Adventures From The Slush Pile #2: Magic, Technologies and Resolutions

Not everything you read in a slush pile is negative. It’s hard not to get jaded when reading, a lot of the time, because you see the same mistakes repeatedly. But even some mistakes can give you an epiphany about your own writing that don’t click until you see it.

I’ve heard it said a lot that it’s very important to have your magic system or technology or whatever route you’re going matter to the story. If it doesn’t, you might as well have set it in a realistic world. I’ve struggled with this several times in short stories. Because I like the space opera backdrop, I’ll have a piece that could have been set at any point in any time and it wouldn’t matter. In fact, the first draft of my novel suffered a lot from this, which I thank my crit group for pointing out before I stumbled too long into a 2nd draft and didn’t understand why it failed.

But in today’s reading, I learned more. Without going too far into someone’s story, I caught an instance where a magical thing was happening to someone, which was cool and intriguing, but when I arrived at the end of the piece, the “why” was never explained. We were left with characters who just had some mysterious event happening to them, and it did get resolved, but it was ultimately unsatisfying because it didn’t make sense why they were being haunted by this mysterious thing.

It’s hard to give a tip when being so vague about something, but when you write your magic, your settings, your technologies, it’s important to look at it and pay attention to: 1. Does this impact the story?  2. Does it make sense or need to be explained with a reveal at the end?  3. Does the resolution of the conflict answer enough questions to leave the reader satisfied?  If not, you almost don’t have a full story. I’m going back to a few of my shorts now and realizing that these three criteria aren’t met, and definitely want to revise them.

This sounds like pretty obvious advice, but it’s really hard to read one’s own story and see that these elements are missing. Keeping that watchful eye in reading your own work is a must.  Don’t sell yourself short by being too easy on yourself, and remember what’s in your head is not necessarily what’s on the page!

Though ultimately, I couldn’t accept this submission because of it’s fault, it still did a job in teaching, which I’m grateful for.

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