Fiction Mistakes that Spell Rejection
by Moira Allen
Editors complained of two basic plot problems: Trite, hackneyed plots, or no plot. Ian Randall Strock says many of his rejections are the result of "the author sending me a really old, lame idea that's been done to death for decades, and the author hasn't done anything new with it." Many felt too many writers were deriving their plots from television rather than real life. "We don't want last week's Buffy plot," says Diane Walton.
David Ingle of The Georgia Review says at best, only ten stories in a thousand that cross his desk manage to escape "the doldrums of convention." The most beautiful prose in the world, he notes, can't compensate for stock characters and plots. "My main gripe is with the so-called 'domestic' story -- stories of bad childhoods, bad parents, abusive or straying spouses." He asks writers to make their stories stand out from the pile on the editor's desk. "Instead of another divorce story narrated by a despondent spouse, how about one narrated by the couple's favorite chair?"
While some stories have bad plots, others have no plot. "One I received was about a woman shopping for a hat. That was it," bemoans Paul Taylor of Cenotaph. Alejandro Gutierrez of Conversely complains of "stories that just begin and end with nothing important happening or being resolved by the main characters." Some plotless stories ramble from one event to another; others are a hodgepodge of action with no emotional content to involve the readers.
The solution? Ironically, most editors felt the way to resolve "plotless" or "hackneyed" stories was to focus on characters. If the characters are believable, with interesting goals and motivations, their interactions will drive the plot. "Most of the ideas for stories have already been used; it's up to the writer to put a new spin on it to make it fresh," says David Felts. "If the characters are real enough then a recycled plot can work, because if the character is new, the story is too."