Monday Miscellany - June 21, 2021
by Baltimore Review Staff Members
Monday Miscellany for June 21, 2021
BR Updates: The summer contest finalists have been sent to our final judge, Todd Kaneko. While waiting for decisions, we're working on selecting other poems, short stories, and creative nonfiction for our summer issue, which we expect to publish in mid-July. We'll nail down a publication date soon.
Look for an announcement about a new Prompt to Page free generative online workshop soon. The next one: Turning “Real” Life into Fiction. Another hour of writer me-time.
Also this summer: We'll soon be gathering all the work from the summer and fall 2020 and winter and spring 2021 online issues into the annual print compilation, which will be sent to all the contributors included in those issues.
Tips, Opinions, and Other Writing Miscellany:
One of the best self-editing tips I give writers is to read their work aloud. Adding the oral reading to the visual allows your brain to pick up mistakes and rhythms you might have missed. You’ll hear when the sentence drags on, or you’ll catch an extra word that slipped in. You might realize that the point you were trying to make wasn’t conveyed properly. Reading it all aloud helps the brain process your writing and home in on how to enhance it.
This is especially crucial with dialogue. Always read your dialogue aloud! It represents how people speak, so the least a writer can do is speak her own dialogue and make sure it sounds realistic. Were there different words you should have used to convey the right tone? Is the sentence way too structured and formal for normal speech? Is there an abrupt rhythm when there’s supposed to be? Does it sound cheesy? Are more dialogue tags or action beats required to indicate who’s speaking?
Extra tip: Use the Read-Aloud feature that Word offers (there are several apps that you can use as well). The monotonous voice will stumble over any mistakes, and if the sentence is a run-on, you’ll hear it loud and clear. Plus, you get to fold laundry or wash dishes at the same time. Two in one. 😊
Read it aloud. Edit. Read it aloud again. Edit. Share.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of any work of fiction is the characters. Once a strong character with unique qualities is made, we can put them in any environment, scene, or situation and the audience will root for them no matter what. So many times I have read stories with terrific worlds and engaging conflicts that fall flat because the main character is not all that interesting. Seriously, strong characters are the backbone of every great story.
But how do we make a strong character that fits the world we have built for them? Perhaps we don’t have to. Personally, I always want to have all of my characters fully fleshed out before I even think about what the plot is going to be. Again, strong characters can be anywhere and do anything, so the heart and soul of my story will always be developed first. A lot of us writers like to draw on our own experiences and our favorite media to develop our plots, so why not do the same for our characters?
My favorite story of all time is Don Quixote. Maybe you’ve heard of it. What makes this story great is not necessarily the shenanigans Don Quixote gets into, but rather, it is Don Quixote himself. He read so many books about knighthood that he just decided to be one himself. How cool is that? Because of my love for this character, I sometimes draw on him to develop my own. They have huge goals, bite off more than they can chew, and are at least a little bit chaotic in their personal pursuits.
This of course can apply to any piece of media you cherish. Think of any of your favorite books, movies, TV shows, artists, cultural icons, and so on and make a list of the qualities you like most about them. What sets them apart from other people? Why do you root for them? It is important to understand why we like what we like so that we can improve our own writing. So when you are thinking up characters for your next story, remember what makes great characters great. They can be anything you want them to be, but please, please, do not make them weak.
I often struggle with writing prolonged sections of prose that meander with little action, though I always choose to read swiftly moving pieces if given the opportunity. To avoid this actionless pitfall, I try to follow the advice of one of my favorite writers, Raymond Chandler. I once read that Chandler cut all his typing paper into half horizontally and imposed the rule that there had to be action in each half sheet.
Now, I don’t know if he double or single spaced, but I have chosen to double space and have action every half page. It’s a good way to keep me on track with a story that moves.
We all have our favorite authors, books, movies, songs, bands, etc., and it’s easy to build stories around them or quote them throughout a story. I have been severely guilty of this in the past, but I had to let it go. Why? Because MY story has to be its own thing. It has to stand on its own. It’s true we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. That’s OK. Jimmy Page wouldn’t be the guitarist he is without B.B. King and Bo Diddley and Davy Graham and a host of others. But, Jimmy Page stood on those shoulders and reached for the next crack in the mountain to pull himself up. If I find myself writing in the style of another author or basing characters on songs, I’m not reaching for anything. I’m just using props.
On Word's “track changes” feature:
Yes, “track changes” can be a fabulous tool for editing your own work—in case you change your mind and want to go back to an earlier version, or you want to keep track of your thought processes, or you're receiving editing advice from an instructor or trusted reader—but be sure to cover your writing/editing tracks when it's time to send your work to journals. Maybe save the marked-up copy for yourself, with a different file name, as a record of how your work evolved (and maybe you can use some of the deleted text for another poem or story), but if you've decided after multiple revisions that, at last, the work is ready to submit, destroy the editing evidence. How? In “track changes,” delete any comments, click “accept all changes” if you're satisfied with them, and then save your document. Now you have a clean copy to submit.
A few notes on the submission process:
Most writers submit their work to multiple publications. Most publications have no problem with simultaneous submissions. If you receive a decline response, don’t take it personally. Blow it off and wait to hear from the other journals or send your story out to a couple more. If you believe in your story, yes, keep sending it out—but you may want to take another look and possibly revise it if you think you may have been too hasty in sending it out the first time. (I have been guilty of this more than once, I confess.) There is no need at all to respond to the editors’ form letter responses. Keep in mind that journals can receive hundreds or thousands of stories to consider for each issue. They can publish only so many.
Writers often wonder what the “In Progress” status means. All it means is that some action has been taken on your submission. Someone on the editorial staff has voted on it, commented on it, or assigned it on to others to read. If you receive a decision email without first seeing a change to “In Progress” status—which doesn’t happen often with us, to be honest—that does not mean we didn’t read your work. Simply reading submissions doesn’t change the status.
If your story is accepted by one publication (congratulations!) immediately withdraw it from the others. You can do this with a click of a button in Submittable. No need to email the editors of the other journals (unless they don’t use Submittable). If you don’t withdraw your work, massive headaches can ensue. Submitting multiple poems? No need to withdraw your submission if one poem in the group is accepted elsewhere. Just send a message through Submittable so editors will continue to consider the remaining poems.