Incorporating Social Distancing in Writing

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I’ve debated this since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Should I incorporate social distancing elements in my writing? Should characters wear masks and stay 6 feet apart? Should they never greet each other with a physical gesture like a handshake or hug? Should more than one character even be in the same room together? Or do I ignore all that and write as if life is back to the old normal?

Stories always represent a snapshot in time. Whether it’s the language used, the technology described, or the social norms of the characters, stories inevitably date themselves. As a science fiction writer, many of my stories occur in the future; so outdated tech usually isn’t an issue. But my characters speak and use early 21st century vocabulary and not the words, or even a separate language, developed between now and when the story takes place. And say I’m writing about a colony ship hurtling toward a new planet. What about the crew’s composition? If written 100 years ago, the crew likely would have been all male and white. Not today, at least not for me. I purposefully include an ensemble cast consisting of both sexes and multiple races and ethnicities.

Whether we like it or not, our writing dates us. Wouldn’t including elements of social distancing simply further date an already dated work? Or do such elements go too far? Or would we prefer our fiction to be just that, a fictional escape from reality? Would we rather not be reminded of this unusual and difficult time we are living through?

So far I’ve written two short stories during the pandemic. Neither one includes social distancing concepts, but I thought about doing so both times. I ultimately rejected doing so because it would have interfered with the story. For example, one story takes place at an academic conference. Those are all cancelled for the foreseeable future, so that would have killed the story. The climax wouldn’t quite have the same dramatic impact if it was a virtual conference.

There is no right answer, but I’m curious. How have you treated social distancing in your writing? Let me know in the comments.

The First Sentence

How important is the first sentence? A Writers Path had a recent post on the importance of the first sentence setting the tone for the entire story. That blog also had a similar post on The Importance of a Great Literary First Impression.

Aeryn Rudel of Rejectomancy had a post as well where he analyzed the first lines from his stories that were published last year. And The Write, Already! blog recently had a series of posts promoting John Brueckner’s “892 Opening Lines” book. There’s even a publication dedicated to the first sentence called, not so coincidentally, The First Line. I’ve posted previously about that publication.

I also recall an editor of Asimov’s or Analog year’s ago discussing how important the first sentence was. What I recall, whether I remember correctly or not, essentially was if the first sentence didn’t grip him, it had little chance of being purchased.

Clearly, this is on a lot of people’s minds. So have I practiced this philosophy? I’ve certainly tried with varying amounts of success. I’ve also tried to vary my approach. Sometimes the first line is dialogue. Other times it’s the narrator speaking.

To date my favorite is from a story I’m still shopping around. Indeed, I hope to use it as the lead story in my short story collection submitted to the C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize. (I wrote about this contest here.) The line is: “The naked man ran screaming from the room.” Don’t you want to read on to know why he is both naked and screaming? I thought so; I haven’t gotten an editor to bite yet though.

Do you try to nail that first line before proceeding with a story, or do you not worry about it? Do you have any first lines you’re especially proud of? Let me know in the comments.

 

Bouncing Around

I’ve been bouncing around a lot these days. I’ve lacked focus on any of my writing. I’ve even put off submitting those works that have received a rejection. So what gives? Good question. I don’t know.

According to Word, I haven’t worked on my WIP novel in over a month. I’ve finished three flash stories though, and I’m one scene away from finishing the novella I thought I’d finish last summer. That’s some progress, I guess.

I feel like I’m waiting for something, which is probably the wrong approach. If there is any upside, it’s by not resubmitting my stories, I have a catalogue worth I can combine into a collection for the contest mention in Submission Dilemma III. Needless to say, I’m going for it. I’ll spend the $25 on the submission fee and take my chances.

But, first, I need to finish the novella. The submission guidelines say no story should be longer than 15,000 words. The novella is longer but already broken down into a couple stories. I estimate the longest of those stories will come in just under 15,000 words. Regardless, I plan to spread the individual stories out in the collection to build tension.

Collecting my stories into a single work will reduce my number of submissions for the year while I wait to hear back from the contest, but I’m okay with that. I like the idea of having a collected works manuscript. Now I just need to finish the novella and organize the collection before the April 15 deadline.

How has your writing focus been lately? Have you been productive, or are you finding distractions? Let me know in the comments.

Submission Dilemma III

I haven’t had one of these in a while. The ole do I or don’t I submit dilemma. The C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize is open to submissions of short story collections until April 16. I meet all the requirements. I live in the Southeastern United States. I’m an emerging writer. I have enough stories to reach the 140-220 page (35,000-55,000 word) range. And the manuscript wouldn’t be that difficult to put together, simply cutting and pasting several stories into one file.

The contest winner gets $10,000 and their manuscript published. Sounds great, so what’s my hold up? Like a lot of publishing contests, this one has an entry fee–$25. I have yet to pay to play as a writer. I believe in the old adage that money flows one way from the publisher to the writer. I understand the economics of a lot of publishing these days, especially in the literary magazine industry, is difficult and holding contests with paid entries helps pays the bills. I don’t fault that, and I don’t fault those who enter for a chance to win additional compensation beyond what normally would accompany acceptance in a literary magazine.

The contest fees I’ve seen generally run in the $5-$25 range. While not cost prohibitive, those fees can add up if a writer constantly applies to these contests.

If I’m so opposed, why would I even consider this contest? For starters, it’s the first I’ve seen geared towards collections of short stories. Usually the contests I come across are for a single short story. I have plenty of those still making the rounds with the literary magazines and not a whole lot to show for it. I’m intrigued by the thought of collecting my stories into a single work. That has been a goal of mine from the start, though I had hoped it would be a collection of reprints. I’d be happy with the publication of a collection of original works too!

Also, like I mentioned earlier, I meet all the criteria. How often does that happen?

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments if I should fork over the $25 and submit a collection of short stories to this contest.

Post #34 -Novella Submission

8/16/18

This was the week.  Monday, August 13 was Tor’s deadline for novella submissions.  Followers of this blog know I’ve worked most of the summer on combining three of my unpublished stories into a single novella.  This involved expanding the third such story from a flash fiction piece to a significantly lengthier piece to meet Tor’s minimum length requirement of 20,000 words.  While working on this project, I encountered two issues, which I detailed in Post #31 (involving not submitting my best work) and Post #32 (involving a submissions dilemma).

Well, I resolved both issues by not submitting the novella.  This was a difficult decision, but I believe the right one.  Because of the looming deadline, I sent the finished novella to my beta readers with not much turnaround time.  Two managed to get through the 21,100 words, and both had the same comment—the ending didn’t resolve anything.  In other words, it wasn’t an ending at all.

The interesting part is, I had the same critique.  Often, I need a beta reader to point out a flaw in a work.  This time, I knew the flaw going in.  In order to meet the minimum word count, I had added a scene beyond the ending of the original third story.  I like the added scene, but it opened up an entirely new avenue of the story, which I then didn’t explore.  I was rushing to finish the story, so I’d have time to edit it and send it out to my beta readers.  So the story has no proper ending; it just stops, and my beta readers were left unsatisfied. If they felt that way, there’s no way the editors at Tor would accept it.

That’s when I decided not to submit the novella.  I already had qualms about not submitting my best work, and my beta readers’ comments only solidified those qualms.  This is my longest work to date, and I want to do it right.  I want to have the best chance at cracking the pinnacle of sci-fi publishing.

So, I have a new plan.  Initially, I’ll chop off the first of the three stories.  As I expanded the end of the novella, I realized the first part no longer fit.  The story had morphed into something different.  With the first story separated from its sequels, I’ll start submitting that story to markets again as a stand alone piece.

Then, I’ll continue to take the novella wherever the last scene leads.  I haven’t figured out what that entails yet, but I’m excited to find out.  Once I’ve written a proper ending, I’ll see if my beta readers agree.  Hopefully, Tor or another market will be open at that time for novella submissions because mine will be ready to head out the door.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever purposely failed at a writing goal because you knew it was the better way to proceed.

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