We at Whistling Shade like well-told stories about interesting characters,
doing interesting things. An artistic and original style is also very important -
the language itself must be part of the art. Make the story sound like your story,
and not a story that any writer could have cranked out.
Common things that go wrong in the stories we receive...
- Story is a situation rather than a narrative (guy's life working at cardboard box factory).
- Story uses something shocking or heavy in lieu of real narrative development (woman dying of cancer,
stories involving car accidents).
- Story is too autobiographical (story of struggling writer).
- Story has familiar treatment of a familiar situation (young people meet & fall in love but parents object).
Even rather threadbare plots can be redeemed by original treatment (what if the dog narrated the story?).
- Story is longer than the narrative demands (extraneous situations, background, or flashbacks undermine its force and impact).
- Story is over-explained (intrusive or heavy-handed explanations about character motivations or actions, rather than the
subtlety of suggestion). Some things in life can't be fully explained and remain mysterious; stories can be the same.
- Story lacks style, or is told in an unexpressive manner (narratives can draw upon a wide range of styles
and techniques, but require language that is heightened and demonstrative in some way).
- Story resembles an urban legend (kids disrespectful of dead person's grave/remains, and dead person
comes back to haunt them) or the premise of a TV show or movie.
- Story resembles a memoir, with lots of personal history and circumstances.
If you have a real-life story, submit it to us as a memoir at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have a story that is mostly real-life but insist on making some alterations and turning it into a work of fiction,
make sure it is as compelling as an entirely invented story.
You may regard fact and near-fact as almost the same, but readers do not. They assume anything labeled as "fiction" occurred only in the mind of the writer.
A memoir of you robbing a bank is interesting.
A fictional story of you robbing a bank is less interesting, because it didn't really happen.
- Story is told in present tense without any real reason for being in present tense. We've seen many
MFA student stories in the present tense lately, and let's just say the novelty has worn off.
In third person present, the effect is like watching a movie camera.
In first person present, the effect is like listening to a character talking
to you on a cell phone even as they interact with other people. If you do
not want these effects in your stories, stick with the past tense.
A lot of the things said above about fiction are also true of poetry.
Our definition of a poem is what someone presents to us as a poem.
It might be a cooking recipe or a rant about a boyfriend (those would probably
not be good poems). It might also not happen to have line breaks.
In the best poetry, however, the language itself becomes the art.
Many devices (alliteration, enjambment, rhyme, meter) can be employed
to heighten the language, but each poem should also be original and
create its own rules.
Common mistakes in the poems we receive...
- Poem is intentionally obscure (don't just
free-associate something and expect everyone to
admire your genius)
- Poem employs obvious or silly metaphors
(a relationship depicted as a ball and chain)
- Poem resembles a diatribe you might hurl
at your lover/friend/family member
- Poem uses rhyme and meter but not well
("cat" rhyming with "mat" for example)
- Poem employs unoriginal or saccharine phrases
("it's hard to say how much I love you")
- Poem doesn't seem to have a reason for being
written (description of an ordinary lunch with your mother)
- Poem is just a story with line breaks (in that case, make it a story)