I can’t remember where I sourced this from, probably one of the writing forums I go on, but I found a very interesting article written by Moira Allen, who is the editor of Writing-World.com. Over the next week or so I will be posting excerpts from it.
Fiction Mistakes that Spell Rejection
by Moira Allen
Ask most fiction editors how to avoid rejection, and you’ll hear the same thing: Read the guidelines. Review the publication. Don’t send a science fiction story to a literary magazine, and vice versa. Don’t send a 10,000-word manuscript to a magazine that never publishes anything longer than 5,000 words. Spell check. Proofread. Check your grammar. Format your manuscript correctly. Be professional.
Failure to observe these basics, many editors say, accounts for more than 80% of all short fiction rejections. But what if you’ve done all that, and your stories are still coming back with polite, form rejection letters? I asked nearly 50 fiction editors — from traditional literary publications to flash fiction ezines — what types of problems resulted in the other 20% of rejections. These are the problems that plague stories that meet all the basic requirements, but still don’t quite “make the grade.”
“A story needs a beginning that grabs the reader and pulls him into the story,” says Lida Quillen of Twilight Times. If you can’t hook the editor with your opening line or first paragraph, the editor will assume it won’t hook the reader either. “You simply must grab me in those first few sentences,” says Ian Randall Strock of Artemis.
Dave Switzer of Challenging Destiny looks for “something new — something I haven’t seen before — on the first page. Something unique about the character or situation that makes me want to continue reading.”
One source of weak beginnings is “taking too long to cut to the chase,” according to Diane Walton of ON SPEC. “When the writer spends three pages explaining the entire history of the planet, we know we are in trouble.” Doyle Wilmoth Jr. of SpecFicWorld.com agrees, defining a slow-starting story as one in which “the writer feels that she/he needs to explain every little detail for the reader to understand.”
A story must do more than begin well; it must also fulfill the promise of that beginning. “Some new fiction writers create a very good beginning, but then do not fulfill the expectations of the reader,” says Lida Quillen. “As a writer, you want to raise the reader’s expectations, create a need to know what happens next and then satisfactorily fulfill that need.” Once you’ve “grabbed” the editor with your first sentence, your second has to keep him reading — right on to the end of the story.
Andrew Gulli of The Strand Magazine notes: “The writers I resent are those who hook you with first sentence then whole stories turn out to be boring. Often writers will write something with a beginning and ending. There is no middle.” Anne Simpson of Antigonish Review feels that “Generally speaking, a weak opening is more forgivable than a weak ending, but both should be strong for the story to work.”
Next time: Wordiness