Flash Fiction: Attica 2071

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.

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9 comments

  1. As a reader, I enjoyed the story, and the twist at the end is priceless! Loved it!
    As one who’s been a consulting editor with 2 publications, I can understand the rejections, especially if the story was submitted to a publication where there are a lot of submissions per month.

    BTW, “a lot” varies according to how big the publication is. To a small magazine with only one or two editors, 10-25 monthly submissions to consider may be “a lot.” With a big mag, the competition for limited publication slots is heavy and submission numbers may run into hundreds per month.

    Either way, most editors would consider wordiness, repetition, and excessive telling sufficient for rejection. For example, the opening two paragraphs don’t move into the story fast enough for something of this length. There are ways to streamline the sentences without compromising the POV character’s unique voice.

    For editors who aren’t as zealous about show, don’t tell, copyedit issues (such as punctuation, capitalization) may be enough to tip their decision. One or two errors aren’t usually enough to cause a rejection, but when incorrect usage is repeated, most editors can’t/won’t spare the time to correct and coach promising writers in how to improve.

    Does this help?

    1. Thanks for the analysis. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

      I can see your points now. I’m more tolerant of telling, but I know it’s a major issue with some readers. I’ll go back to my own story and double-check, but I think I avoided that problem.

      A punctuation error doesn’t seem like much on a blog post, but when evaluating for publication, I could see it being a red flag.

      1. I’m pretty tolerant of telling, too, but I also have a heavy reading background in literary and classic works. (Lot of telling! And I have to confess I still enjoy another stylistic villain when it’s done well — the dreadful omniscient POV.) Unfortunately, when asked to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a submission, I often had to make the call according to publisher preferences rather than my own.

        It’s one of the reasons to check out back issues of where you want to submit if at all possible. A stroll through archived and recently published stories can reveal little things about the mag’s preferences. Do most stories explode into action or do they wade in leisurely? Are most of the paragraph lengths long, medium, or short? How limited or lush is description? Dialog-heavy? How is punctuation used? (For one of my stories, the publisher insisted I remove all semicolons and all but one set of em dashes. They were no-nos for that particular press!) Is every sentence complete or are fragments allowed?

        That kind of stuff can help with either selecting places compatible with what you write or tweaking your writing to be compatible with where you want to submit..

        1. Thanks for some other things to look out for. I’ve never consciously thought about paragraph length….

  2. From what I’ve seen of printed magazines (Analog, Apex, etc), they usually feature a novella, several longer short stories, maybe an ongoing series, and then a token flash fiction story. Stories of this length, right around the border of flash fiction and short stories, seem to do better with online publications like Daily Science Fiction.

    At least that’s my perception of things. I’m by no means an expert on how the publishing industry works. I just read a lot.

    1. I’m not an expert either, but your observations seem to match my own.

  3. Wow! It was a pleasant surprise to see this post regarding Attica 2071. I’m glad you liked it! 😀

    I don’t mention the magazines that rejected the story because that feels like sour grapes on my part. I mean, I don’t want to come across as angry and shaking my fist at the magazines that rejected the story: I understand that they have a limited amount of space and a huge number of submissions to chose from. The magazines were all appropriate venues though, and ranged from one top tier magazine to internet-only flash fiction magazines. This story was apparently short-listed at one magazine but ultimately rejected in the final selection.

    Sometimes I can look at a story weeks later and realize it kind of sucks and should have been rejected; sometimes I can’t. This particular story I always thought had some redeeming features but overall was not that spectacular. If I were reading this as an editor, I don’t think I would say to myself, “Oh yeah! This has to be included!” 🙂

    I appreciate constructive criticism, both from you and from the two commenters above. For example, the first commenter noted that “the opening two paragraphs don’t move into the story fast enough for something of this length.” That sort of thing helps! It’s definitely the sort of criticism I’ll tuck away and remember in writing future stories, or should I chose to revisit this one. 🙂

  4. I’m glad a few extra people got to see your story, it’s a fun one. Unfortunately, my post didn’t get wide exposure, because I’ve somehow gotten on WordPress’ bad side again…

    I also love constructive criticism; the first version of my own short story was “OK”, but now that I’ve gotten comments back from my beta readers and made a few changes, I really like it.

  5. As far as I’m concerned, that was an absolutely brilliant short story!

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