Confessions of a Slush Reader — Thoughts from the Slush Pile
Today’s confessions come from the slush pile wisdom of Nancy DiMauro, FFO staffer and slush queen.
If you write, and submit those stories, you dread the slush pile. It’s an inevitable part of the process. The way you get out of the slush and into print is to impress someone like me. Someone who has volunteered or is low man on the totem pole and has no choice but to wade through the slush and pan for gold. So, I decided to give you another peak into the heart and mind of a slush reader (me) at Flash Fiction Online.
Sometimes what wins the heart and soul of the slush reader – to the point I’m willing to fight for the story – is hard to precisely define. Over the last several months we had two stories that illustrate the point. One of the stories I’ll call a message piece, while the other was a funereal/memorial piece.
How were these very different stories alike:
(1) They were both well written. It was obvious that both writers were talented, and knew their craft;
(2) The stories were polished – no obvious typos;
(3) Both stories had voice and presence.
(4) Both took unexpected routes along the way/ presented something new.
(5) It was argued that both were not stories but rather vignettes capturing a moment in time. Usually the “NAS” notation is a death knell, but these two merited consideration regardless.
So, why did I choose to recommend one, and reject the other?
The memorial piece was soft. It invited the reader in. Many of the memorial pieces we see are bitter or drowning in grief. This one was tinged with grief, but the act of moving through grief rather than wallowing in it was the story. It was painted with the lightest brush strokes. It also used a tried and true speculative fiction trope in a new way. Because the tone and emotion was so inviting, I was willing to overlook some things which might otherwise resulted in a rejection – such as a main character that did not sound age appropriate
Message pieces are difficult. You always run a risk of losing the story to the message. The best ones, in my opinion, are the message stories where you don’t realize that it was a message story until it’s done. If the message is laid in too heavily, no one is going to read the story. In my opinion, this second story was strident and very heavy handed. It relied on a gimmick to beat me over the head with the message if I couldn’t glean it from the prose. It was rejected because of its tone. If you are working on a message piece, my advice for you would be to use a soft touch.
When we’re writing, we need to pay attention to the mood of the story. Sometimes a mood will draw people in. Other times it will repulse them. Sometimes you will want to repulse the readers, but realize each time you do, you make it easier for the reader to put the story down. In a longer work, you’re going to mix in the heavy moods with the lighter ones. But short stories don’t give you that leeway. You can hit one emotional note. Make sure you’re hitting the right one with the right intensity.
Good luck, and good writing.
Nancy DiMauro is a writer, blogger, and slush reader extradoirdinaire. If you can get a story past Nancy, you’re golden. And whatever you do, don’t use “alright”. It’s “all right”. You’ve been warned. You can find more of Nancy’s writing advice as well as links to her own fiction at http://nancydimauro.blogspot.com.