ON THE PREMISES NEWSLETTER: February 2012 Current issue Back issues There is no contest right now. A new contest will begin on or around March 10.



Current issue

Back issues

There is no contest right now. A new contest will begin on or around March 10.

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1) Contest #16 is over!

The 16th OTP short story contest closed on January 28. We received 237 entries. Ten stories made it to the final round of judging and we've gotten feedback from all but one judge, so we ought to know quite soon who the winners are.

2) Writing vs. Storytelling

In the last couple of years, the quality of our average submission has improved enough that most entries contain few fundamental writing errors. Fundamental errors used to be our number one reason for rejecting an entry. Now, one of our most common reasons is the quality of the story being told. A healthy percentage of our submissions fall into a category we call the "well-written bad story."

One of the most prevalent kinds of well-written bad stories is the kind in which virtually nothing of consequence happens. These are a special sub-set of the "No Problem" stories we've discussed before, except in these stories, even less happens. Maybe the whole story is about an elderly woman reminiscing about her childhood... which would be fine if anything interesting happened in her childhood. I don't know if the authors of these stories are writing just-barely-disguised autobiography in order to work out their own feelings, or if they're aiming for the short story equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting, or if they're just thinking that if they strike the right tone of nostalgia, their entry will win. I do know that those kinds of entries don't stand a chance with us.

In fact, I've concluded that some people who enter our contests don't really want to be fiction writers. They want to write essays, or maybe poems, but not fiction. These writers have led me to revise my definition of a story's critical elements. I've said many times that a story needs to show us at least one character, to raise questions in the readers' minds, and to supply some kind of answer to those questions. I'm refining the question part to say:

A story must raise questions about characters or events in the story in the readers' minds.

If all your story does is make me wonder why there's injustice in the world, or why people can't be nicer to one another, or anything else I could have asked myself after reading any newspaper article, then I don't think your story is successful. Yes, the purpose of fiction is to evoke thoughts and feelings in the reader, but at least some of those thoughts and feelings are supposed to be about the characters and events in the story being read.

I'll put it even more simply: Stories are supposed to make readers care what happens in the story. We'll discuss ways to do that next month.

3) Other Fiction

As usual, I have two stories for you. One is a speculative story from a new magazine, Darker, that I think holds promise, though I wish it had tighter editing. There are at least two typos in this story. Nonetheless, I like the story and if enough people tell them to fix the typos, then maybe (1) they'll know they have an audience, and (2) they'll fix the typos. So our speculative selection of the month is Dead Letters by K. E. Blaski, and it definitely raised questions in my mind about the characters in the story.

The other is a real-world story: A Carnival Atmosphere by Barbara O'Dair. This story starts out just like many of the "nothing of consequence happens" stories we reject, but something soon happens, and it grows, and grows. Then the last paragraph introduces one fact that turns the whole story upside-down.

As always, both stories come from magazines that pay their authors.

Keep reading and writing,

Tarl Kudrick
co-publisher of "On The Premises"