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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Is It Necessary To Have The Speculative Element In The First 13?

   
Author Topic: Is It Necessary To Have The Speculative Element In The First 13?
luapc
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This is in regards to the opening, or first 13, for a short story that is a modern fantasy. By modern fantasy, I mean a story that involves magic, but could take place today. As is often stated here on this site, the first 13 lines are critical to getting a short story published as a new and unkown author. I've read, and determined from my own experience, that another key point with genre fiction, is that the speculative element needs to be evident in this first 13 lines as well, and preferably in the first paragraph, or the piece will likely get rejected for not fiting the genre of the publication.

The problem I see with this involves the writing of a modern fantasy, where the opening will often be more like literary fiction and to be done right, the speculative element might fit better later.

Keeping this in mind, I was wondering what some of you think about this. Is it necessary to have the speculative element in the first paragraph, or could it wait to the second, or even later? Anybody have any experience, or advice, about this?


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Beth
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In general, it's a good idea to introduce the important elements of the story early, and most spec fic markets think the speculative element is important. But if the writing is good enough, editors usually keep reading even if there aren't evil robot monkeys battling ghost mimes on the first page.


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oliverhouse
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I'm no expert, but when the SF elements of my most recent story didn't show through on the first page, I thought I should ensure that they knew that I hadn't mistargeted the magazine. I wrote an extremely brief cover letter that said, "Please consider my 6,400 word science fiction story _Blah_ for publication in _Fantasy & Science Fiction_. Thank you for your time." Otherwise I wouldn't have written a cover letter.

Edited to fix magazine name.

[This message has been edited by oliverhouse (edited October 17, 2006).]


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AeroB1033
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I'd like to give you a resounding no, but in reality, I suppose it depends on the market. My guess is, if you submit to Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction or most certainly our own Intergalactic Medicine Show, you shouldn't worry about this, as long as the speculative element is present somewhere in the story (and is in some way important to it).

There might be some markets that want to see the fantasy or sf right off the bat, but my guess is that in most cases you shouldn't worry about it.

Of course, you should always try to target each story to the market you think is most appropriate for it, and this is part of that; so it's something to keep in mind, but not something I'd avoid submission or rewrite your story over.

[This message has been edited by AeroB1033 (edited October 17, 2006).]


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Ray
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You don't have to have the speculative element at the very beginning, although this is much easier to do in novels than it is in short stories. In novels, you can have hints sprinkled in whenever you please until the moment you reveal the magic; The Thief Lord's magic doesn't start until the last five chapters, but there are hints from what Bo sees, which are easily discounted because of his young age. Playing Beatie Bow's first two chapters are practically mainstream, so when Abigail time travels, it's a surprise but still fits in the narrative.

Short stories don't usually have the space for such subtlety, though. You're better off just showing that it is what it is as soon as you can.

[This message has been edited by Ray (edited October 17, 2006).]


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Christine
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I'm told that for the Writers of the Future Contest, if your story doesn't barf faery or alien bomit in the first sentence, you can pretty much forget it.

I'm sure there are other markets where it will be a problem

But generally speaking, I don't have to have a speculative element in the first thirteen lines. Personally, I think that with modern fantasy, in particular, there are a lot of good stories you can tell where the main character is unaware of their inborn magic or whatever until a few pages in. Some of these are my favorite. I know to expect the speculative element by virtue of the fact that it is in a speculative magazine or if it's a novel, by virtue of the fact that I got it from the scifi/fantasy section.


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franc li
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Sounds like one of those rules that you can break once you understand the principles behind the rule.
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luapc
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I'm not sure though that it should be broken by an unknown and unpublished author. The only thing going for someone who has no established publishing credits is the story itself, and if it is missing something expected by an editor, it'll likely be unread and rejected. I'm also not so sure that an editor will be willing to read past the first thirteen even with good writing unless something catches their interest.

A recent two page form rejection from Analog comes to mind which clearly states that most rejections are due to the story not being right for the magazine. I've read that in a lot of other places too--that a lot of submissions just don't fit the genre or market, so are rejected without giving them much of a chance.

The reason may very well be that Analog has a very narrow description of what they are looking for, as well as being a very difficult market to break into, but I'm just not sure. The rejection also says that they use form rejections because of the number of submissions they have. To me, this sounds like they don't take a lot of time on their initial consideration of submissions.

I think it's sad too, because like Christine implies, they're probably missing some of the best stories by not reading all the way through, but that seems to be the way it is.

[This message has been edited by luapc (edited October 17, 2006).]


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AeroB1033
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Analog is one of those fields where it's probably required to have the speculative (specifically, hard sf) element in the first thirteen lines; that's why I may never submit a story to that magazine, as much as I respect those who have the background in science to do it.

However, I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's a "rule that a new writer should not break". I wouldn't say it's a rule at all. A guideline to increase your chances at getting published in the SFF marketplace, perhaps, but not a rule. Not even a rule of Publishability, and certainly not a rule of Honesty.

I'm reminded of a couple contemporary fantasy stories I read in Asimov's recently. One was about a woman whose husband had died, and now she took in stray cats to keep herself company and give herself something to do. The speculative element didn't really show up until almost halfway through the story, and it was never fully clear that we were even dealing with fantasy. The other story was about a game programmer visiting Tai Pei on a business trip. She meets someone she thinks is a Chinese goddess of compassion, and her life, previously in shambles, starts to come back together again. But once again, it's never 100% certain that we're even dealing with fantasy at all.

Neither of these stories were by well-known authors. Both of them were published in a professional science fiction market. And neither of them even had definite speculative elements, in the first thirteen lines or otherwise; just the strong implication that fantasy might be responsible for the events of the story.

Hope this helps.

[This message has been edited by AeroB1033 (edited October 17, 2006).]


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luapc
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I agree that this is not a 'rule'. Strong suggestion,or guideline, is definitely better, in my opinion. I am one of those that believe that there are no 'rules' whatsoever to writing fiction, since most everything will and has been broken at one time or another, even grammar and spelling. But for a totally unknown and unpublished author, it's usually good practice to pay attention to them and follow as many of them as possible if you want to get published.

I appreciate the examples, but I still wonder whether the authors of the two stories pointed out were previously published or not. Being established and having publishing credits doesn't require noteriety, and to be taken more seriously only requires some previous publications, or recognition, from the slush reader and editors. If not, then perhaps good writing is enough.

Aero, do you know who the authors, or the story titles, or the issues of Asimovs the stories are from? I'd be interested in trying to find out if either author had been previously published. I think the information might be useful to myself and other unpublished authors.


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AeroB1033
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"Foster", by Melissa Lee Shaw, October/November 2006 issue.
"Feather and Ring", by Ruth Nestvold, August 2006 issue.

Both authors have published before in professional markets, so I suppose you're right, they would make it out of the slush pile. I don't, however, think that either have sold a novel, though I could be wrong there.


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luapc
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Aero, thanks for taking the time to look up that information. Some markets, especially in magazines like Asimovs, are so tough to break into, that any little bit of information helps. Admittedly, I've spent most of my time in the last two years sharpening my writing skills, and only now am starting to submit on a regular basis to magazines. I've pretty much determined that the writing part was the easy part of the whole publishing thing, so now I'm getting into the hard part. Getting that first pro sale can take a very long time, but well worth it once it happens.
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wbriggs
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I have no idea what editors want, but as a reader, as long as you tell me it's F/SF, I'll believe you through the first few pages on faith.
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