Devil in the Details


I rejected a story because of its first line today.

I’m not a monster. I read several pages, but nothing in them changed my mind.

The line was loaded down with details–the paragraph after it too. Make, model, and color of car. That was the first line. After came details about a person, all of them physical. Even after things started happening in the story, I was barraged with scents and era-orienting visuals. Aside from the author not bothering submit fantasy to my fantasy-themed magazine, (Sigh) the story didn’t need or particularly want any of those extra details. I don’t want want to rewrite Poe’s famous essay, especially since (despite loving Poe) I think that his ideas about unity of effect can be taken to harsh, unreadable extremes, but the core of that philosophy is wonderful for editing.

What is this story about? That’s what I ask when I’m reading slush. How does a 1993 Dodge Camry (or whatever) enunciate the theme? Can I find the theme?

I have a theory hypothesis that if you cannot sum up your story in a single sentence, or in a single word, then it’s not ready for publication. Find the heart of your story and then make  every most of a lot of the details work towards that pulse. My job will get harder, and every fantasy magazine and anthology on earth will get better.


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