Thursday, June 15, 2006

Short Story Boot Camp: Basic Training

SpecRom's Third Annual Zircon Contest for Short Speculative Romance opens for entries in August. Here's the first of a series aimed at potential Zircers, and anyone hoping to break the short story market.

Okay, let's start with a definition, cause that's where you should always start. Can't reach a goal without an adequate definition.

Our goal: Write a saleable short story in the speculative romance genre.

Now, let's examine the goal's components.

Saleable = exceeding editorial expectations for the target market.

When you have ANY product or service, you cannot know enough about the target market. Your fiction is both product and service. So know your target market.

For the Zircon Contest, reading along with this blog, studying the articles on the site and the reviews by the editors will clue you in on what the editorial expectations are. For example, if you receive the Speculative Romance Online monthly newsletter, you know that it is issued From the Desk of the Deflower the Virgins Literary Action Committee. Therefore, any virgin heroine had better be extraordinary to be a finalist in the Zircs.

Do you feel that is unfair? Do you think that quality should not be judged by such subjective matters? Get over it or find another craft, because every piece of fiction you ever submit anywhere, whether to a contest, an editor or an agent, will be judged subjectively. That's why you should know your market.

For other purposes, knowing the market means reading the short fiction that's being purchased and published. There is no other way to do it. You've got to read what's out there.

Here in the blog you'll find some recommendations through the READ THIS feature. But if you go to our best market friend Ralan, at Ralan's SpecFic and Humor Webstravaganza, you can find links to practically every print and ezine in the speculative genre. Click, read, study, repeat.

For more traditional and erotic speculative romances, many of the electronic publishers now offer short speculative romances for download. For a great list of these publishers, I can suggest The Passionate Pen's Romance Publisher's List. Click, read, study, repeat.

Short Story = for our purposes, i.e. the Zircon Contest, a piece of fiction with a beginning, middle and end that does not exceed 10,000 words. Though, length is always determined by editorial expectations of your target market.

See above: editorial expectations.

But for further clarification, a short story will generally follow a different plot arc than a novella or novel-length piece of fiction. In a novel, you have pages to develop characters, relationships and ideas. In a short story, you have paragraphs.

In the helpful Fiction Factor article Writing A Great Short Story, Lee Masterson suggests a good short story focuses on a single event and provides a snapshot into the wider literary world running through and behind that event. The short stories that stick in my memory provide that sense of freezing a pivotal moment and showing it to me through a unique story lens. I am left with a satisfied feeling of a story told, but also a lingering sense that the story goes on. It's hard to explain further. Good art is always paradoxical.

Being a soul who hates to re-do work, unless of course it's revisions to her own fiction, I've compiled this list of links to wonderful articles that will help you understand the form and function of short speculative romance fiction:

How to Win A Zircon, by Joyce Ellen Armond, otherwise known as me

Tips for Writing Short SFRs by Ann Townsend

Meshing the Genres: More SFR Short Story Tips, by Emily Alward

SFR Shorts: Perfect When Paired with SFR Tshirts by Jody Wallace

Short and Sweet: Writing the SFR Short Story by Megan Powell

Speculative Romance genre = a story that uses elements of romance and speculative fiction in a way that satisfies a reader's enthusiasm for both genres.

Speculative fiction is a genre of ideas. Romance fiction is a genre of relationships. A good speculative romance does more than find a balance between speculative and romantic genres. It weaves the idea and the relationship into a feedback loop, each element supporting, enhancing, reflecting and foiling the other.

In crafting a speculative romance, you have to ask what-if twice.

What if...aliens invade the earth. A speculative story could proceed from there. But a speculative romance requires another step. How will the alien invasion affect someone's romantic relationship?

What if…a mousy librarian discovers she has super-powers? How will that change her sex life?

What if…the princess must be sacrificed to a dragon to save the kingdom? How will that unexpectedly help her find her heart's desire?

What if…a woman inherits a haunted house? How will that affect her struggling marriage?

If you're running short on what-if questions, just spend a few hours surfing science, futuristic and paranormal blogs. Start with the ones listed on the News 2 Use section of SpecRom's website. There's so much what-if out there, you can't plead nothing to write about.

So remember the goal: Write a saleable short story in the speculative romance genre. And get to work!

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