Slithytove at Clarion (st_at_clarion) wrote,
Slithytove at Clarion
st_at_clarion

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Clarion, Day 40: In which my critting abilities crash and burn

Keats, dying of tuberculosis in Rome, spoke of his 'posthumous existence'. I'm having the same feeling about Clarion. 2 days to go. Actually, I've been feeling this way since Tuesday, 7/13. And I've been starting to preemptively miss my fellow Clarionites for the past week and a half. We critted a story this morning that Kelly Link suggested was an end-of-Clarion story: it was about separation and loss.

I turned in my seventh and final Clarion story, "Lives of the Saints," Monday and it got critted Tuesday. People either liked it until page 13 or until page 20. The Taoist assassin chick picking up the hero in a AH-1W Super Cobra just broke the suspension of disbelief for many. Either that or the talky philosophical discussion at the end. Jeff didn't like the non-standard narrative technique, Kelly liked it and wanted to see more of it. Universal agreement, including me, that the story needs major revisions/rethinking.

This morning I had a bit of a shock that I'm not over yet. We critted a story that I thought had interesting ideas, but significant story-telling problems. Most of the rest of class agreed. Jeff and Kelly absolutely loved it. Kelly suggested SCIFICTION, that it was the kind of thing Ellen Datlow is looking for.

This is a real problem for me, in that it challenges my idea that I know what is successful fiction. Even if the would-be writer can't write as well as he'd like, he *has* to be able to distinguish what fiction is successful and saleable from what isn't, if he is ever to improve his own writing. How do you know what to write if you can't tell good from bad? Up until this point, I thought I had a fairly good idea of *what* worked and what didn't, what an editor would buy and what they probably wouldn't, even I didn't understand fully *how* it worked, how a story achieved its effects. After that story this morning, I'm no longer sure I can even tell good from bad fiction. This is very distressing.

I'm still worried about this.

Also hungry. More after lunch.
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  • 4 comments
Before you beat yourself up think about all the anthologies and magazines you have picked up, read a story from the 'inside' and wondered how the hell the author got selected with 'that' story? Try to see what appealed to Kelly and Jeff and through that viewpoint what type or style of piece appeals to Ellen.

There are a lot of "short stories" that are short but minus the basic criteria of story. Mainstream literature is famous for selecting non short story short stories. Some wander off into art. Some are 'experimental'. (lots are crap in my judgemental opinion)

Perhaps you will never write a short story with similar characteristics to the one you critiqued, this doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean Ellen wouldn't like one of your stories too.

Thankfully as human beings we like variety.

I have been thinking about Clarion ending all week too. It is sad because I have enjoyed your frequent updates. The vicarious ghostings of the physically unattending (like me) suck up the continuing inspiration of the process and participants . . . can you say vampires? I think I have written some of my best material yet during the weeks of Clarion, time and other eyes will confirm or reject my assumption down the road. ::he he::

I hope you post more about the last couple days and even afterward about transitioning back to your life.
I think the best thing you can do is read the markets you want to be published by religiously.

It helps to give you an idea of what stories might resonate with which editor. Which to be frank, has nothing really to do with your critiquing skill. I'm not sure if the story you read was flawed or if it told the story in a manner that you didn't enjoy.

What a successful writer really needs to be able to do is determine whether his stories are potentially saleable, and where. It's always good to stretch your boundaries, but understanding yourself as a writer is probably the most important thing you can learn. (Because people almost always crit through the filter of how they would have written the story, or where they would have liked the story to go, and that may be part of the reason why the story didn't work for you --because it went in a manner that it alien to you.
Oh, and I wouldn't fret too much just because you didn't like a story your instructors did - we had the rather odd experience of having Kelly and Scott Edelman say polar opposite stuff on almost every story.

Nor would I take their opinions too much to heart-their is no gospel on what makes a story good. Your perspective is just as valid as theirs. It's important to trust yourself.

Anonymous

July 19 2004, 14:46:02 UTC 15 years ago

I think you have two errors there. One is conflating successful, saleable, and good (three different things) and the other is the idea that editors make their purchase decision based on any of those. Except in the strict, technical sense that stories that sell must have been saleable, I don't think it's true. Editors buy what they like and what they think their readers will like. Their opinions are entirely personal and quite idosyncratic.

People will certainly give you their opinion on the topic. I've heard many times from people that one story might sell to editor X or is the sort of thing that editor Y likes--but my experience so far is that nobody is really very good at predicting what an editor will like, except in the easiest cases (the next hard-sf story from a guy who's sold 12 stories to Analog can probably be safely counted on to sell to Analog).

If nobody else can do it, I don't think you should really expect to be able to yourself.

None of which is to say that you shouldn't do your very best to hone your sense of what's good, saleable, and successful. Use it to evaluate your own work and make it better. But don't expect it to match what editors think about stories.

Philip Brewer
http://www.philipbrewer.net