Why Rejections Shouldn’t Bother You

If you want to get your work published, you are going to face a lot of rejection. This can be hard for some people. But it shouldn’t be. Here are some reasons why:

  • Some stories aren’t ready for publication and they need work; rejections give you an opportunity to do that
  • Writing skill develops over time; you should expect to get a ton of rejections early on
  • Even good stories by skilled writers will be rejected
  • Rejection is the norm; some markets reject 99.9% of submissions
  • Everyone has their own opinions
  • People reject things for reasons unrelated to the quality of your work (e.g. they already accepted a similar story; they are full for that issue)
  • Getting rejections can be fun; I am usually amused to learn the reasons why someone didn’t like a story
  • Experimental and/or heavily stylized pieces are commendable, but these are likely to be controversial and receive mixed feedback; often doing something interesting is risky; if your stories are rejected for being experimental, stylized, risky, or creative, that is something to be proud of
  • Your motivation to write should be based on expressing yourself and/or telling your story, not whether particular editors like the story enough to buy it

The Hamthology — Now Available!

The Hamthology is the greatest collection of ham sandwich literature in the history of humankind. More than fifty works of poetry, prose, and visual art on the theme of ham sandwiches come together in this anthology, spanning genres from fantasy and science fiction to mystery, horror, romance, erotica, and more.

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The ham sandwich has attracted little in the way of literary attention. This books fills that critical lacuna. In “Art as Technique”, the seminal work that became the basis for Russian Formalism, literary critic Viktor Shklovsky identified defamiliarization or “estrangement” as the essence of literature. Shklovsky gave the example of Tolstoy’s story “Kholstomer”, told from the point of view of a horse, which altered the reader’s perception and allowed them to see the world anew. Shklovsky argued that deforming reader expectations and de-automatizing our perceptions is at the heart of literature. Throughout The Hamthology, ham sandwiches serve as a defamiliarizing device, acting as a prism through which to view our world and the human condition. The Hamthology is more than a collection of stories, poems, and art—it is an experimental feat in writing that operates at the very core of the literary enterprise.

The stories in this collection span a wide variety of genres, from fantasy and science fiction to mystery, horror, romance, and erotica. They cover such diverse topics as sexuality and gender expression, biological warfare, space colonization, religion, parenthood, crime and punishment, and mental health. Collectively, they comprise a broad look at various aspects of human life, and they explore a wide swath of philosophical terrain through diverse literary approaches, all united by the ham sandwich. Through these works, the ham sandwich comes to represent something greater than the sum of its edible parts, transforming into a transcendent symbol—of our hopes and dreams and fears, of who we are, from where we’ve come, and to where we might go. The Hamthology is, without a doubt, the greatest collection of ham sandwich literature the world has ever known.

You can pick up The Hamthology here.


“Show, Don’t Tell” explained

This is one of the most misunderstood rules in all of prose fiction.

It’s important to understand that every single sentence you write is simultaneously telling one thing (the explicit/referential meaning of the sentence) and showing others (that which is implied or inferred by the sentence).

So, the famous example from Chekhov of “showing” by way of “light glinting in broken glass” is indeed “showing” the reader the light of the moon, because that is not made explicit but rather inferred by the reader. However, the sentence is “telling” us that there is broken glass and that light is glinting in it.

The general recipe for “show, don’t tell” is this: think about whatever it is you want the reader to feel or imagine or understand, and then don’t write that thing. Instead, write around it, so that the reader can feel what you are getting at by way of implication or inference.

Showing is always more evocative than telling, since the reader supplies the information from their own imagination, which is necessarily more vivid than reading it on the page. Showing uses more of the reader’s brain, and places the target image in their imagination, not just within their linguistic processing.

“Show, don’t tell” applies to all aspects of writing, including theme, tone, character, emotion, plot, setting, description, etc. You can show any of these things, or you can tell them.

For example, to “tell” emotion is to say, “John was angry”. To “show” the same emotion is to have John punch someone, or tell them to fuck off. Likewise we can identify “telling” for character, as in “John was the sort of guy to get angry easily”, for setting, as in “they were standing in a grocery store”, for description, as in “it was really dark”, and so on, all of which can be translated into “showing” statements by picking out the right sort of evocative details—details which imply or allow the reader to infer that which you intended to convey.

Many people wrongly equate “show, don’t tell” with a distinction between “scene” and “summary”. But this is only “show, don’t tell” as it concerns plot. It’s true, to “show” the plot is to write a scene, and to “tell” the plot is to write a summary. But this is only the the principle as it applies to the dimension of plot. “Show, don’t tell” is much broader than that. Similarly, many people wrongly interpret “show, don’t tell” as a caution against info-dumps or “expository lumps”. But exposition is only “show, don’t tell” as it applies to backstory, setting, or other information. Summary “tells” the plot, but it can simultaneously show other things; likewise, info-dumps or exposition, while it “tells” backstory or other information, can show other things. (For example, an info-dump about a historical artifact will “show” something about the narrator, or in the cases of dialogue, about the speaking character.) In both cases, an author might choose to use these techniques to “tell” something while effectively/artfully “showing” something else.

The question isn’t whether to show, it’s first what to show, and then how to show it. If you are writing fiction, there are many things you will want to show, including character, theme, emotion, plot progression, world-building (if you’re writing in the speculative mode), backstory, etc, etc. Ideally, you want to show multiple things with each sentence. A well-crafted story reveals multiple layers through the surface level of the text; a single line of description can simultaneously develop character, theme, and plot, without saying any of them directly. It shows multiple layers of meaning.

Many people wrongly believe that “showing” takes more words than “telling”. This is completely wrong. Effective showing is often shorter than telling. In fact, Hemingway (who along with Chekhov is one of the two most important authors for the “show, don’t tell” principle) talked about the “iceberg” theory of literature, where most of the story is hidden below the surface level of the words. Hemingway uses lots of simple sentences, but buries the emotion and character and theme below the surface, showing the story by hiding it “between the lines”, so to speak.

I think there are probably two reasons why people think “showing” is shorter than “telling”: the first, because they wrongly believe that “show, don’t tell” just means to use scene rather than summary, and of course scene is always longer than summary; the second, because the wealth of examples of “show, don’t tell” that you can find online are people taking simple descriptive statements, like “Sally was friendly”, and then replacing them with additional detail. These examples are indeed a form of “showing”, but it’s a limited aspect of showing that is probably better talked about in terms of “general/vague/abstract” language versus “specific” language, or more generally, the concept of the ladder of abstraction. Showing should in general be shorter than telling, because it is about cutting things out and letting the reader intuit or infer the meaning. Often, during editing, this can literally mean just deleting entire sentence rather than rewriting them. First drafts will often contain pairs of sentences, where the first tells and the second shows, something like: “Frank was distracted and he burnt the toast. He smelled burning toast and rushed to hit the button.” In this example, the first sentence can be deleted entirely, because it is shown by the second. If you go through and delete the first of these kind of paired sentences, your manuscript will be made shorter by following the principle of “show, don’t tell”. In other cases, showing is shorter because fewer words, rightly used, can convey multiple layers of meaning. This is probably easiest to see in the case of punchy dialogue, which can simultaneously convey characters, relationships, and plot.

There are many literary techniques for “showing”.  For example, the techniques of metaphor, irony, understatement, ambiguity, and unreliable narration all depend essentially on what is not stated by the writer. Each of them, in their own way, refrains from telling directly, and instead shows just enough for the reader to comprehend the meaning on their own—these techniques all rely on the reader to do some work to find the underlying meaning, where it’s hidden between the lines. They are all examples of showing, rather than telling.

In literature, the written text includes narrative gaps that are filled in by the reader. According to some critics, in particular reader-response critic Stanley Fish, this is the distinctive feature of literature: plain-language is referential and expository, whereas literary language reveals additional meaning through intentional interpretive gaps. According to this view, “show, don’t tell” is not just advice on good writingit is the essence of literature. Plain language puts the meaning in the surface level of the words (it “tells”) and literary language puts the meaning in interpretive gaps filled by the reader (it “shows”).

Before writing anything, you should figure out what it is you are hoping to express. You can think of what you want to express as the “target”—it could be a character trait, an emotion, a theme etc. The goal of “show, don’t tell” is to write in such a way that you express the “target” without saying it explicitly.

My Story Addrassus in Broadswords and Blasters issue #8!

Very happy to have my story Addrassus in issue #8 of Broadswords and Blasters, just released, and available here! And really happy to have the story described as “shades of Odysseus and some of the best action sequences you’ll read this year”! I hope you check it out! Thanks! And if you do, please tell me what you thought!
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Imps & Minions – Open Call for Subs and Kickstarter

The Imps & Minions anthology is now open for submissions from authors, and the Kickstarter page is live!


From the open call page:

We are seeking high-quality speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and speculative horror) on the theme of “imps & minions”. Stories should feature an imp or a minion.

Submission information and the submission form can be found on our kickstarter page.

If you like this project and want to support us, I would really appreciate if you would take a look at our kickstarter reward options and help us out by becoming a backer. (I recommend going for the paperback reward option.)

Thanks a lot! I’m really looking forward to reading all the submissions and putting together this awesome project with the team, with the support of our kickstarter backers!