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.
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?