I was browsing the site of one of my recent followers, ZombieSymmetry of Trustus Pharmaceuticals, and I ran across an interesting story. It’s 1,500 words, which places it kind of on the border between flash fiction and a short story.
Before reading my comments about the story, you may want to read it yourself. However, if you’re offended by rough language (swear words, not poor grammar), then you may want to skip it. Here’s the link: Attica 2071
As I was reading, I was thinking to myself “oh, here’s another one of those stories that doesn’t really go anywhere.” That’s probably acceptable in short fiction; the author might just want to describe an interesting place (basically the story version of my “settings” articles) or display some attribute of a unique character, but I was preparing myself for disappointment.
Right at the end, though, there is a twist which not only turns things upside-down, it makes you realize that all the earlier parts of the story were necessary for the twist to make sense. I’m a fan of the twist in sci-fi short stories, and this was a twisty one.
The author mentions that the story was rejected at four different publications, but didn’t mention which ones. I’m trying to guess the reason for its rejection. One possible reason is length, it seems that many publications prefer something around four to five thousand words. You’d think shorter would be more acceptable, as magazines pay per word (and shorter saves paper in print), but maybe magazine readers expect longer stories. Another possibility is that the editors didn’t actually read to the end, missing out on the twist.
I’ve recently written a short story that is structurally similar to this one: also about 1,500 words in length, and heavily dependent on a twist (or two). I was planning to submit my story for publication, but now I’m wondering if I should modify it. I could lengthen it, as some of my beta readers suggested, but those particular readers normally read novels, so they’re not exactly the target market. Also, the more I continue post-twist, the more chance the story will start to drag… unless I add yet another twist…
If editors aren’t reading to the end of stories, it will be difficult to “hook” them up front with a twist-style story. There has to be enough background setup for the twist to seem unusual or unexpected, or it’s not a twist. So, I can’t envision front-loading my story with all the good stuff.
I guess if a slush pile reader won’t finish my story, it’s OK, because I have other ways of getting eyeballs on it, such as Amazon or this blog, but if the average sci-fi fan gives up on my story before getting to the twist, then I have a basic problem with my writing.
Did you enjoy Attica 2071 as much as I did? Do you have any theories as to why it wasn’t accepted for publication? Do you have any advice concerning my story? Let me know in the comments section.