Friday 18 October 2013

Breaking the mould?

A recent rejection
I’ve just had four short stories rejected. Well, sort of rejected. They came back with a lot of editorial comment, which is always something to take note of. So after the initial “they just don’t get it, do they? For goodness sake, are they expecting me to produce yet another clone? And they’ve got a typo in one of the titles – a typo not of my making” –type reaction, I calmed down and took note. Whatever I might think, this publisher is not going to publish these stories as they are now.  

The mould
Yes, yes, of course I know all that. For goodness sake, I’ve used it often enough in work I have got published and I’m teaching it to my students all week long. Yes, I know that a third person close or a first person narrative can be more convincing in a short story. But I wanted to do something a bit different here – get a little distance, create a dream-like quality. Yes, I know all about the showing / telling argument. But occasionally telling is justified. I think it is in that paragraph.
Breaking it – the details
I’m generally more experimental in my shorts stories and flashes than in my longer prose writing. I guess I’m using them in a way as try-out spaces.
Story 1   
The story is revealed through a conversation with a journalist and then a final third person scene. “Too two dimensional,” was the verdict. I may go for first person but keep the journalist.
Story 2
A young boy as a quasi-religious experience. “It would be better if it was told from the boy’s point of view.” But that is precisely what I don’t want to do. I want to show it as an event that affects everyone involved. I might invent a bystander who gives their pov about this.
Story 3
What do you mean, you don’t think the idea works but you like the idea? Am I imagining it or do editors sometimes talk the sort of gibberish that they’d reject writers for? Maybe they mean they like the general premise but the idea isn’t shown logically here?  Or that it doesn’t quite seem probable?  Honey, I have news for you: this actually happened to me. But real life can be a problem. It’s either unbelievable – probably the case here – or a little dull. Possibly here I need to “storify” the events a little more. And the editor did make some other very helpful points.
Story 4
“I just don’t like backwards stories.” But we read backwards a lot – in email chains for example, and this is the way this story is told. I admit I wasn’t all that sure about this one myself – not so much because of the form but the content. It may be a little melodramatic. I needed a fourth story and this one was just sitting there. I think I have succeeded in showing the chain of events backwards but the realisation of why this has happened will only hit the reader gradually as they come towards the end of the text i.e. the beginning of the story. I may keep the formula but change the content. And perhaps this one will definitely go to another publisher.         
The challenge
I’m fairly certain another publisher who has accepted two of my stories would take these four as they are now. Yet I owe the one who has “rejected” these something – they’ve obviously spent a good deal of time reading the stories and giving me feedback. However, I don’t want to make my work more conventional. I think I actually need to make the experiment more effective. I shall do that, certainly for the first three. If they’re rejected again, I’ll try the other publisher. And whatever happens, they will be stronger because I’ve worked on them again.   

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