Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Writers Take Note: 'And It Was All A Dream' Not Necessarily Welcome

"Stories We've Seen Too Often"
Strange Horizons (last updated March 26, 2009)

"For information about what we're looking for and how to submit, see our main fiction guidelines page.

"The following list is an attempt at classifying the kinds of non-horror plots and themes that we receive too frequently. We have a separate page for horror stories we've seen too often.

"Main plot types are numbered; subspecies and variants receive letters.

"This is not a canonical list of bad stories or story cliches. This is a list of types of stories that we at SH have seen too often; it's not intended to be a complete list of all types of bad stories, nor are all the items on the list necessarily bad...."

The list of 37 to-be-avoided story lines starts with:

"Person is (metaphorically) at point A, wants to be at point B. Looks at point B, says 'I want to be at point B.' Walks to point B, encountering no meaningful obstacles or difficulties. The end. (A.k.a. the linear plot.)..."

I think that calling a conflict-free narrative like that "the linear plot" is a bit off-base, but I'll agree that a collection of words like that is not what I'd call an interesting story. In some respects, it isn't a story at all: more of an account.

The same might be said of #8: "# A place is described, with no plot or characters." Doyle got away with something like that, as a part of Hound of the Baskervilles - but to submit a description, with nothing else, and expect it to be published?

I'm glad to see that the editors didn't say that this set of 'don't submit' ideas was a sort of universal rule.

On the other hand, I think wannabe story tellers, myself included, would be well-advised to look over the list. For example, if you were going write a story that could be summarized as "Teen's family doesn't understand them" (#34) - think long and hard if there's something new and fresh you could bring to the idea.

Quite a few of the no-no story lines hinge on the author (rather injudiciously) assuming that not only the characters, but the readers, are incapable of seeing the 'surprise ending' ahead of time. Way ahead of time.

All in all, a pretty good resource for fiction writers.

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