Julie's Quest

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My blog is about the trials and tribulations of writing, where we celebrate successes and commiserate our near misses. We tell it like it is here and will do our very best to help you on the road to being published and pick you up after the rejections (they will come!) Whether you are a professional or amateur writer you will find something useful here.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will visit again soon.

Happy Writing

Julie Phillips - freelance writer - member of the Association of Freelance Writers - member of the Society of Authors

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Will You Won't You?

I've always loved the TV film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. I particularly like the song that Alice sings at her parents' afternoon tea party at the end. She's supposed to sing Cherry Ripe but after her amazing adventures she decides to sing Will You Won't You Join the Dance.

So what's this got to do with writing? Well I think that trying to get published is a dance and rather like that film. It's a surreal activity. Will the editor (The Queen of Hearts) shout, 'Off with her head!' if you dare sub some of your writing to them, or will they be calm and mellow like the caterpillar? Will you fall down the rabbit hole and commence the fantastic journey? Will you drink something that makes you bigger or eat something that makes you smaller? And I would love to attend the mad hatter's tea party. I'll have what they're having!

At the moment, I've been reading lots of published short stories again, mainly in Take A Break, Take A Break Fiction Feast, Women's Weekly and The Weekly News. I have to admit that for some of the published stories they left me cold. I have no idea how they got published. For some of them I could spot the twist/ the ending a mile off and others didn't seem to much of a story at all. Yet they got published and mine didn't. I think I'm obviously missing something and that's why I've been reading these stories and dissecting them to figure out what it is the editor and, presumably, other readers see in them. What was it that made these stories get through where mine failed?

Now, there are many more brilliant stories in these magazines that I've read and wished that I'd thought of and written as they are absolutely brilliant. It is clear why they got in. But with my current short story publication rate at approx one story published every 18 months, I am keen to discover what I am currently unable to give the editor in the stories I submit. What is missing from my stories that the editor is after?

It's not an easy question to answer but if I want to increase my hit rate, and I so desperately want to, then I am going to have to give it some serious thought. But here, from my chink of success, is what I think makes a good, publishable short story:

1. Strong, believable characters that live and breathe and make the story 'real' to the reader.

2. Characters that interact and drive the story along.

3. A clear, strong beginning, middle and satisfying ending.

4. Stories that deal with every day situations that readers can identify with: boyfriend.girlfriend angst, relationships, job problems, etc.

5. Stories that are set in places that people are familiar with: supermarket, office, shop, home, etc.

6. Dialogue that is natural and moves the story along.

7. A conflict resolution that comes from the main character  themselves and not a knight in shining armour/eleventh hour rescue type scenario.

8.Emotions: Happiness, sadness, excitement, anxiety, love, hate, etc - anything that makes the reader 'feel.'

9. Nothing contrived, or with author interference (the reader shouldn't hear your voice/moral code in the story!

10. A story that grabs the reader's attention and carries it forward, never missing a beat.

I know all this is easier said than done. I also know that I've been writing short stories for 4 years now and I have a shockingly poor success rate with short stories (it took me two years to get the first one published!) But the only person who can turn that around is me. And I still believe that I will achieve a better success rate by reading the short stories in the magazines I want to write for and writing more stories. I've learned so much by doing this. I can't even bear to think about how many stories I've had rejected now but I'm still going! I'm working on the presumption that I've been published before and I will again.

So join me in this topsy-turvy, nothing- makes- sense- yet- it -makes -perfect- sense -Alice- in Wonderland- world!

Happy writing!

Julie xx


Jarmara Falconer said...

I know what you are saying, Julie but I have hear of cases where author have sent their stories in to magazines and have them rejected then without changing a words sent them off to another magazine and they have been accepted. I think it is all down to the taste of the editor of the magazine.

Good luck with your short story writing.

Julie P said...

Hi, Jarmara

It's all so subjective isn't it? That happened to me once. I'd sent a short story to one editor with no word back at all after 6 months so I sent the same story to another editor and they bought it! You never can tell!

Julie xx

Carole Anne Carr said...

It can also happen, Julie, that they have received and accepted another story slightly similar subject matter to the one you have submitted. Sod's law.. xx

Julie P said...

That must happen a lot, Carole. Definitely sod's law! If only we knew the real reasons why they are rejected. I think it would make life a lot easier.

Julie xx

Frances Garrood said...

I have even had a story accepted by a mag that rejected it (and obviously forgot it!) some time before. But I think Carole is right. Sometimes they have another story that is too similar to yours, but all you get is the "not quite right for us" spiel. But if you find an editor who really likes your work, that helps. One magazine - now sadly defunct - bought nearly everything I wrote because the editor liked my style. The whole thing is very much luck of the draw. I think with any writing, the reward has to be the writing itself. Selling it it is a bonus. Good luck!

Julie P said...

Hi, Frances.

Yes, I find writing short stories so satisfying! It's funny how some are rejected while others are published, though. I seem to have better luck with the Australian market for some reason!

One thing I do know, though, is that if you don't write them they definitely won't get published!

Julie xx

Simon Whaley said...

I've just written my first short story in two months, and it's quite strange when you've been out of the rut and have to get back into it. And it is important to remember those basics isn't it?

But yes, this is a very subjective market!

Julie P said...

I hope your story does well, Simon. It is odd trying to get back into writing the stories after a break isn't it! It's almost like starting from the beginning again ubtil you get back into it.