Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Your Short Fiction: Polishing

The first step to getting your short stories published is to make sure they're a marketable product. Thousands of stories are submitted to markets on a monthly basis, so it's incredibly important that your work shine when it gets in the hands of a potential market editor.

First, check the spelling and grammar of your piece. Do NOT rely on your word processor's spelling/grammar checker to do this for you! If you type "Jenny was Eric's best fried in high school", the spell checker won't catch the misspell in the word "friend". But you can bet the market editor will catch it, and they WON'T be impressed. If you've looked the story over a hundred times or you're not comfortable with your level of skill in grammar, ask a friend or a writing partner to look over the story for you. A fresh pair of eyes will see mistakes you've overlooked.

Now that you're relatively sure everything's spelled and said correctly, go over your prose and look for passive words and phrases. "Ellen was singing" can easily become "Ellen sang". Also look for words like "that" and "had". Cut as many of these as you can. The same goes for words ending in -ly. KILL YOUR ADVERBS!! This will make your prose cleaner and tighter, and read faster. The vast majority of editors out there are looking for a quick read.

Now take a look at the story as a whole. Is there a beginning, middle, and end? Can you summarize what happens in a few succinct sentences? Are your characters believable?

Once you've completed these steps, it's time to format your piece. Most markets call for "standard formatting", which (loosely) consists of these rules:

  • Double-spaced text
  • 12 pt. Courier or Times New Roman (stick with the TNR; courier is usually accepted more in overseas markets)
  • The title, centered and bolded, just before the story begins
  • Numbered pages on the bottom right-hand corner of every page except page 1
  • A small header at the right hand top of each page except page 1 that says your last name and the name of the story
  • Indented continual paragraphs
  • Your name and contact info (mailing address, email address, phone # if you want to include it) at the top left corner of page 1
  • Word count at the top right corner of page 

I usually compose in standard formatting to save time later. Remember, not every market uses these rules, so make sure you check the submission guidelines for the market before you send it off. We'll go over more on that tomorrow.

Once you've completed these steps, print your story out and read it one last time. Give yourself a fresh "lens" to read through - try to imagine your ideal reader for this piece as you read. Pick a friend, a colleague, or someone else you'd like to share your genius with. Try to read it from their perspective. What do you think they would think of your words?

Okay. That's enough for today. Polish, polish, polish... now take a deep breath and a few steps back. We'll find a home for that perfect short piece tomorrow. If you've got any other polishing tips you'd like to share, please feel free! We learn new things every day. 


Jessica Bell said...

Great post! Wow, I haven't been around in a while. Love this new white background! So much easier to read!!!! :o)

Private said...

I agree with Jess - great post! I agree with you on all points:)

Dawn Ius said...

Great advice. Thanks!

Hannah said...

Great tips!! Thanks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks for the formatting tips!