Short stories: what the hell?

In which I reveal all my flaws as a writer.

I read a very informative and helpful article on short story writing by David Farland this week. As everyone should, I have submitted a few stories to Writers of the Future, and one got an honorable mention last year. I write very few stories that are appropriate for the contest, as they demand a PG-13 rating, but I have submitted plenty of stories to the usual publications, and haven’t gotten much more than a few personal rejections (this is a good sign, but it’s not publication). Fortunately Farland’s blog post included usable information that writers can use to improve their stories, maybe even sell one.

Just sent my western fantasy story “Talons of the Sun” back out with the cover letter “#TriggerWarning: woman with a rifle.”

— J.J. Adamson (@JoelJAdamson) June 5, 2017

My most recent short story is the weird western “Talons of the Sun” about a young woman whose engagement is disrupted by a mysterious illness. Her fiancé meets a wizard who promises to heal her if he can deliver an important relic, so they pack up and take off across the desert, but a few things have changed when they get there. This story has been rejected faster than any other, with a total of five rejections since the beginning of May, more than any of my other stories. I decided a while ago that one of the reasons my stories aren’t getting published is they may not be trendy enough. I figured a woman with a rifle would be super-trendy, but I guess not.

Not getting a story published is frustrating for a few reasons. Mainly I figure if I can get an agent to read my novel and offer me representation in less than twenty-four hours, I am probably not a bad writer. Not only that, but I don’t think my stories are bad, either. Of course, they can’t just be “not bad,” they have to be good (especially for a publication with almost no budget to spend $400 on it), but the most frustrating factor is that there’s so little feedback in the submission process. Some rejections will say what the problem is, like Pseudopod, who told me my story “Stages of Man” was just not in the right genre. Most just say “it’s not right for us at this time” which is no more informative than “better luck next time” (which they often say as well).

So I was glad to read a blog post by David Farland this week explaining why some stories that are good still don’t make it. I figure the criteria for making the finals in Writers of the Future are very similar to what would make an editor buy it. Cliché, almost-unusable writing advice (mostly about style) is very easy to find. Good writing advice that actually tells you how to write a good story is very rare, but this post by Farland is one of those that I think will greatly improve my short story writing.

The other weird thing about short stories is that I don’t know why I care so much. Novels are what make money, and I’m well on my way to that point, better off than some successful short story writers I know, so I’m not sure why I care. Also, when I sit down to write a short story, I’m not writing it for the people who would read it in Benath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, or Clarkesworld. I’m just trying to write something well; something my friends and family, or I myself would like to read. I talked to Dr. Adamson about my frustration and she said that if it’s so important to me I should go to Odyssey or Clarion, and I replied that “Actually, it’s not that important to me. I don’t really care enough to devote six weeks to it.” But I do seem to care enough to write the damn things. I don’t understand it myself, but some sort of official acknowledgment is very enticing.

I’ll let you know what happens. In the meantime, read Farland’s article and see what your stories might be missing.

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