As you probably already know, I’m the owner and editor of a small e-zine called Theme of Absence. It’s a side project of mine that began nearly a year ago and publishes a new speculative fiction piece and interview with the author every Friday.
Running the site has done wonders for my editorial skills and sitting on the other side of the publishing desk has really helped me see what makes short stories work. I’ve also had a hell of a lot of fun with the site so far. I’ve made a couple of new writing friends, and read a lot of great fiction along the way.
The only drawback about running the site (besides the time it takes away from my own writing) is the part about rejecting the stories I can’t use.
I’d like to use this post to talk a little about just that. Specifically why I reject the stories I reject. The one thing about fiction writing is that everything is subjective. Still, there are common factors that will cause an editor to pass on a story, so maybe sharing my reasons will still be relevant.
1. The writing isn’t strong enough
As a writer myself, I know that no one wants to hear this. We take so much pride in our craft that the mere thought of “weak” writing might cause us to give up, get under a blanket, and spend the rest of the day watching horror movies.
Regardless of how much it sucks to hear it, however, I have to say it. A huge percentage of the stories I pass on are because the writing just isn’t strong enough. The most common culprits are a story filled with adjectives and adverbs, a story with way to much past progressive tense, or a story that simply doesn’t flow very well.
2. The story-telling isn’t strong enough
There have been a couple of times where I worked with the author to clean up and publish the story if I felt that the story was strong enough, but that isn’t case when the story-telling is weak. A submission can be the best written piece of prose you’ll ever see, but if I think the ending doesn’t fit, or the plot is boring (or non-existent) there’s not a whole lot I can do with it.
The story is much more important than anything else. And by “story” I mean that the submission needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Some sort of resolution needs to take place. And I have to care.
3. The motive behind the story is non-existent
Speaking of caring, in order for a reader to care about the story, there has to be a point. What is the motive behind the protagonist’s actions? What happened to put him in the situation? What is the writer trying to accomplish by telling the story?
I hate it when I get to the end of a story, and somebody dies, or turns out to be evil, or whatever for no reason. Every plot point needs to serve a purpose and if it leaves me asking “why did that happen?” then it harms the story more than it helps it.
4. Stories I’ve seen too many times
Predictable plot twists, zombie stories where everyone dies in the end, and stories that turn out to be a dream have been done way too many times. They’ll usually garner a rejection note as well.
5. Failure to read guidelines
I’m still amazed by the number of writers who fail to read the guidelines. This includes genre, word count limits, and submitting previously published stories. The guidelines exist for a reason. Read them.
Hopefully reading my reasons for rejecting stories will help you with your own submissions. And if you’ve got a good unpublished short story you’d like to send my way, be sure to check out the submission guidelines for Theme of Absence.