Writer’s Craft #122 – Slush School

Kim Neville
Kim Neville
Kim Neville writes contemporary fantasy. She lives near the ocean in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and six year-old daughter. Her floors are often covered in sand and glitter. Kim is a graduate of Clarion West, class of 2012. She has a story forthcoming in the Summer 2013 issue of Shimmer. Her work has also appeared in On Spec and Leading Edge. www.kimneville.com.

I recently started reading slush submissions for Ideomancer, an opportunity I’m enormously grateful for. I’ve long been a believer in the benefits of critiquing the work of others. Slush-reading has brought me new insights to apply to my own work. Here are the top three lessons I’ve learned thus far:

Get to the Point

I should know this. I’ve heard the advice countless times. You only have a paragraph, maybe a page, to capture an editor’s interest, so it’s best to cut to the action as quickly as possible. Still, there’s nothing like reading a dozen story openings in quick succession to drive the point home. The other day I reread a story I always loved but was never able to sell. It was obvious the first six pages needed to be cut. All the setup I thought essential? Not so much.

Stay Focused

I see a lot of otherwise well-written stories with pacing problems. Once you’ve gotten an editor’s attention, you need to keep it. Don’t use the second scene to dump all the information you cut out in the first. (Guilty.) Remove any scenes, no matter how pretty, that don’t move your story forward. (Also guilty.) And please, don’t bog down your middle explaining things your reader has already figured out. (Ugh. So completely guilty.)

Deliver the Unexpected

Most slush stories end exactly how you expect they will. They’re not necessarily weak endings – just not memorable. Those rare moments when an author surprises me with something unexpected are the ones I hope for every time I open my inbox. I’m still working on incorporating this into my own writing. My slushing experience has helped me see that I need to focus more attention on my endings.

Do editing, slush reading or critiquing the work of your peers have an impact on your own writing? Is it positive or negative? What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through engaging in these activities?


4 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #122 – Slush School

  1. Kim, thanks. This is great advice and I will pass it on to my spec fiction writers group. We all get so worried about letting our reader understand our world that we forget we are telling a story!

  2. I have also struggled with pacing and have really become cruel when it comes to cutting. I hope this helps my work, but I’m not sure.

  3. I read a lot of fan-fiction lately, which is a lot like reading slush. I don’t think it’s helpful unless it’s at the upper, publishable-or-nearly-publishable end. And you can find exactly the same errors in classics, literary novels, and bestsellers anyway (though each of these categories tend to embody different errors). I concluded that even the best stories are still so flawed that there’s no need to turn to slush to find errors to learn from.

  4. Great advice — succinct and to the point. It makes perfect sense to start with an opener that grabs the reader, to keep the reader engaged, and to end with the unexpected, yet it is not that easy to achieve. I find it hard to cut those beautiful excess words, so lovingly crafted.

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