Bewildering Stories Editorial
by Jerry Wright
Lately Don and I have been receiving a spate of submissions where the writing is of pretty good quality. Oh sometimes they are too gory, or too crude, or various combinations of punctuation problems and various infelicities, but even with the writing being well done, the "stories" themselves are being rejected. Why?
You know, if you get more than a printed "one-size-fits-all" rejection slip from a print magazine, it often will say something like "it didn't hold my attention", or somesuch. Recently I had the "privilege" of reading a story that was rejected by Stanley Schmidt of Analog. The writer took great umbrage, and was deadly certain that the reason for rejection was that he was a creationist, where as Stan is an evolutionist. So after reading the story (more akin to a "flash fiction") I said:
Jim, I publish Bewildering Stories Online Magazine, and I would have rejected your story. Why? Because it isn't a story, and meets few if any of the criteria for a good story.
Everybody becomes a Zeroist. Why? Tell the story from the point of view of a Zeroist. Or for that matter, tell the story from the point of view of God. Or one of his angels. Sacrilege? Oh, come now. If telling the story from one of those viewpoints is sacrilege, then, frankly, so is your whole story.
One of the other aspects of a short story, aside from having (by preference) an appealing protagonist, that protagonist needs to have an obstacle, to either overcome, or fail to overcome. The struggle is very important. And it can be physical, psychological, mental, whatever. Even "the human heart in conflict with itself".
But something. Your "story" is dry and boring.
Jim's response to those who rightly took him to task:
The rejection form letter I received only indicated that ANALOG wants more "science" in their stories -- I guess Stanley Schmidt didn't notice the mention of the science of Math in it, or Parapsyhology, or Hypnotism!
I introduced a very interesting concept into the story of the worldwide "Zeroist" belief system -- a unique and new concept!
I didn't want to spend a lot of writing time wasting my time developing character or characters, because I knew ahead of time that Stanley would not like nor approve my "Creationist" ending of the story, so I kept it short and to the point!
So, Jim wasn't really writing a story. Just a tract, or a polemic. However, though few of our rejected stories are quite that blatant, in so many cases, there is no REASON for the story. There might be conflict, but did the protagonist learn anything, did he overcome anything? We like stories that have a point! We like stories with characters we can identify with, even if they are bad guys. We like stories that make us go "hmmmm".
We just had a submission where a guy goes up a road to some sort of Indian site and a big bull shows up and tries to kill him, and both get ripped up pretty bad, and the guy wakes up after spending three days in the hospital.
The writing was good. The story was not for the queasy of stomach, but when I finished it I said, "Okay, so what?" I could have read about that in a newspaper, but it certainly wasn't an entertaining fiction. The story is going back for rewrite, and we'll see what happens, but, sheesh. A beginning. A middle. A resolution. Something.
I will put together an addendum later linking our various articles on story writing. Perhaps it will be of some value to youse guys out there.
Copyright © 2006 by Jerry Wright for Bewildering Stories
[Ye Copy Editor’s note: Two pertinent articles are referenced with links in the section “Esthetics” in our Submissions guidelines. (This link will open in a new window, so you won’t lose your place.) I hope Jerry can find more. Maybe we can make an index page and add it to the menu in our home page as well as our Submissions page.]