Speculative Fiction Plots to Avoid

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

I was reading Strange Horizons’ wonderful website the other day and came across this hilarious — and sometimes disturbing — list of stories the editors see too often.

Many are cringeworthy, such as In the end, it turns out it was all a dream and Person is floating in a formless void; in the end, they’re born.

Others make you lose faith in humanity: Someone wants to kill someone else, and that’s perfectly reasonable because, after all, the victim-to-be is fat and Man is forced by circumstances or magic to rape a woman even though he really doesn’t want to, honest.

One, as Brian Q. Webb pointed out to me, was the plot of every other episode of Star Trek: Visitor to alien planet ignores information about local rules, inadvertently violates them, is punished.  

Plots worth a special mention are: The alien or AI is fluent in English and completely familiar with various English idioms, but is completely unfamiliar with human biology and/or with such concepts as sex or violence and/or with certain specific extremely common English words (such as “cat”), and All technology is shown to be soulless; in contrast, anything “natural” is by definition good. For example, living in a weather-controlled environment is bad, because it’s artificial, while dying of pneumonia is good, because it’s natural.

Speculative fiction writers of the past had it easier than modern day authors, who are challenged to find ideas and characters new to seasoned readers. I recognised a few of my own short story plots on the Strange Horizons list, but at least I know what to avoid in future.



Writing in Fits – And Places

Having taken a rather long hiatus from creative writing, I let it back into my life late last year. My two children were both in school and fairly stable, and it seemed life was going to go fairly smoothly from then on. Of course, things are not usually what they seem to be, so I was not totally surprised when chaos set in to our daily routine once again. This time, however, I was not going to be defeated. I was going to write through the storm. Having spent the last few months finding opportunities to write in five- or ten-minute slots, and very-much “on-the-go”, I am ready to share four photographs illustrating where and how I write.

A quiet moment.

A quiet moment.

1. Our deck. I’m blessed to have a household of people who enjoy sleeping in. On the weekends, I sometimes manage to creep downstairs, make coffee, and sit at the picnic table, all by myself. I often spend more time watching the wildlife than I do actually writing, but at least I get some fresh air.  The coffee isn’t bad, either. You can’t see the coffee in this picture. That’s because I had already finished all three cups of it.

Taipei Writers Blog Writing Spots

Organized chaos.

2. My desk. This is where I do research, type up notes as I pull them out of my handbag, and procrastinate by checking on blogs, twitter, and facebook.  I am thankful for the touch typing skills I developed during Secretarial Studies class at high school.  Every child should be forced to touch type.  The painting on the wall is by Huang Yao.  If you love a good story, read about how Huang Yao’s artistic life and how it was affected by politics.  And if you like art, take time to be amazed by his collections.

My desk is also the playground of my children, so I can sometimes be seen, head down at the keyboard, writing through My Little Pony video productions, twerking, jump rope practise, and complaints that mommy needs to get off the computer and cook something.

3. My local market. I often have 30-45 minutes to spare between morning market shopping and picking up my children from school.  I have found a few spots around the market area that are quite inspiring, particularly for stories based on places and people in Taiwan.  Always bustling with activity, these markets are great for studying people’s dress and body language. In this picture, you can see an almost-empty plastic cup. That was a lemon drink a lovely elderly stand owner gave me, on one of Taiwan’s hottest days of this year.

Taipei Writers Group Blog - Writing Spots

Drawing inspiration from the dumpling shop.

4. MacDonald’s.  Honestly, there are not too many places in downtown Keelung that are clean and smell good.  I’m not the only one to notice that.  I passed a group of university students just before I took this picture, and they were keeling over from the smell coming out of the drains as they entered the KTV business.  So, MacDonald’s is my go-to place when I have a few minutes between errands and driving back into the mountains to pick up my kids.

Here, I can pick up delightful bits of gossip, as people assume I don’t understand what they are saying. I can also study the rhythm of how people communicate, according to their ages and the topics they are sharing.  At one moment I can fret over the toddlers left alone to play with their electronic devices, and the next I can be swept away by the tender interaction between a teenage girl and her mom.  It’s also a great place to write chaotic pieces, such as my latest poem (another one as yet unfinished).

Taipei Writers Group - Writing Spots

A quiet moment in the a/c.

If you enjoyed this insight into the writing life of a mom trying to get the words together in Keelung, you can pop over to my writing blog to read about my motivation for writing.

Making Time To Write

As expected, my schedule has exploded these past few weeks, and as hoped for, the result is that my writing times, although short, are very productive. I wonder if other writers work as well under time pressure. I’m finding that on my busiest of days, I can get in two 30-45 minute writing times, the first at the cost of some extra sleep time before work, and the second during my lunch break.

This year I am determined to finish my novel, so much so that I might forgo Nanowrimo to commit all my energy to the task at hand.  I’ll allow Ray Bradbury once more to be my inspiration, “You fail only if you stop writing.”

Keep writing! -LLP

Submitting Your Work For Publication

photo credit: kaybee07 via photopin cc

photo credit: kaybee07 via photopin cc

Some people write all their lives and never submit their writing for publication. Submitting your work is scary. Someone might point out all its flaws. Someone might tell you your precious creation isn’t perfect.You might get – gasp – rejected.  It seems like it would be much easier to hold on to your work forever because if you don’t try, you can’t fail.

But if you never submit your work, you’re never rewarded for your writing. No recognition, no praise, no words of encouragement, and certainly no payments. And those rewards are some of the best incentives to continue enjoying the wonderful, creative craft of writing.

Sadly, the long road to publication is littered with rejection slips, but nowadays technology speeds up the submission-rejection process. Sites such as Duotrope and Writer’s Market have searchable databases that list reputable publishers in fiction and non-fiction, and allow you to track your submissions. Duotrope and Writer’s Market request a fee for their services but other sites, such as The Grinder, are free.

I receive most of my rejections from the speculative short story market. This is one of the toughest markets to crack. Publishers that pay professional rates of five cents a word or more usually have an acceptance rate of less than one percent for unsolicited manuscripts. I’ve read it’s easier to get a publisher to accept a novel than to have a short story published in this market.

One useful thing I’ve learned from reading submission guidelines is how to format a professional manuscript.While formatting a story correctly doesn’t make it more imaginative, engaging or well written, it does prevent from being the first one tossed aside by an editor. William Shunn’s examples of short story and novel formats are most frequently cited by publishers.

Novel writers pitch their work to publishing houses through query letters. Writing good query letters is an art in itself, and it’s an essential skill for unpublished writers. Sites such as Query Shark contain plenty of good advice, and Absolute Write  and other sites for writers are also helpful.

I’ve sold a few stories and received many, many more rejections. But over time I’ve learned to not take rejection too hard (most of the time), learn what I can from the experience and improve my writing. Submitting your work for publication is time-consuming, laborious and nerve-wracking, but it beats the alternative.