Monday Miscellany - August 2, 2021
by Baltimore Review Staff Members
We opened our new submission period yesterday, August 1, and we look forward to reading your work. Submittable will be open for poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction submissions through November 30—unless we hit submission caps before that. We’ll give a heads-up if it looks like we’re getting close. The contest categories will open soon. And be sure to take a quick look at the submission guidelines for the type of work you’re submitting. Thanks!
Enjoy listening to conversations with editors? Visit Becky Tuch’s Lit Mag News Roundup page. I’ll be listening to Becky’s conversation with Stephanie G’Schwind of Colorado Review tomorrow. Good to feel connected to the literary community. The interviews are also on YouTube. Worth a listen!
Another site I like to visit—because I love flash fiction—is Kathy Fish’s The Art of Flash Fiction page. The writing prompts are great. I especially want to try the mosaic form and think more about how the mind leaps across white space to make connections. Reminds me of a drawing class I took. The instructor told us that broken, or “implied,” lines are fine, a useful technique. The mind fills in the gaps. Implied lines have a number of uses, like giving an artwork more energy and subtly leading the viewer to a focal point. I like to think of white space in fiction and poetry mosaics as energizing the reader’s mind, pushing it to try harder, even giving it the ability to fill in the gaps with new meaning each time a work is read. Check out Kathy Fish’s page and give the exercises a try.
A cliché a day keeps the readers away (after all, familiarity breeds contempt). Why? Because a sentence is a terrible thing to waste.
So here is my little bit of advice, just for fun: take your clichés, and break them. Spin them around, mash them up, find any kind of way to make them fresh and new. Whatever you can do to flip a phrase’s meaning on its head.
If your protagonist is never prepared for the big moment, say that she always keeps an ace up her sleeve. Unfortunately, she only goes out in sleeveless shirts.
Minor issue that no one seems to be addressing? The elephant shrew in the room
See something that you want, but not all that badly? I’d give my appendix for it!
Made a romantic attempt that failed miserably and sulked about it for weeks? I don’t miss and dwell
Are those examples dumb? Sure! Don’t use them! Just think about what you can do with ordinary language to liven it up.
Never waste a word, never waste a sentence, and never waste an opportunity to surprise your readers. Have fun, and break some clichés!
One of the most-loved writing tips is to write what you know. After all, your own life is what you know best! It can be comfortable to write characters and settings that feel familiar—but in creating a multi-faceted collection of characters, it would be awfully tiring to have each one be a carbon copy of the other.
Trying to write a character with a life that is very different from your own can be an exhilarating challenge. It’s an exercise that I think every writer should try! However, to keep your character from becoming a caricature, it is essential to do your research. No one wants to read stories with stereotypical characters, and you definitely want to avoid negative stereotypes.
Wikipedia pages can be a great place to start, but they should only be that: Starting places. See if you can find any firsthand accounts of someone living with a characteristic you’re writing about, be it a blog post, YouTube video, podcast, Q&A websites like Yahoo Answers, or Reddit threads that commonly share experiences. Taking notes here, from how people truly live, can help create a fuller picture of how your character’s life and how it fits into the world of your story. If you can, have face-to-face or Zoom conversations with people. If you want to write about the worklife of an auto mechanic, for example, talk to an auto mechanic.
Some of the best characterization I’ve seen is in the subtle details of a character’s lifestyle, and it is here that you can let your research peek through. Does your researched quality change what the character values or prioritizes? How is that evident in their daily actions? Are their interests and mannerisms true to your research?
I remember speaking with a friend once about story endings. I had the sudden thought:
First impressions among people are important. But it’s the last impression that will stay with the person.
It’s the same with writing. Yes, you need to hook the audience. Writers have heard this ad nauseam.
But what about the endings? I’m not sure we speak enough about those.
How do you leave your reader? How do you say goodbye?
There’s nothing quite as disappointing as being dragged through a great story (or poem) only to end up on an empty street with tumbleweeds skittering past. The writer has formed this phenomenal build-up, has given the reader heartfelt characters and a relatable conflict . . . and then the last paragraph or the last line even just falls completely and totally flat. The emotional letdown is real.
This happens fairly often with submissions. I’m sure you understand that feeling: you've finally gotten to the end of your story, and you just sit there tapping your pen, thinking, How on earth do I end this thing? It’s not easy. It’s super not. Writers can go through several different endings before landing on one that they feel is “good enough”—but still doesn’t complete it the way they’d like.
Well, first off, give it time. Don’t pressure yourself to come up with a perfect ending right away. And that leads me to the second tip: don’t aim for perfect. Just strive for “good enough,” and work from there. Shooting for perfection is the same as shooting yourself in the foot. Just accept that the first few endings you come up with might not be great. That’s fine. Take your time. Brainstorm. Try several different lines or endings. Ask friends which ones speak to them the most.
And remember that this is the last impression. Try not to sum up the theme of your story. Try not to end on a cheesy line.
Just say goodbye to the reader.