A story doesn’t tell all…

March 31, 2007 at 7:27 pm (Rejections, Writing)

I reworked “Of Bones and Blades” and resubmitted it to Black Dragon, White Dragon. The opening lines of the response seemed promising:

Jeff, you’ve written a much better “story” here (in quotes because the original incarnation seemed to lack that “story” completeness), with a concrete resolution to why your protagonist is doing what he’s doing. You’ve answered the questions “what would happen if he succeeded?” and “what would happen if he failed?” neatly as well.

It was, however, another rejection. Apparently the editor didn’t quite buy the reasons for the protagonist’s actions (seeking powerful weapons to save his people from what he sees as imminent destruction) — “it just didn’t resonate with something that made me care about the conflict resolution the way the protagonist cares about it.”

Sometimes I don’t quite understand what people are looking for. Maybe it’s a difference in how people look at what makes something a “story.” I’ll buy his notion that the original version was incomplete; it was pretty much a fight scene and nothing else. But everything seems to lead to more questions the editor seems to think need answered. I’d argue that a story doesn’t tell everything in the world, especially a short story.

A tale is like a window on a moment in history. At some point, it ends. The world continues. You may have some idea of what led to the events described and perhaps some knowledge of what comes after, but there are a lot of things you don’t know and will never know. What happened to the family in “The Lottery” afterward? How was the prophecy of Prince Joshua’s twin infants fulfilled in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn? In a few words: It doesn’t matter.

In a tale about man is trying to keep his people safe, told from his point of view, what does it matter what sort of people they are, whether anyone outside would think they deserve saving? That’s not part of the tale; it’s a matter for another time and perspective. In this place and time, it’d be an intrusion.

At least, that’s my two cents (and probably overpriced at that).

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5 Comments

  1. Jordan Lapp said,

    Jeff,

    From what Rob’s said, I think what you’re lacking is an emotional response to the character. Editors need to FEEL for the character, empathize with them. This is just a guess, but that was a real problem with my own writing. Since I’ve begun striving for that emotion response, I’ve begun to have success.

    I read your piece at Gryphonwood. It was very well written. Rob’s not wrong when he says that you’re a great writier. But again, there wasn’t an actual story there. I was just a torture scene, albeit it an especially vivid one. Boil the story down to one line. “Man catches theif, tortures him, leaves in the morning.” People need more than this.

    I’ve only read that one piece of yours, but I’ve scoped your blog, and this seems to be a commen comment from editors. Am I wrong?

  2. hamstersbane said,

    I don’t know that it’s a common comment. I can see your point on A Slice of Vengeance…and I’ll admit I had a hard time finding a home for that one. I probably wouldn’t write something like that again, but I do think it works OK as it is.

    The first version of “Of Bones and Blades” was like that, which is why I went back and reworked it.

    I’ll be the first to admit it’s probably a failing on my part, but I can’t for the life of me see what’s missing that created that reaction. What one editor rejects another picks up without question. It’s the way it goes. This post may come across as a gripe against Rob, and that’s not what I meant. I’m just taking issue with the idea that there’s something wrong with the main character acting to “benefit a group of people about whom I don’t have much emotional attachment.” What’s obvious (to me, anyway) is the protagonist’s emotional attachment. He’s trying to save his people. How much does the reader really need to know? You’re getting into novel range to explain everything.

    Of particular concern to me was “If the unwashed masses as finding and slaying sorcerers, I have to ask myself ‘why shouldn’t they be?’ Perhaps they’re not very good people and need to by hunted down by the average Joe and a few thousand of his closest friends.” That’s the kind of thing I was talking about as irrelevant to this particular story. It’s not the kind of question that would occur to the character, and trying to delve into that kind of side issue is, to me, narrator intrusion.

    Now all that being said, was Rob right in rejecting the story? Yes. It’s his anthology. If he doesn’t like it, it doesn’t get in. I may take issue with his reasoning, but in the end, that doesn’t matter.

  3. Mike Stone said,

    As far as you tell it, I agree it doesn’t need stating WHY a guy would want to save his people — whether it’s a large family, a tribe, a country or civilisation. Surely it’s a universal… a trait of human nature, this desire to protect your kinsman?

    Just turn it around and submit it elsewhere. If it’s good it’ll find a home.

  4. hamstersbane said,

    Yeah I know…One of the things I like to do with this site is discuss writing in general (and mine in particular). I didn’t really mean to get quite this far into it with this one. Rejections happen, usually in far greater numbers than acceptances. It’s a fact of (writing) life. My hide’s thicker than it once was, but apparently I’ve still got some growing to do.

  5. Mike Stone said,

    A callused skin is a prerequisite for a writer, but rejections never lose their sting. All we can do reduce that sting is hone our craft so we can put rejections down to the cussedness of editors rather than faults with our storytelling.

    Yeah, it helps a bit. (c:

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