August 29, 2014 in On Writing
Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing sponsors an online literary journal called Mason’s Road, which combines literary excellence with education, as each issue is focused on both a theme and a specific element of the writing craft. Each issue features literature in the form of fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, and poetry, as well as Q&A’s with established authors in these fields. The hope is that not only will you be inspired by the stories, dramas, and poems in the journal, but you will learn something that you can take back to your own writing life as well.
Mason’s Road is currently accepting submissions for its tenth issue with the theme of Memory. The submission guidelines can be found here. So send in your most riveting fiction, your most poignant creative nonfiction, your most compelling drama, or your most moving poetry and because I’m in the MFA program, I might have a chance to read yours!
My official title is “Fiction Reader” and my job is to read the stories I am assigned and decide if they warrant a look by the Fiction Editors. This is much harder than I thought it would be. Some days I think I’m a big softie: “These are all great stories! They should all be seen by the editors!” Other days I think I’m being too critical: “Is it too much to ask for someone to proofread their submission?” Sometimes I ponder a story for a day and a half before I make a decision. But every day I read with hope and excitement: “Maybe this will be the story that rocks my world!”
Being on this end of the submission process has taught me a lot. For those of you writers out there, here are some tips that might make your story stand out above the crowd:
- Proofread your submission.
I am a bit of a snob about correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. When I see such an error, a lot of thoughts run through my head, but the problem is that not one of those thoughts is about your story. The error pulls me right out of the world you have created, and that is not good. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again. (My best proofreading tip: read your story out loud. You will be amazed at what you catch.)
- For short stories, limit the number of characters.
There is not enough time to fully develop multiple characters in a short story. The more there are, the more confused I get. If you have a sentence that goes like this: “Eddie, Nancy’s oldest son by her first husband George who had an affair with Nancy’s sister Emily, resulting in the birth of Eddie’s cousin/step-brother Harold, was mowing the lawn,” it is time to go back and simplify your story. (My best keeping-the-characters-straight tip: have your characters’ names start with different letters. A family with three sisters named Emily, Ellen, and Elena is going to be harder to keep track of than Emily, Kelly, and Sue.)
- Start your story with a bang.
A lot of writers (including me: that is about to change), like to start off with back story, such as a description of the character, the setting, or something else to help ground the reader in what’s about to happen. But the thing that is about to happen is so much more interesting! So use that first sentence to grab your reader by the collar and pull them in. The details can be sprinkled in along the way.
- End your story with a twist.
Twilight Zone was a master at this. Those old black and white Twilight Zone episodes were short stories in television format, and they all had a twist. Some were sinister and some were heartbreaking, but they all ended in a surprising way. I still remember that episode with the man who only wanted to read. A nuclear war struck, and he was the only one who survived. All he had left were mountains of books and all the time in the world to read them. But then he broke his glasses…my God. The heartbreak of watching this man get so close to reaching his dream only to realize that it will never happen is still crystal clear in my mind. You want your story to do that to a reader too.
Check out Mason’s Road and submit your best work. I can’t wait to read it!