Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writerly Wednesday ~~ Reasons for Rejection

I know y'all are all bizzy bizzy with your WIPs and other fun writing projects, right? I'd really love to hear about your progress or troubles in meeting goals!

As a publishing editor of Rose & Thorn Journal, I get to read some beautiful prose and poetry from all over the world. But there's always the "bad and ugly" to go along with the good in the growing number of submissions we receive. It always amazes me that, say of 100 submits, Kat [hey Kat!] and I will independently short list the same eight or so stories, then haggle over the other three to add to our YES pile for acceptance. These are just random numbers picked for this example, but what I'm saying is there are some stories, no matter the genre, that rise to the top of the pile by virtue of their excellence.

The stories we accept each quarter have nothing more in common than their power to grab our eyeballs and move them to the story's conclusion. (BTW, we do not read bios until after we read the story. Unlike other journals, we also make it a point to ferret out great stories that might just need a bit of tweaking because we are determined to include new voices as well as established!)

Thinking about what separates GOOD prose from GREAT prose, I've compiled a list of what does it for me. These are the things that never fail to catch my attention:

10. Polished, realistic dialog
9.  An element of surprise or a plot twist
8.  Lyrical use of language
7.  Characters that are real, quirky or gritty
6.  Stories that hold to the end (don't fall flat or drift off point)
5.  Unusual treatment of evergreen themes
4.  Gripping story plot
3.  A finish that is as strong as the beginning
2.  Clean and technically well written
1.  That extra "something" (similar to the inigmatic "star quality" some movie celebs have)
And ever sweet Kathryn Magendie just emailed me her list of thoughts. (Thanks, owe ya one!) Kat says:
Endings that aren't cliched - or as if the writer didn't know how to end it or was just tired of writing it and slapped some ending on. I can be reading a good story and get to the end and am so disappointed! Second to that are endings that feel as if I hit a brick wall - I don't need things tied up into a bow, but I don't want to feel as if something is missing and I'm left emptied by the ending instead of filled.
Characters! I'll follow great, interesting, compelling characters anywhere they lead me--anywhere! Make me care or be intrigued or interested about the character in any way (and it doesn't necessarily have to be a "likeable" character -I just have to care to follow them) and I'm in for the ride - unless, see above - the ending has to hold up the rest of the story. If the ending is weak, the story falls upon itself in a big heap.
Passion/Care/Love for/in the writing - sometimes I swear I can tell when someone slapped together a story just to submit it in a hurry to fifty-galleven editors at fifty-galleven journals. There's an emptiness to it, a hollow ringing - I'm not engaged.
 okay, that's off the top of my head --

I hope the list inspires you in your own writing and/or gives you a nugget or two to consider if you're submitting work to the world "out there." On the subject of creating magical worlds with words, you might want to check out Rose & Thorn's new blog series called BACK STORY. They are fantastic posts by our contributors that explain how their prose and poetry was "born." I find them really interesting, and love getting glimpses inside creative brains. Hope you do too.
Now, what is it that does it for you? That "it" factor that speaks to you when you read your favorite kind of writing? Yes...I really wanna know! 

I'm in serious need of coffee. Please don't hold it against me if there are typos. I'm lazy and don't usually spell check. ;) 


Gaston Studio said...

I'm working on the coffee fillup too, so hope you got/are getting yours.

The "it" factor for me is on the first two pages; if the story doesn't grab me there, it usually doesn't grab me at all. I want characters that are believable and speak to me even when the book is not open and I want vivid descriptions, the real nitty gritty of what's happening. That does it for me.

Gaston Studio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie Ledbetter said...

GS: Hear ya! I want to be haunted by the characters after I've read the last words. ( my mug filled now.) :D

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Drinking coffee as I type this, so I guess I'll have to blame something else if there's a typo. Anyway, I love the lists. Sometimes it's so helpful to have things simplified. Writers wade through so much information, books, articles, blogs and feedback I think the internal noise can often be deafening. I keep a few lists by my desk as reminders. I'm adding these to the pile.


Diane said...

I appreciate the ending the most. It makes me sad that the book ended and the characters are "done." Good points and thoughts! :O)

Kittie Howard said...

Thanks for the list. Try as we might, sometimes we get carried away and need to be reminded to stay on the path. For me, a book's gotta have momentum. Next, the setting's gotta appeal. I avoid books situated in NYC because the city gobbles me up.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Amy -- Agree on the difficulty of swimming through the noise and advice to surface at a clear place. You obviously have hit upon a good "it" in your writing, so don't worry too much about all the good tippage out there. And thanks for the kind words. :)

Thanks Diane. Like you, the power of the characters to remain in my mind after I read the last word is utmost on my list of gotta-haves.

Kitty, that's interesting. Setting doesn't bother me a bit; it's the characters' ability to haunt that I crave. :) Glad you enjoyed the list.

Molly Swoboda said...

Only Angie could be so helpful pre-caffeinated. On the flip side of the coin, I don't care to submit to "fifty-galleven" editors or journals who don't give a hoot what they publish.

I love my characters and their stories...and I want them to be wanted. You should care why Muriel is frantically disassembling her closet in search of a Cheeto born in the shape of an ancient Hebrew symbol.

Deb Shucka said...

Great post, Angie (and Kat)! I agree with both your lists. The two things that make or break a story for me are characters I can connect to in some way (whether I like them or not) and a good ending. It think endings are the hardest to do because that seems to be where writers most often fall off.

I have to say, I love the choices you make for R&T. They're always interesting, often unusual, and frequently unforgettable.

Robyn Campbell said...

*slurp* She swallowed a sip of dark roast. "Mmmm, she sat back to read what Angie had to say today."

Agree with you and Kat ON ALL POINTS. It's funny how many folks out there think they can write. It just ain't like they think. Reader don't want BORING. They want vivid verbs and REAL people for characters. They want to be SHOWN a story. Not told a story. (((Hugs))) I needs to pop over to Rose & Thorn. (I know a FANTASTIC poet and I told her to submit to you guys.)

rosaria said...

An authentic voice grips me right away. I want to forget that I'm reading, and a truly engaging voice can do that.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Molly - Love your thoughts and the original way you expressed them. You shouldn't have a bit of trouble placing your stories! :)

Deb - Love your "good stuff" criteria. And how very sweet (and typical) of you to compliment us on our prose choices. Sometimes it's really hard when there are, say, 20 really good choices in a huge pile of submissions. Being determined to accept a new voice/writer or two adds to the acceptance angst.

**(Writers -- I hope you realize, many times it's not the caliber of your work, but extenuating circumstances and limited slots that keep your work from being accepted!)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Hey Robin. Glad ya dropped in, shared your thoughts, AND sent a good poet our way! Hope you enjoy our winter issue before spring replaces it on April 15.

Rosaria - Great point!

Karen said...

Angie, Kat, that's a great list for ANY editors! I appreciate all the hard work you do!

Have a good one.

Tabitha Bird said...

great points!

I will keep them in mind.

Jessica Bell said...

Excellent post! I've got a short story actually that I'm thinking of submitting to you ... dun dun dun :o)

Madeline Sharples said...

I've worked as a poetry editor and I agree it's about what grabs your eyeballs. My husband says it's the first two pages of a book -- but that essentially boils down to what grabs you too.
Thanks for the list of ten things.

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