Challenge,  On Writing

Editing and Reading Observations… Part 3…

I Got Surprised…

Really surprised, to be honest. You see, every writer who sent me stories for each month this fall is a Pulphouse Fiction Magazine subscriber. Just to send in stories you had to have backed the Pulphouse Kickstarter campaign.

Now, I grant you, there is no way to figure out what kind of story I might buy because I pride myself on making sure that no story in Pulphouse is like any other story. You never know what you are going to get in topic and genre from story to story. And I love to be surprised on topics just like my readers.

But one thing is for certain, all the stories in every issue are high quality, pull the reader into the story, and have great characters. Yet in story after story sent in to me, it feels like the writer didn’t bother to read even an issue of the magazine.

Otherwise there would be depth and pacing and so on in the submission stories.

I just recorded this week’s videos in Creative Survival on learning and practicing. Just typing story after story without learning as you go will not get you anywhere. (Yes, you can still sign up for Creative Survival on Teachable. Only on the 4th week of 52 weeks.) You have to be hungry for knowledge while you write.

This last week Kris taught 14 professional writers for four days here in Las Vegas. The reason those 14 professional writers are selling novels and stories and doing great with their careers is because they are hungry to learn. Really hungry. And even though they are all doing great, they spent their time and money to come here and write in hotel rooms and learn. And trust me, Kris gives them their money’s worth in learning.

That’s the way I have been every day since I started writing. Hungry to learn. I never start a story or a novel without telling my creative voice what we are practicing. Never have missed on that. It is part of why Kris and I keep teaching. It keeps us learning as well.

After this workshop, Kris and I started DIRECTED STUDY. It is not a class and it is not something for accountability like a challenge. It is just guidance on what to study to get better.

This is just me and Kris learning a bunch about a writer and their goals, looking at a sample or samples of their work, and giving them a path of study to get better. Books to read, workshops to take, things to practice so the writer can take their work to the next level. No time limit, just Kris and I suggesting a path of study. (And yes, if interested, write me directly.)

So what in the reading of stories brought this all up today? Characters.

Pulphouse stories are full to the brim with characters and fantastic character voice. You have to know depth to get great character voice. Just reading a couple of issues would make that crystal clear.

Yet for some reason, in my reading a lot of stories pulled me in until I realized there was no character and no character voice. And then I stopped.

So add to the list of what causes me to stop reading No Character Voice.



  • LM

    Might I suggest some writers read but do not take in areas of storytelling that don’t personally interest them. I’ve devoured stories voraciously for years and have had my writing voice, characters, and worldbuilding highly praised. I can appreciate a well written plot. It took until this last few months to sit down and study my way into understanding plot in a way that wasn’t tied to outlining, because I don’t care about plot at all. It doesn’t interest me a bit. But turns out that works fine in shorts, where the fuzzy level I’d osmosed was quite sufficient, but it doesn’t scale to most novels. So your sumitters might be reading but not taking in, like I was before I decided I really was going to have to learn x thing that isn’t why I write.

    • dwsmith

      If you read and pay attention, you let your creative voice absorb all of what makes a story you like. That is not the problem. The problem comes when you don’t get out of the way of your creative voice, or you give it instructions like you did that plot does not matter. Most early stage writers with outlining and rewriting kill creative voice and get in the way. You got in the way with the thinking you didn’t like plot, so even though your creative voice knew how to do it from all the reading, it didn’t because it was being directed not to.

      Got to learn to stay out of the creative voice’s way.

    • Kate Pavelle

      I have never outlined, mostly because I am impulsive and didn’t want to bother. In this, my tendency toward shortcuts has served me well.
      The only difference between writing a story into the dark and writing a novel into the dark is *perceived* level of risk. I used to feel scared, because I didn’t know if I could manage a novel that had all its fingers and toes. This fear of the infamous “bad manuscript police” had me swap beta-readings services with friends for a while. Then we all got better and more confident, and for the last few years we only swap a courtesy copy of a finished ePub, pretty cover and all.
      Point being, you shouldn’t worry so much. Fear is a mind killer, and all that. Loosen the reins a bit. Allow yourself to be imperfect.
      In fact, I challenge you to suck! Put a sticky note on your monitor and remind yourself: “Today I will write so wild, it’s probably gonna suck, and that’s OK.”
      Striving to suck has unleashed unexpected plot twists, and I find myself writing away and forgetting about the passage of time. That’s the funnest kind of writing.
      Does it suck?
      Probably. I can’t tell. I know I have ways to go. The readers seem to keep reading, though, so I can only hope they are entertained.

  • blitchfield

    You’re citing depth, pacing, character as what you look for. But those things are universal for any story or any publication, indie published or sold to a magazine. Right?

    To put it another way: subscribers to Pulphouse eligible to submit there should be studying the use of depth, pacing, etc. rather than how many cat stories you brought across the past three issues. (Maybe, I think)

    So it seems that reading stories from magazines I’d like to sell to is really about absorbing story and trying to improve in those areas than trying to determine “fit” for a particular market.

    All of the above prompts the question: back when you and others had 70-plus stories in the mail, how much thought and time did you put into matching your story to an editor’s needs and-or taste vs relentless rinse-and-repeat submitting anywhere and everywhere?

    • dwsmith

      To answer your last question first, basically never. We gave them the right genre or close and let them decide what their tastes and needs were. Trying to outguess an editor on any of that is a fool’s game.

      Yes, what to study in a magazine is story. Some editors let less depth get in, some are idea editors, some love great characters and story can take a second place. So yes, study story. Never content.

      And sadly, depth, pacing, and character are not universal in stories people send to editors. If they were even to a moderate level of skill, it would be fantastically more difficult to pick stories because there would be so many good ones. The things I am mentioning are often just missing from stories I get. Or so thin they might as well be. That’s why I am talking about them, trying to make it harder on other editors in the future. (grin)

      • LM

        It’s fine if you want to assume anyone who fails to osmose characterization from Pulphouse isn’t a reader, but it’s a stretch because people are unique and have unique blindspots.

        You have misdiagnosed my actual reading and writing journey as I discovered my plot gap, I didn’t start off with any notions about it until I was fixing a gap. But you don’t really need to care about my writing history, since the example didn’t actually work for you to show how blindspots can work.

        All valid points: preconceived notions or failure to pay attention while reading can hobble learning. I fully agree there.

        • dwsmith

          Actually, LM, I clearly didn’t make my point. You are learning as you read (proven by about a billion studies over the years). Your creative voice was learning. What you are calling a “blind spot” is you telling your creative voice to not use that area of learning until you decide to focus on it. The learning is there. You just got in the way of it, so from your critical thinking, it’s a blind spot.

          But my point is that you had already learned it. The blind spot was only in how you allowed yourself to get out of the way of the learning.