Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Working with Meter and Rhyme

I mentioned at the end of the last post I'd save meter and rhyme for a separate entry. So I wanted to come back and offer some thoughts on what to watch out for when working with meter and/or rhyme.

The single biggest problem I see in metrical poetry is that it's too regular, and over-regular meter tends towards a sing-song quality:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
We can also hear how that regularity makes the rhymes clang.

So, how do you work in meter and rhyme, without ending up with over-regular, sing-song lines?

Standard Variations
Iambic (da DUM) pentameter does not mean every line has five iambs. It means every line has five feet, and those feet are (for the most part) either iambs or standard variations used in iambic pentameter. Even Alexander Pope, a poet who makes no use of anapests and little use of enjambment, used standard variations in his iambic pentameter.

For instance, if we look at the first stanza of Pope's "An Essay on Criticism":
'Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,
But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' Offence,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense:
Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;
A Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.
One common variation in iambic pentameter is to use a trochee (DUM da) in the line's first foot, rather than an iamb. So, we get:
BUT, of / the TWO, / less DANG'/rous IS / th' OfFENCE,
Another common variation is to use a spondee (DUM DUM) in the first foot:
TEN CEN/sure WRONG / for ONE / who WRITES / aMISS;
Another variation is to to use a pyrrhic, or pyrrhus, (da da) followed by a spondee (DUM DUM) in feet three and four of the line:
To TIRE / our PAT/ience, than / MIS-LEAD / our SENSE:
Another common variation is the feminine ending--having one last unstressed syllable at the end of the last foot. There are no examples in the Pope stanza, so let's look at a stanza from W.R. Robinson. He makes great comic use of feminine endings in "Miniver Cheevy":
MINi/ver LOVED / the ME/diCI,
AlBE/it HE / had NEV/er SEEN / one;
He WOULD / have SINNED / inCES/santLY
Could HE / have BEEN / one.
Robinson also uses a short last line--two feet instead of four feet--so that the meter undercuts Miniver Cheevy's pretensions, in sync with the meaning of the words.

The examples above are not meant to be all-inclusive--the best way to get a sense of the variations available within metered verse is to read a lot of metered verse. Ideally, across a number of time periods. Also, a couple of books I like, which give good overviews of metrical poetry, are Paul Fussells' Poetic Meter and Poetic Form (a formal analysis, coming from the perspective of literary criticism), and Judson Jerome's The Poet's Handbook (a more writer-centric analysis, coming from a poet who you used to write the Poetry Column in Writer's Digest).

NOTE: The way a line is scanned is not absolute. You start by holding both the stresses implied by the meter, and the stresses implied by the way the sentences would be spoken, and from there you make your judgment about how a given line scans. You might disagree with the way I scanned some of the lines above.

Anapestic Substitution
Up to about 1800, it was rare to see anapests (da da DUM) in iambic poetry. However, when Coleridge wrote "Cristabel," he opened the door by making heavy use of anapests within an overall iambic meter:
Tis the MID/dle of NIGHT / by the CAS/tle clock,
And the OWLS / have aWAK/ened the CROW/ing COCK;
Tu--whit !-- -- Tu--whoo !
And HARK, / aGAIN! / the CROW/ing COCK,
NOTE: In his Preface, Coleridge claimed more than just anapestic substitution was going on--he claimed to be writing accentual rather than accentual-syllabic verse. I'll leave that debate for another time.

Since the Romantic poets, anapestic substitution does show up in iambic meters. One needs to be very careful when using anapests within iambic meter. Too many, used without care, can lead to the feel of the meter breaking down. And you will come across some critics who don't condone the use of anapests in iambic meter at all. However, if used judicially, an anapestic substitution can sometimes make for a much more natural sounding line. So, keep the idea in your toolbox. Even Robert Frost has made use of it:
The PEO/ple aLONG / the SAND
All TURN / and LOOK / one WAY.
They TURN / their BACK / on the LAND.
They LOOK / at the SEA / all DAY.
Your sentences don't have to end, or pause, at the end of a line. In fact, one very powerful way to get variation in your meter, and also "cover" your rhymes so they don't jangle, is to use enjambment. That is, let your sentence keep going past the end of the line, and wrap around into the next line. The following example is blank verse, not rhymed, but I love Milton's use of enjambment. Here is the opening stanza of Book Two of Paradise Lost:
High on a Throne of Royal State, which far
Outshon the wealth of ORMUS and of IND,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showrs on her Kings BARBARIC Pearl & Gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit rais'd
To that bad eminence; and from despair
Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires
Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue
Vain Warr with Heav'n, and by success untaught
His proud imaginations thus displaid.
These are the main ways you can get variation within your lines when working with meter and rhyme. And you'll probably also want to give some thought to varying where you put the caesura (break) within your lines.

As I said before, I like metrical poetry with rhyme schemes. So for those who like to work in meter and rhyme, I hope the above thoughts will be helpful. And for those who haven't worked much with meter and rhyme, I hope this will give you some ideas to try out.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

What do I look for in poetry?

Periodically I’m asked what I look for in poetry. In the poems that excite me, all the elements I talk about below work together to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. So these elements are meant only as a starting place. Hopefully they will suggest some useful things to think about when revising a poem.

Fresh Language

Probably not surprisingly, the first thing that strikes me in poetry is the language. Is the language fresh and vivid? Or does the language feel like something I’ve read before?

There is of course the issue of clichés: Did she turn “with a smile and a wink”? Did the idea “strike like a bolt of lightning?” I do see cliché language sometimes sneak into even otherwise-well-written poems. So do a read-through when revising, looking specifically for any clichés that might have crept into your poem. However, in general, I don’t see a lot of work filled with obvious clichés. A more prevalent problem is language that one doesn’t necessarily see on lists of clichés, but which still isn’t new and vivid.

One place this shows up is in adjective-noun pairings. For example, if you wanted to describe an old, unsteady fence, what word comes to mind? For me, the phrase “rickety fence” comes quickly to mind--it’s an adjective-noun pairing I’ve seen many times, and therefore it is immediately available when I look to describe that image of an old, unsteady fence. However, as a reader, the phrase does nothing for me. I’ve seen it too many times, so it doesn’t pull me into a vivid experience of a specific scene—I just read familiar words and move on. There’s nothing wrong with the adjective “rickety” or the noun “fence,” but together they create a tired, already-been-done description.

The problem also surfaces in subject-verb pairings. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the phrase “the sun rises,” but there’s nothing exciting in the language. And if too many of the subjects do the first verb that comes to mind--“the sun rises,” “the baby cries,” “the fever breaks,” “the dog barks”--it saps the energy from the language. (And yes, “saps the energy” is itself the type of language that can undermine a poem.)

This isn’t to say there’s never a place for barking dogs in poetry. Sometimes the dog barks and that’s the best way to say it. However, when you have finished your first draft, and you’re in the revision process, I would recommend going through your nouns and your verbs, and also looking at your adjective and noun pairs; your subject and verb pairs; your verb and adverb pairs; etc.--check which of your word choices create a vivid experience of precisely the scene you want to pull your reader into, and which of your choices were the result of falling back on familiar language.

Fresh Imagery

This section overlaps with the last section--familiar language and familiar images often go together. However, I did want to raise it as a separate issue, even if in practice the distinction can be blurred.

Say we want to evoke a bleak cityscape at night. Is our cityscape suddenly populated with an old lady scurrying home from the corner bodega, clutching the cat food that’s all she can afford to eat until the next social security check arrives; a jazz musician in the subway station, wailing mournfully on his saxophone, case open for change but still only containing the dollar bill he put in himself; roving bands of tall, muscled African-American teens, who would have once been noble princes in a faraway land, but who now terrorize the decaying neighborhood.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with noting that cities contain elderly on fixed incomes, street musicians and gangs. However, when I needed an example, those images came to mind awfully quickly; I’ve seen all of them many times before--in novels and short stories, in poetry, in movies, on TV.

So say you want to set a poem in that bleak cityscape. When you have the first draft down, and are revising, think about the images you chose. Are the images precise, fresh, compelling? Or are some of your images obvious ones, the ones anyone who’s watched TV crime shows and seen Hollywood movies might come up with? If some of your images do seem generic, like things you have already seen or read, push further for more specific images. What else do you see in the bodega the old woman goes to? What’s next to the bodega? What’s two storefronts down? What’s in the jazz musician’s back pocket? What are the gang members wearing? Tommy Hilfiger? Maybe look just a bit further--that's still not quite fresh. And what do the people who aren’t street musicians or gang members look like? What are those people doing right now?

Effective Line Breaks

The only formal distinction between a free verse poem and a prose poem are the line breaks. Yet I sometimes see poems where the line breaks don’t seem to do anything the syntax of the sentence doesn’t already do.

Readers will pause at commas,
and stop at periods.
They’ll even hesitate when a phrase ends
before continuing on to the next.

If the line breaks don’t do anything more than echo the pauses and stops already inherent in the sentences, I often find myself wondering what’s the point of writing a poem instead of prose.

So, when it comes time to revise, give some thought to your line breaks. Sure, some breaks will come together with the ends of phrases and sentences, and re-enforce those stopping points.. But also think about how your line breaks can offer a counterpoint to your syntax, creating a tension between the rhythm of your sentences and the rhythm of your lines.

Compelling Subject Matter

There’s usually a convenient operating assumption in writing workshops that what’s important is technique and execution, and that the subject matter itself shouldn’t be questioned. And that’s probably a necessary assumption in workshops, to keep people offering feedback from getting sidetracked into long rants about their personal likes and dislikes.

However, when I’m reading submissions for Noneuclidean Café, I do bring my own personal likes and dislikes in terms of subject matter, and, more importantly, I try my best to act as a proxy for the likes and dislikes of the publication’s readers. And some subject matter does seem more interesting to me, and more likely to be of interest to our readers.

For instance, since poets spend a lot of time writing poems, most of us at some point or another write some poems about the act of writing poems. While I am sometimes persuaded by a given poem about writing poetry, I see a lot of them, and it’s therefore a tough sell. And since I don’t think my readers want to read multiple poems about writing poetry in a given issue, if I already have poems about writing poems lined up for whatever issues I’m currently reading for, it becomes an impossible sell.

I certainly publish poems about love, relationships, break-ups, and the whole range of things that can happen between two people in love or lust. These are fundamental human experiences, and a source of much great poetry. However, I never find myself thinking: Wow, a poem about a relationship gone bad; I sure don’t see many of those.

I don’t like to be preached at, and I assume my readers don’t like to be preached at either. Therefore, didactic poetry is a very, very, very tough sell. And this is regardless of whether I agree with the position taken. For example, personally I strongly support the recognition of same sex marriage, and the granting of all the rights to same sex spouses that heterosexual partners have. However, I'm not going to buy a poem whose sole purpose is to state that position. Poems need to be more than position papers.

So, what sort of subject matter gets me excited? While I don’t like didactic poetry, I do like poetry that has a social and/or political dimension--take on the big issues, just don’t do it in a preachy way. I’d love to see more poetry about work--work is a major component of most of our weeks, and yet I don’t see a lot of poetry about work coming in. I like narrative poetry. I like poetry that looks outward for subject matter, to our society, to other societies, to the created and natural world around us.

Of course, you have to let your muse take you where it will when it comes to your subject matter. Writing the poetry you need to write, about the subject matter you need to grapple with, is far more important than whether or not the material jazzes a given editor, than whether or not it’s a fit for a given publication. So please don’t take this section as suggesting you should write about certain things, and not about others. If you take anything away from this section, I’d rather you took just the opposite--an invitation to look beyond the topics that first come to mind when you think about poetry, and cast your net into areas you’d never before considered might be the stuff of poetry.

On Meter and Rhyme

Personally, I like poetry that uses meter and/or a formal rhyme scheme. And I do find the use of meter and rhyme brings with it some specific challenges. However, I think I’m going to leave this topic for a future post, specifically on those challenges.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

There Are No Rules

"One night [at university] a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed, I was so surprised. The first line reads, 'As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect...' When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn't know that anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago."

- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

As quoted in The Modern Library Writer's Workshop by Stephen Koch.

Art transcends rules. As soon as someone says, "Don't," some writer will come along and do exactly what was forbidden, and make it work. I think the quote above captures the danger of a rule-based approach to art: it leads young writers to the belief that some things are not allowed. As if art is answerable to some cosmic hall-monitor, telling you where you can and cannot go.

All things are allowed.

At the deepest level, a writer has to follow their muse, find their own voice, take their writing where it demands, not where some external (or internal) monitor says it should go.

This does not mean that choices don't have consequences. One needs to know the effect one is looking to create and what choices will achieve that effect, as well as what choices will undermine that effect. Technique is not a matter of learning rules, but of familiarizing oneself with the full range of effects that have been achieved in good writing, understanding the connection between one's choices and the effect of those choices, and developing skills in executing the broad range of choices available.

For instance, one of the effects that much fiction strives for is to create an ongoing fictional dream for the reader, in which he or she stops seeing words on a page, and is pulled into the experience of the fictional scene as it unfolds--seeing the rescue plane take off before the hero reaches it; hearing the dog (the reader hopes it's only a dog) rustling through the garbage in the alley below the bedroom window; feeling the hot sand of the Cote d'Azur beneath their feet. And many of the "rules" in fiction derive from the fact that poor grammar, unclear sentences, confusion about who is speaking, phony-sounding dialog, large dumps of exposition, use of cliches, lack of clarity with POV, etc. can all pull the reader out of that fictional dream, and instead leave them confused or annoyed, or even angry, over the writing. (Of course, striving for that fictional dream isn't a rule. Some fiction works by purposefully breaking the fictional dream. John Barth's short story "Lost in the Funhouse" tells a story about a boy and his family going to an amusement park, but intentionally interrupts that narrative to point out the techniques used in telling the story.)

The fact there are no absolute rules also does not mean that writers will never choose to work within a framework: adopting the rules of a given form, the expectations of a specific genre, or the requirements of a particular market.

For example, much of the best poetry in English--from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Keats to Robert Frost--is written in iambic pentameter. A great many English poems make use of a formal rhyme scheme. Both meter and rhyme are somewhat out of fashion these days, but they certainly remain viable options to a contemporary poet. The villanelle is one of the most restrictive poetic forms--specifying not just a rhyme scheme but a specific pattern for repeating whole lines. Yet can you imagine the beauty of Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night not expressed through the villanelle form?

In terms of genre, readers will have certain genre expectations. If you're writing mysteries, readers are going to expect a crime, or some mystery, to be solved. You can of course break that rule, but at a certain point, it might become meaningless to call your story a mystery. If you are writing a literary short story, opening with a star ship captain chasing down aliens with his ray gun is going to turn off many readers who have different expectations of the literary genre.

And of course given markets have guidelines. If one is writing for Analog, there needs to be a speculative element in the story. If one is writing a screenplay one hopes to sell to a major studio, one's chances greatly go up if it is at least one and a half hours long, but not (Return of the King notwithstanding) three and a half hours long.

So the writer will always have to deal with the effect their choices achieve--intended or not. And a given writer might choose to adopt the rules of a given form, genre or market. That said, at the deepest level, there are no rules.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saying "No" Sucks

I sometimes wonder how many slushpile readers reach a personal limit on how many stories and poems they can say "no" to. We all know how much being told "no"--whether for a date, story, job application, whatever--sucks. I hate seeing my stories come back with the form rejection note as much as anyone, I'm sure.

What I hadn't thought about until I had to start sending those notes myself was how much it sucks to say "no" to someone else's story or poem. I usually take a liking to the writers who submit to Noneuclidean Cafe, particularly writers who submit regularly enough that I get to know their work, even if I haven't accepted a piece of theirs. I find out an odd fact or two about their lives in their cover letters, get a sense of what subjects and themes excite them as writers, see what technical issues they're dealing with. How can you not like someone who still works (in an era when media spend more time covering Paris Hilton than every poet in North America combined) with meter and formal rhyme schemes, even if they sometimes struggle with their lines getting too sing-songy? How can you not like someone who finds the time between work and family and dozens of other responsibilities to sneak away and write stories about distant planets, even if they sometimes lose control of POV?

I wonder if the suckiness of repeatedly saying "no" is why I've heard some editors sound so negative about the slushpile--knocking the quality of both the submissions and the writers who send them. It's easier psychologically if you can look down on the whole process, than if you have to think about the people on the receiving end as, you know, actual people. And I have to say, sometimes the anger an editor expresses about slushpile submissions seems out of proportion to the problem--if the problem were strictly a rational one to them.

I remember hearing one editor on a panel at Balticon a couple years ago--I've forgotten his name or magazine, so I couldn't share even if I wanted to--saying that he usually reads submissions within a week or two, but because he doesn't want submitters bombarding him with work he has a program that doesn't send the rejection note until sixty days have passed. At the point one has that little respect for writers and their time, why is he even in publishing? (Even given he has a legitimate need to limit submissions, if he cared about his writer's time, he could just limit submissions to one every sixty days--a number of good publications place limits like that--rather than keep them waiting for a response.) But he managed to work with writers while nonetheless seeing writers in general as a problem, with no cognitive dissonance.

Given that alternative--I'll stay with feeling bad every time I say "no."


Friday, June 22, 2007


One challenge in fiction is providing the reader with the background information he/she needs to understand the story, without making the reader feel like the story has come to a grinding halt while you convey that info. This challenge is particularly stringent in short stories, where there is such a high premium on compression.

I see stories with openings structured like this:

Darek knelt behind the boulder, laser drawn, waiting for the Boquacians to make the first move. Darek had left Earth three months earlier--without Judith, staying on Earth made no sense to him. So he had signed on with the Intergalactic Legion, the stereotypical Legionnaire escaping from love gone bad.

But nothing in the Legionnaire training had prepared him to be plucked down in the middle of the Boquacian Civil War. The Southern Boquacians had long complained that the North cut off their trade routes, had stifled their industry. Until finally, North Boquacia had fired--they said it was accidental, South Boquacia said it was intentional--on a Southern Boquacian transport ship, killing 350 people, including women and children. From that, war followed swiftly.

With an opening like this, the reader doesn't have a chance to be pulled into the protagonist's current situation, before the story is off giving background information. Often, as in this case, the background information covers multiple background situations—first we find out why Darek left Earth, then we get a history of the Boquacians Civil War. I’ve received submissions where the story will range through a half dozen background situations before returning to poor Darek, hiding behind the rock with laser drawn, somewhere around page 5.

Also notice what can happen to your verbs in an expositional passage. Suddenly, instead of the crisp past tense of a current scene--"knelt," "fired," "dodged"--we get "had left," "had signed," "had prepared," etc. Using a single "had left" to locate an event as earlier in time, or to transition the reader to that earlier time for a flashback, is fine. But long passages of "had left," "had signed," "had prepared" and so on slows the rhythm of your sentences, and saps their energy.

Another less-than-successful strategy for getting background to the reader is using dialog to convey the information. This leads to unconvincing dialog.

"Is that a Daedalus device?" Bert asked.

“Yes,” Darek answered. “As you know, once activated the Daedalus device will gradually increase the atmospheric heat within the target circumference, forcing any attackers to turn back or be melted. It therefore meets The Centari Accords standard for offering troops a non-lethal chance to withdraw." Darek turned the dial to 11. "Of course, if I set the circumference wide enough, they won't have time to get out."

Providing the reader with the information he/she needs is a challenge for all fiction--the way Sara and Kevin tease as a married couple only makes sense if we know that Sara used to baby-sit for Kevin when they were kids. That said, I didn’t choose science fiction examples above by accident. If the fiction takes place in the present day real world, readers already know a lot about that world. However, in speculative fiction, to understand a story the reader might need to know what new technologies do; how future or fantastic societies are structured socially and politically; how alien races mate; or any of a wide range of things the characters in that future situation will take for granted, but which a reader needs to learn about your fictional storyverse.

So, how do you convey the necessary information to the reader?

1) Ask what the reader needs to know
This is an important question to ask yourself during the revision process. (I'm all for just getting as much down as you can during the first draft.) There are a lot of facts about your characters, their society, the future world they inhabit, etc. that you may have worked out as a writer. However, what of that information does the reader need to know?

2) Kill your darlings
This is advice often given to writers in terms of those lines you love, which sound so good and poetic and quotable, but just don't work within the story. However, this advice also applies to background info. I recently finished revising a sf detective story. In the process of writing it, I had created a long history of the new technology that drove the story--how it first developed for medical use, how a series of Supreme Court decisions brought it into use in criminal investigations, how eventually the technology came to be used in committing crimes. I thought it was a great history, with excellent references to current medical research, legal thinking, supreme court precedent. However, as much as I loved my little future history of this technology, I had to admit it brought the story to a grinding halt, and that it wasn't at all necessary for the reader to understand the story. And so, the only thing to do was cut that passage. (I did, of course, save the passage--while it doesn't have the pithy strength of "Kill your darlings," the real advice is probably "Store your darlings someplace safe, in case you can use them later.")

3) Don't Underestimate Your Reader
Readers create their own background for the events of your story as they read. If you carefully choose your words, images, descriptions, dialog, etc., you can guide them to fill in the story background you want them to have, without ever spelling it out. A quick exchange of snarky dialog between a husband and wife, and maybe you don't have to go back and paint the whole history of their declining relationship. And when it comes to speculative fiction, remember readers are genre savvy. They've seen thousands of faster-than-light drives, they've heard the paradoxes of time travel explained many times, they know vampires hide from the sun. You only have to explain these things if you're subverting a genre expectation.

4) Make It So
You don't need to know how a television works to watch it. Likewise, your reader doesn't need to know how a future technology works to follow a story using that technology. You can state your characters have a time machine, or an incantation to raise the dead, or whatever speculative element you want to introduce into the story, and go from there. In the majority of cases, the reader simply needs to know an element's function, not how it works.

5) Don't write a passage when a sentence will do
Sometimes, no matter how savvy your reader, there will be a fact he/she just needs to know to understand your story, and you have to provide that fact. In most cases it's best to convey that necessary fact on the fly, without stopping the momentum of the current scene. Instead of writing a passage detailing the background info, see if you can boil it down into a sentence. For instance, if the only story-relevant aspect of your time machine is that it can only be used once, you could say: "The time machine degraded the user's DNA, meaning Carl got one chance--lucky he didn't want kids anyway." When you have to provide background, give only what the reader needs to understand the story and the characters.

6) When called for, use a flashback
I've seen writer's guidelines and editor's comments that state they don't like flashbacks. I understand that feeling--many of the submissions I see using flashback do lose a lot, and I do wish the writer had started the story at a different point, and told it chronologically. That said, I hate to suggest a limit on what good writing can do, just because an approach often shows up in less successful work. And, when you need to convey something about a character's past to the reader, going back and showing a scene from their past is often stronger than narrative exposition telling the reader about that past. There are a couple of considerations to making good use of flashbacks. One is, don't make the structure of the story any more complicated than it has to be. If one flashback will do it, don't use a whole storyline of flashbacks. If two storylines--one set in the character's past, and one in the character's present--allow you to tell the story you want, don't jump around between three or four different timelines. I think one of the frustrations editors feel with stories that use flashback is that instead of telling the story with dramatic scenes (whether past or current) that move the action forward, they can devolve into a hodgepodge of thoughts and events from all over the character's life. Another suggestion I'd make in terms of flashbacks is that in most cases you'll want your reader grounded in the current scene before you go to your flashback. One problem I often have with flashback stories is that they'll barely introduce the character and the current scene, before we're off into a flashback. Of course, the best advice with flashbacks is to read writers who do flashbacks really well, and learn from them. I've been reading Alice Munroe recently, and she does a great job weaving past and current scenes into her stories. For a novel that manages multiple timelines, I'd highly recommend Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier.

7) Study Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard said he always looks to take out the parts the reader is going to skip over anyway. That's great advice in general, and specifically when it comes to exposition. And if you want to study a writer who provides background information effectively and unobtrusively, I'd certainly recommend Elmore Leonard. His prose flies, and you never find yourself confused about what's going on.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Index of Blog Entries

Genre and Theme

What do I look for in poetry?
Working with Meter and Rhyme

Story Mechanics
POV, Psychic Distance and Voice
There Are No Rules

Submission Mechanics
Cover Letters
When Your Submission Arrives

What the ****'s he thinking?
Saying "No" Sucks
Should You Believe an Editor's Feedback?
There Are No Rules
What do I look for in poetry?

Friday, June 15, 2007

POV, Psychic Distance and Voice

Below are some definitions of basic terminology relating to Point of View (POV), as well as some related thoughts, possibilities and challenges. This is meant to clarify some terms, and maybe give some ideas for things you might want to try, or alternatively watch out for, in your writing. It's not, however, meant to be exhaustive.

First Person
The narrator is one of the characters in the story, and uses the word "I" to refer to him- or herself.

The first person narrator can be the protagonist. For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Huck Finn tells his own story.

The first person narrator can be a supporting character, telling someone else's story. For example, The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway narrates the story of Jay Gatsby. Or the Sherlock Holmes stories, where Dr. Watson narrates stories about Sherlock Holmes.

Stories can be told by alternating between a number of first person narrators. For example, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

The first person can also represent the author as character. Milan Kundera makes use of this in some of his novels, where the author appears as a character, referring to himself as "I."

A writer can also use first person plural, telling the story from the point of view of "we." For example, William Faulkner's story, "A Rose for Emily."

Finally, there's a use of first person, particularly in some 19th century novels, where the story is told in third person, but an "I" storyteller appears at one or more points in the story. For example, Charles Bovary's unnamed classmate, who appears as the "I" narrator at the beginning of Madame Bovary, but then never appears again in a novel otherwise told in third person omniscient.

Second Person
The narration uses "you."

The second person "you" can be the protagonist, and appear to reference the reader him- or herself. The main example of a novel being Jay McInerney's Big Lights, Bright City. I've also read a few short stories using "you" as the protagonist's, which I thought worked, though none come to mind at the moment. (There were a bunch of second person stories--usually in present tense--that surfaced after McInerney's novel, and I suspect winning an editor over with a present-tense, second-person story is still an uphill battle. That said, if you do it well enough, anything can work.)

The second person "you" can also be a character to whom the narrator is telling the story. This device is most common in lyric poetry, where there is often an "I" narrator talking directly to a "you" who is a character in the work, often his/her lover. For example, Andrew Marvel's "To His Coy Mistress":
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.

This is much less common in fiction--I can't think of an example off the top of my head. However, I think it would make for an interesting technique to explore fictionally.

Third Person
The narrator uses "he" or "she." (Or, in third person plural "they," though I can't think of example of that off the top of my head.)

The third person omniscient narrator knows everything, can go inside any character's head, can be at any scene, can tell any fact whether or not any of the characters know it, can give his/her own interpretation of events--the narrator is basically the god of that fictional universe. Many of those great 19th century novels were in third person omniscient. For example, Stendhal's The Red and the Black.

The third person limited narrator can show any scene the viewpoint character was present at, and can relate the thoughts and subjective experiences of the viewpoint character. The viewpoint character can remain the same throughout the story. Most short stories that use third person limited follow a single POV character. And some novels do this also. For example, James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is third person limited, from the viewpoint of Stephen Daedalus through the whole novel. Or the viewpoint character can switch. Many novels, and a few short stories, use third person limited, but switch between different characters. For example, John Kennedy Toole's novel Confederacy of Dunces uses third person limited, and shifts between the viewpoint of many different characters. Third person limited has become the most common POV used, and I've heard some editor's express a preference for it (along with a preference for past tense over present tense). I do think it's currently the safest POV, in the sense that no one is going to be put off by a writer choosing to use third person limited.

One of the challenges of third person limited (particularly in stories told from a single third person limited POV, as short stories tend to be) is having access to the events you want to use to tell the story. In third person limited, your POV character has to be present at that scene, or at least have learned about it in a plausible way. However, solving this challenge by jumping around between different POV characters carries its own challenges, particularly in short stories: you run the risk (at minimum) of losing a strong reader identification with your protagonist, or (at worse) confusing the hell out of the reader.

POV and Psychic Distance
Within third person omniscient and third person limited the distance (I believe at one point John Gardner called it "psychic distance") between the narrator and the character's experience exists along a continuum. So, all of the following can exist within a third person omniscient narration.

- In the city of P., there lived a man who sold clocks, albeit unsuccessfully.

- Samuel Derrick owned a struggling clock store in Pittsburgh.

- Sam leaned against the counter. Seventeen days since he'd sold a clock.

- Sam felt the counter's edge press into his belly, but didn't move. He almost enjoyed the discomfort--it was immediate, concrete, unlike the dread that his shop was going under.

- Dammit. Sam banged his belly against the counter, enjoyed the sharp pain. Was a customer ever going to walk through the door?

Not claiming any of those are breathless prose. But they all exist along a continuum of third person possibilities. And much fiction moves between those various psychic distances. So a third person omniscient voice can duck in to capture a character's stream of consciousness thoughts, or pull back to describe the history of the town they are in.

POV and Voice
There is another important aspect of all this. Within third person narration, particularly third person limited, one constantly has to decide to what extent the narrative voice is going to capture the voice of the character, and to what extent it is going to access vocabulary, understanding, etc., the the character doesn't have access to.

So, if the writer is using third person limited and the POV character is a child, he can use a third person voice that to some extent works within the child's verbal range. For example, the opening of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce:
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

He sang that song. That was his song.

O, the green wothe botheth.

When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

Or, the author can use his full range of vocabulary, diction and understanding when describing the child's POV. For instance, the ending of Chekhov's story "The Cook's Wedding," from the POV of seven-year-old Grisha:
Again a problem for Grisha: Pelageya was living in freedom, doing as she liked, and not having to account to anyone for her actions, and all at once, for no sort of reason, a stranger turns up, who has somehow acquired rights over her conduct and her property! Gisha was distressed. He longed passionately, almost to tears, to comfort this victim, as he supposed, of man's injustice. Picking out the very biggest apple in the storeroom he stole into the kitchen, slipped it into Pelageya's hand, and darted headlong away.

In this passage, though from Grisha's POV, Grisha's experience is not reported through the language and syntax of a seven year old.

So, the writer can either try to capture the POV character's language, diction and understanding in his third person narrative, or the writer can access thoughts, allusions and language the POV character wouldn't use him- or herself. One caution--this second choice can create a technical challenge when the character talks, if the narrative voice is extremely dissimilar from the character's.
Tom moved through each day like a soldier's ghost from Renoir's La Grande Illusion, through a world in which old verities were upended, and existence tenuous as dusk's last light.

"Dude, this bites," Tom said.

It's important to manage (and modulate) the differences in language and diction between the narrator and the character when writing in third person. Particularly in dialog scenes if the author uses a formal and/or poetic style, and the character speaks plainly.

Anyway, there's a quick tour through some POV issues, and a couple of related issues as well. That's not to say you won't come across schools of thought and writers who use some of the terms slightly differently. And the term "psychic distance," which I think I got from John Gardner, is not a generally used term, like the others used above. However, I personally find it a useful concept.

As with any element of fiction, the most important thing in studying POV is to read widely, write lots, think and experiment. Ultimately, what one wants from their study of POV is not a set of rules, but a sense of mastery that comes through in confident writing, and a wide range of available options to use in telling your stories.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Genre and Theme

Some quick thoughts on genre and theme. The following are not (at all) meant as rules about which genres should be used to explore what thematic material. Different genres have been used to explore a wide range of themes. That said, certain genres do lend themselves to exploring certain questions, and some of those combinations are noted.

Westerns tend to explore the dichotomy between civilization (order, law and the personal limitations these often cause) on one side, and individuality (freedom, lawlesness and the violence that often results) on the other. In particular as they play out across wide geographical spaces. The fact that Westerns are rooted in these wide spaces is also why Western tropes are often transplanted into space in science fiction--certain visions of the future of space travel lend themselves to this interplay between civilization on one hand, and the lands (or in this case the space and distant planets) which are not fully under the control of that civilization on the other.

Mysteries lend themselves to questions of epistemology. Who did it? How did they do it? It isn't an accident that Umberto Eco chose a mystery to explore questions of how we know, and how we know we know, in The Name of the Rose. Of course, one of mystery's interesting sub-genres is the hard-boiled private detective. In those, "who did it" tends to wane in importance, and we often get a contemporary picaresque, in which the anti-hero detective moves through different segments of society, from high society to underworld.

Science fiction is at root an exploration of the impact of change, originally primarily scientific or technological change, on human existence. Given the speed of scientific change over the last century, the relationship between scientific change and how we live has become a fundamental aspect of human experience. Science fiction has of course expanded to look at the impact of different changes--e.g., sociological, environmental--on human existence.

Romance can point to a couple (at least) classes of fiction. There are the medieval romances about King Arthur, Roland and all those both-human-and-greater-than-human characters of legend. In those, romance tells of great deeds, those actions and events that make our heart sing. The characters have abilities that exist somewhere on that continuum between mythological and human. Now, the heir to those Arthurian legends is found in our fantasy fiction, and romance has come to mean stories of love, and more specifically drugstore paperbacks with (to the uninitiated at least) interchangeable covers and plots. I admit I don't know what's going on in the field of contemporary romance fiction. However, reading Jane Austen (and her often ironic uses of romance conventions) it's obvious there is a great tradition of fiction that focuses on the love interests of its heroine, even if current marketing of "romances" points one elsewhere.

Horror is interesting, in that it starts not with an idea (like sf with technological change, mysteries with the discovery of the perpetrator) but with an emotion: fear. And then it explores this basic (maybe most basic) emotion in all its shadings and varieties. Whereas romance is felt in the heart, horror explores those feelings that arise in our bellies when all is not right with the world. Thematically, horror lends itself to explorations of morality and justice. One sees a couple underlying worldviews appear often in horror. One might broadly be viewed as horror as morality play. In this type of horror story, the protagonist breaks some law, or transgresses some boundary, and faces the consequence. What's key is that no matter how out-of-proportion the punishment is to the transgression, there is still a transgression. There is a sense of some cosmic justice underlying the universe. Another horror worldview is that we no longer have that belief in justice to comfort us. Horror is random, and can strike anyone. In this type of story, horror is used to explore a world where "God is dead" (or, as in Lovecraft's mythos, the gods are brutally indifferent to us); where the universe is governed by chance, and we are at the mercy of horrors that strike randomly, without meaning. For a complete overview of horror and its sub-genres, my favorite book is Stephen King's Danse Macabre.

In terms of fantasy, I have no overarching theory of what theme it tends to explore. I can cobble together a functional definition of it--there are one or more self-coherent changes in the nature of reality, and unlike science fictiton, there is not attempt to position those changes as being caused by technological change, or explainable by science (even a futuristic science). However, I have no specific theory--as with the other genres above--linking fantasy with any particular thematic issues. The only thought I have is that fantasy does lend itself to the exploration of gender issues. I wouldn't say that's at the core of fantasy in the same way that I find the themes above core to certain genres. However, given fantasy's ability to explore societies structured in different ways, and it's ability to create a female protagonist free from the societal restraints of any historical society, it does provide a space in which to subvert current gender expectations, and explore other possible gender roles and arrangements.

The above aren't meant to be exhaustive. And I certainly don't mean to imply either that theme is the main thing we should look for in a story, or that theme is the best place to start when writing a story. In my experience, stories usually come out of a character, or an image, or some scene, or a pre-existing story from life or literature. However, there does come a point in revising a story where theme starts to drive the selection process. One finds out one isn't just telling a fairy tale about the troll under the bridge, who the father assures his son isn't really there, but dealing with the fact that parents must in some ways lie to their young children to provide them a necessary sense of security. And at that point, theme starts to inform the images one uses, the way one describes the characters. And it is at this point where thinking about the relationship between genre and theme can also sometimes help guide one's revisions.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Should You Believe An Editor's Feedback?

Well, yes and no.

First, let's differentiate between feedback offered as part of a rewrite request, and feedback offered in a rejection. Whatever else it does or doesn't do, the feedback in a rewrite request will help a writer publish their story in that publication. For that reason, if it doesn't violate the author's sense of the story, it's probably worth taking. What I'm thinking about in this post is feedback given in a rejection, offered simply to be helpful, without any invitation to resubmit the revised piece.

Now, back to that yes and no. First, what do editors do well? Editors have a strong sense of what's a good match for their publication. If an editor specifically says it isn't a fit for the publication, believe it.

Editors can usually detect quickly and accurately when a story flat-out doesn't work. (Yes, occasionally one hears of a future Pulitzer Prize winner that was rejected by 80 publishing houses. But those are rare exceptions.)

If an editor gives specific feedback about problems in your story, there is a good chance your story does have some problems, and there is a fair chance that the editor conveyed at least part of what needs to be looked at in his feedback. (The more fundamental the problems, the higher the odds of this.)

So, what don't editors do so well? I suspect when editors give feedback, the percentage of time we miss on the specifics of the story's problems is higher than we like to think. More seriously, however, the writer needs to take into account that rejection-note feedback is a simplification of what's going wrong with a story and the possible options available to the writer, and may suffer from any or all of the following shortcomings: (1) the incompleteness of generic feedback, (2) the editor's biases about how good fiction works, and (3) the tendency to overvalue plot and undervalue language in most rejection-note feedback.

Editors are in a hurry, going through many pieces, so there's a tendency to fall back on more generic feedback. And generic advice is, in important ways, going to be incomplete. Also, generic advice tends to imply certain rules. But one can't help notice, reading Chekhov say, that his stories don't always work according to current generic workshop rules. More than rules, the writer needs to think about his/her desired effect and the actual effect of his/her choices.

Also, some editors have specific beliefs about how a story works, and that means those editors' feedback will sometimes say more about their beliefs than about the internal logic of the story they're looking at. One magazine I've submitted to has strict beliefs about not withholding information that the POV character knows from the readers. Now, in general, I agree--I think "surprise" endings created by withholding key information is a cheat. However, I've had them complain that waiting to paragraph five to tell something, instead of stating it in the first paragraph, was an attempt to build false suspense. While I agree withholding info for the big reveal at the end is usually a cheap trick to try to generate false suspense, I don't mind a little storytelling license, where you hook people with a bit of mystery, and slowly let them in on the secret. In terms of my own editorial feedback, I know I went through a period when I regularly pointed out violations of the third person limited perspective to submitters. Now, in most of those cases, I still think those shifts out of third person limited made those particular stories weaker. However, these days, I would rephrase much of that advice, as I'm no longer as committed to the current norm for strict use of third person limited. I'd rather have the author think about the trade-offs involved with stepping outside that third person limited POV, instead of seeing it as breaking a rule.

Finally, editors tend to bias feedback towards plot problems--which an editor can sometimes help identify quickly--and not talk about problems with the prose, which isn't so easy to offer quick feedback on. As I'll talk about in a future post, language plays a bigger role than plot in selling short stories. (Some types of novels, and certainly movie scripts, can operate by different marketing rules.)

Publications that always offer feedback will tend to miss more often than ones who only offer the occasional piece of advice. I know from my own experience, when we used to have a policy of providing feedback on every submission, I fell back much more on generic suggestions. Not that the advice was wrong, but as mentioned, generic advice is incomplete. Generic advice carries unstated assumptions about the kind of story the writer should be working towards.

In Francine Prose's book Reading Like a Writer she talks about how she came to question much of the advice she had given over the years when teaching writing workshops. It's a good book to read if one is submitting, as it gives perspective both on the process of offering feedback, and on the breadth of possibility in good fiction.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cover Letters

I prefer to see a cover letter. Some editors don't care one way or the other. In either case, the best cover letters are brief and to the point. A good generic one says (1) what's being submitted; (2) the word count; (3) the writer's contact info; (4) (optional) a quick bio and/or publication credits (3 to 4 credits maximum); and (5) ends with some polite phrase thanking the editor for reading the submission. (Of course, if a publication has specific requirements for cover letters, follow them.)

For instance:

Dear Fiction Editor,

Attached is my short story "The Rats Are Breeding." It is approximately 2000 words.

My contact info is:
Tommy Writer
49 Pissant Drive
Whackville, PA 99999

My work has appeared in It Makes My Ears Bleed, Toe Fungus, Bleep Blop and other publications.

Thank you for considering my story.


The nice thing about a cover letter like this is that it allows the writer to introduce him-/herself, gives the editor everything he/she needs, and it does this with little risk of doing any of those things many editors associate with unsuccessful submissions. Because everything you put beyond that basic information does run the risk of making a cover letter come across as less professional. This is not to say that adding more will always in all cases annoy all editors. However, it does run the risk of triggering negative expectations, without offering the writer any benefits. With cover letters, less is more.

In particular, there are some things you don't want to do in a cover letter. I've seen every one of the following:
  • Summarize your story, talk about its themes or say what a great piece it is. The reader of the publication is only going to see the story itself--any comments or explanations in the cover letter are irrelevant. (Note: This doesn't apply to submitting novels or other book-length projects, where an outline and opening chapter(s) is normal.)
  • Attempt to elicit the editor's pity.
  • Imply that you're a dangerous type.
  • Act like you're one step away from losing it altogether. (Unless of course you are, and therefore can't help that that comes across.)
  • Tell the editor how to do his/her job.
  • Imply that the story's acceptance is a done deal.
  • Be rude.
  • Be overly familiar.
  • Have typos, misspellings and grammatical errors.
  • alternatively, use all small letters. if you want to do the e.e. cummings thing, save it for your submission. In the cover letter use standard grammar, punctuation and spelling.
  • List more than 3 or 4 publication credits. I'm still not entirely sure how the psychology behind this reaction works, but when the list of publication credits grows beyond 3 or 4, it becomes a negative. Every editor I've discussed this point with, or heard talk about this point, says the same thing. At a panel at last year's Balticon a panel of 4 editors at publications ranging from large to small (I remember John Joseph Adams, from F&SF, was on the panel) all said the same thing--listing too many credits is a turnoff.
  • List irrelevant publication credits. Now, this can be finessed a bit (it might be worth sneaking in that you've published a number of non-fiction books on physics, even if this is your first sf short story), but be sensitive to what the editor will see as a plus, and what he/she won't. For instance, many editors at print publications look down on web publication. Many editors of literary journals look down on genre publications. No editor cares that a number of your stories have been posted on friends' blogs.
  • List pseudo-achievements. For instance, any author can nominate his/her own online story for the Million Writers Award. So don't list that you've been nominated for it (even if you didn't nominate yourself). Of course, if you won the Million Writers Award, made it to the top ten, or were selected as a Notable Story of the Year, that's a legitimate achievement to list.
One final word on listing publication credits. If one has relevant credits, it's probably worth listing three or four. However, don't worry about a lack of publication credits. Everyone starts somewhere, and unless just having your name on the cover will increase circulation, the quality of the first paragraph of your story is a lot more important than any publication credit you can list.

The overwhelming majority of cover letters I've received have been polite and professional. Don't stress about whether you might have done something wrong in a past cover letter. No one's keeping track. The above guidelines are meant to be helpful with your future submissions.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

When Your Submission Arrives

This is the process used at Noneuclidean Cafe. It has elements common to many publications, particularly those that accept email submissions. The Key Things to Remember inserts are therefore written to be as generally applicable as possible to any publication you submit to. Of course, where there are differences, the publication's own guidelines should always take precedence.

1. Auto-Responder
Your email reaches our Auto-Responder, which sends a response email saying we've received your submission.

Key Things to Remember
- Make sure to set any filters on your side so that you can receive email from the publication.

2. Filter
Your email reaches our filter. If the Subject line contains the word "Submission" it is forwarded to our Submissions folder. If it contains the word "Query" it is forwarded to our Queries folder. If it doesn't contain either word, it is deleted. Spelling counts. (Like everyone else, we receive tons of spam, so filtering is a necessity.)

Key Things to Remember
- Make sure to follow a publication's guidelines for what needs to go in the Subject Line. If you don't, there's a good chance it will be deleted without an editor ever seeing it.

3. Manuscript Check In
At Noneuclidean Cafe, this is our first manual process. Manuscripts in our Submissions folder are checked into a spreadsheet (recording writer's name, submission type, title and date received), and the attached file is saved. From this point forward, we use the spreadsheet to see which manuscript is next in queue (we read submissions in the order received), and we access the file containing that manuscript directly--we don't look at your email again until it's time to send a response.

Key Things to Remember
- Since manuscript files may be saved separately from your email, make sure your name, whatever contact info the publication requires and the title of your work is included in both your cover email and in the file containing your work. This allows the publication to check in your submission without opening your file, and then allows them to track your manuscript without searching for your original email.

- In the case of poems or other submissions including multiple pieces, follow the publication's guidelines as to whether they should be in separate files or all in the same file. At Noneuclidean Cafe, include them all in one file.

- Follow the publication's guidelines in terms of naming your file, or use something as helpful as possible (say your name and the title) if there are no specific guidelines. Don't name a file the title of the publication--all the files we receive are for our publication, that doesn't help us.

4. Reading Your Submission
Someone (it will be me at least 90% of the time) reads your submission in the order received. At this point, we will either pass on the submission (step 5), or it will be shortlisted (step 6).

Key Things to Remember
- Use the manuscript format given in the publication's guidelines. If none is given, William Shunn's resource giving the Standard Short Story Format is probably the best bet, certainly for a hard copy submission.

5. Rejection
If we don't take your story or poem, we respond to your email to let you know. When time permits, and we have something helpful to say, we give a reason, or make a suggestion on how we think you might improve your piece. After responding, your manuscript and your email are deleted. We keep the record of your submission on our spreadsheet.

Key Things to Remember
- If an editor gives feedback on your work, it is just one editor's opinion, usually given quickly after one reading of your piece. It is meant to be helpful--either in making your piece better, or helping you understand his/her market so that your next submission will be better suited to the publication. Since editors read a lot of work, and know what they accept, it is usually worth thinking about any feedback they offer. However, editors make mistakes--the story or poem is still yours, and you can decide whether or not you agree with the advice.

- Don't argue with an editor's feedback, send explanations of how they misread something, blast them for the feedback they gave. It doesn't look professional. And the editor is simply trying to be helpful--if you think they are wrong, perhaps they are. You don't have to take their advice. And they won't enter into correspondence with you regarding a rejection.

- Don't read things into not receiving feedback on a submission. Trying to read the tea leaves on every rejection is a path to madness. Factors irrelevant to the quality of your work (how many submissions the slushpile reader has to get through that day, whether he/she can think of something helpful to offer you off the top of their head, whether he/she is preoccupied with the cost of getting a plumber in to fix that leak in the basement, the one that looks like it might have been secretly rotting the foundation for months) weigh heavily in whether or not the editor can offer anything specific.

6. Shortlist
If we like your story or poem, or if we want to think about it further, it is shortlisted. Your story is then reread. And at this point, possibly one or two new people read your story, and we discuss. Based on those repeated readings and discussions, we either decide to pass on the story (back to step 5), request a rewrite (step 7) or accept the story (step 8).

Key Things to Remember
- This is why acceptances usually take longer than rejections.

7. Rewrite Request
If we like the story or poems you submitted, but think there are one or two specific problems, we sometimes send a rewrite request. This doesn't commit either side--you don't have to resubmit to us, and we're not saying that if you do we will accept it. However, our acceptance rate for rewrite requests is up over 50%. So, if you agree with the suggestions, it does increase your odds of placing your story or poems. After responding, your manuscript and your email are deleted. We note on our spreadsheet that we requested a rewrite for your story, poem or article.

Key Things to Remember
- Rewrite requests are the next best thing to acceptances. And they're a great opportunity to break into a new market.

8. Acceptance
We respond to your email saying we want to publish your story, and forward a second email with our publication agreement. We make sure we have your bio, any books you've written for our "Books by Contributors" page, your preferred payment method and all those admin details. And then, about a week before the publication date for the issue containing your work, we send you a link to a pre-publication webpage so you can see how it will look. There is much rejoicing.

Key Things to Remember
- How professionally you are deal with the editor after your work is accepted makes a great advertisement for working with you again in the future.