Recently, I submitted one of my stories to a popular writing magazine. I’ve not had a great deal of success so far (despite some positive feedback) so I’m hoping for a change of fortune.
The magazine in question has some very fixed, rather strange ideas of what they expect from a short story, which goes against the more open, more creative expectations of many publishers. In particular, they seem unable to consider any story that doesn’t have a twist in its tale. Which is fine, because a clever twist can be very effective, but it seems to me that there are some serious flaws in their approach. Firstly, when writing a ‘twist-in-the-tale’ story there are only limited scenarios to choose from, so it’s difficult to be original; difficult to come up with a new idea. Secondly, it’s probably the hardest type of story to write – you need to take great care in order to make it work – which is maybe not ideal for a magazine that aims to encourage amateurs. The third problem is that a twist is designed to take the reader by surprise, but when you know that every story a magazine publishes will have one, it ceases to work – from the moment you start reading you’re looking for the twist. The only surprise would be if there isn’t one. My penchant for pet names has led me to refer to the magazine as ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ – some of you may be old enough to remember the television series of that name.
Strange really. Many years ago, not long after I wrote my first short story, I did some research to find out what publishers expected from a short story. Most of the commentaries that I found, which were mostly from publishers and writers, suggested that you don’t need to create a story in the traditional sense; that it should be looked at as a piece of short, creative writing. You might create a fully formed story, or you might just describe a situation, a character or an event. Or you might use it to put across a philosophical idea, or to describe thought processes. In fact, pretty much anything goes – creative writing, rather than short story. It’s odd that different publishers should have such different ideas of what is acceptable within a particular format. Even stranger that each of them should feel confident enough of their own assessment to assert it with absolute confidence as the correct viewpoint.
The story I submitted does have a twist, of a kind, but only time will tell as to whether it’s enough for the editor of this particular magazine.