agree with the intellectual property rights you are giving them, and provide a biography.  Timely provide that information to the editor.
  • Immediately withdraw “My Fabulous Story” from consideration from all other literary journals, following the instructions on Submittable or on the journal’s website if the journal accepts e-mail or snail mail submissions or has their own submission manager.  Since you keep track of all your submissions on a list or spreadsheet, it should be easy for you to do.  Tell the journals that the piece has been accepted elsewhere, thank them for their consideration of the story, and let them know that you’re looking forward to their next issue.  Most of the editors for literary journals don’t get paid for their work, and it’s nice to let them know how much we appreciate their dedication to publishing our stories.
  • Lit Journal X may send you suggested edits, questions, or proofs.  Make sure you timely follow up with them.

On Publication Day

  • When you see your piece published, send an e-mail to the editors you have been working with thanking them again for including your piece in the new issue of Lit Journal X.  You should read the issue – or at least a portion of it – and mention to the editors something you liked, another story or poem or the look of the journal.  This is not only about supporting the writing and publishing community – of which you are a part – but also recognizing the hard work of the editors who usually dedicate their time as a labor of love.
  • Market “My Fabulous Story.”  You should modify your endeavors to fit your specific circumstances.  For example:
  • Post one notification each on Facebook and Twitter (you don’t want to annoy anyone by constant promotions).
  • Send e-mails to friends who are (amazingly enough) not on social media or do not regularly check their Facebook pages.
  • Post an entry on your blog regarding the publication of “My Fabulous Story” and update your blog’s publication list.
  • Submit news of your publication to Pamelyn Castro’s Flash Fiction Flash Newsletter (to subscribe send an email to FlashFictionFlash-Subscribe@yahoogroups.com).
  • Send a “yahoo” email to the Internet Writing Workshop list serv, which posts publishing successes once a week on its blog (http://internetwritingworkshop.blogspot.com/; to join see http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/ ).
  • If you are involved in a community author’s group, notify the group of your publication.  (Our local library has a local author’s group with a Facebook page.)
  • Thank anyone who responds positively to your story.  Contrary advice exists on re-Tweeting positive Tweets concerning your story.  Most of the writers I follow do it, although I have read articles that re-Tweeting these comments is a breach of etiquette or bragging.  Re-Tweet if you are comfortable doing so.  I usually do since it appears to be socially acceptable in my Twitter-sphere.
  • If you receive negative feedback to your story, you can either ignore or respond briefly with a note thanking them for reading and giving you constructive criticism.  Do not engage a dialogue with your critiquers or belittle them.

And what if Lit Journal X has rejected your piece?  I have a list for that as well.  After drowning your sorrows with chocolate, champagne, or 50 year old whiskey:

  • Send a quick note to Lit Journal X thanking the editor for considering your piece.  Most journals put considerable time into reading your piece and “Your Fabulous Story” has gone through multiple readers.  Where the editor has given you encouragement or feedback – one journal, in rejecting my story, sent me reader’s notations – mention this in your email.  Editors are writers too and don’t like rejecting work: they know you have sweated (metaphorical) blood over your story.
  • Note on your submission spreadsheet that your story was rejected.  Specifically note if you received any encouragement, feedback, or if the journal asked you to send more work.  While the latter may seem like a form rejection, that request is sincere.  In the future, when you have a piece perfect for that journal, you can note in your cover letter, “Thank you for your encouragement on my piece ‘My Fabulous Story’” or “Thank you for your feedback on ‘My Fabulous Story.’  I made revisions pursuant to your suggestions and it was accepted elsewhere.”
  • Take a look at “My Fabulous Story.”  Was any of the feedback helpful?  Do you feel like it needs another revision?  If so, revise it or set it aside for revision.
  • If your story doesn’t need revisions, send it to two other journals in the same “tier” as Lit Journal X.

These are the steps I follow and can be modified for your purposes.  What do you do?

____________

Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California.  Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, WhiskeyPaper, alice blue review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere.  Her first piece of non-fiction is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel and she will be participating in the chose-your-own-adventure at Lockjaw Magazine.  She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody.

 

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