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Fiction Editor Shares Tips

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Interested in publishing your fiction at Literary Mama?


Our fiction editors receive more than 100 submissions a year and publish one or two every month. On occasion, they will publish three or four in a month, but those occasions are rare. Before Kristina Riggle left her post as one of our editors, I asked her to share a few comments about the stories she worked with during her nine-year tenure.

KC:  Our guidelines encourage submissions with "fresh voices, superior craft, and vivid imagery" and in fiction, we note that one of the things you look for is a story with great characters. What constitutes a great character?

KR: A character who feels real, as opposed to a cliche. By this I mean, sure, write about a harried former corporate woman turned mother, but give us enough relevant, specific detail such that she stands out as a complex individual. And a character should have some spark of action in her, even if it's subtle. No matter how sympathetic a character's situation, no matter how heart-rending or universally relatable, if she's a passive victim bemoaning her state, the story will die on the page.

KC: What kinds of questions should writers ask themselves as they're writing pieces of fiction?

KR: Actually, don't ask yourself anything while writing the first draft. Let 'er rip, I say. But as you edit, ask yourself, "What am I trying to accomplish? What is this story about? Has my character changed? And if not, why not?" If there's a major revelation or shift or surprise ending, really interrogate it. "Did I set this up well enough? Is this ending 'earned' or is it a flashy bunch of sentences trying to end with a bang but not supported by what came before?" I think it's surprisingly hard, sometimes, to answer the "What is this story about?" question.

KC: Each piece you've ushered to publication is sure to have had its own revision/editing issues but has there been an over-arching issue--such as grammar or narrative structure--that's been a constant teaching point? In other words, are there two or three grammar or narrative structure "mistakes" that you commonly saw and would encourage writers to make special note of as they write?

KR: A common issue I've noticed is a tendency to try to add a novel's worth of backstory into a short story, especially related in a mode of "telling" the reader, instead of showing us what the character is like through actions and dialogue in immediate scene. Backstory is essential for the author to know, but in a short story, backstory should be employed selectively and carefully, otherwise you will bog down the pace and obscure the real point of your narrative. So get your deleting finger ready if you find paragraphs explaining where your narrator went to school, how she met her husband, what years her kids were born, all her accomplishments and major life events -- especially if you start your story this way.

Related to this is an attempt to employ a novel's wide, expansive scope in a short story. It won't work, and the story will end up feeling like it's rushed, overstuffed, and skimming the surface. I liken a novel to an entire opera, whereas a short story is like an aria. It fits within the scope of its broader story, but an aria tells its own story, too, of an intense moment in time.

KC: What two writing-related publications--print or online--would you suggest to a mama-writer who hopes to be published?

Writer's Digest is a great resource for beginners. I'm also a big fan of the blog Writer Unboxed.

KC: Kristina's a bit secretive about her next, big project because she hasn't yet shown it to her agent, but she's excited about it. We'll be following her on Facebook (Novels of Kristina Riggle) and Twitter (@krisriggle), so we hear the details as soon as she can share them, and hope you will too.


Karna Converse¬†is a freelance writer who’s written everything from technical documentation and price proposals to newsletter articles, devotionals, personal profiles and essays. Her essays have been published in a variety of regional and national publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Notre Dame Magazine, the Cup of Comfort and Chicken Soup anthologies, Our Iowa, and on Iowa Public Radio. She and her husband are parents to three young adults. Karna is a former blog editor, senior editor, managing editor, and editor-in-chief of Literary Mama.

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