Recently, Barnstorm CNF produced a thoughtful piece on what they look for in a chosen submission. We from the Fiction front would like to continue the trend. As writers ourselves, we know all too well the frustrations that can arise when trying to submit a piece and not being able to find helpful guidelines. Though the Fiction squad is comprised of readers with diverse individual tastes, we agree on the following points.
First impressions matter. We like having an idea of a story’s feel from early on. What kind of place are we in? Who is the protagonist? What kind of person are they? Are there any stakes for this person, any urgency of action? These are the questions we ask ourselves when diving in to a new story, and if your writing can provide as many preliminary answers as possible on the first page, it’s going to seize our attention.
We love strong, driven writing. We’re suckers for careful observations, well-paced scenes, and realistic dialogue. Our hearts flutter when we see a specific detail that brings a setting or character to life. At the same time, we want to see a story continue to move forward. We will gladly read your carefully-wrought page describing the teapot boiling on the kettle, but we’ll be even happier if it also speaks to something within your character and/or drives the action forward.
We love to be surprised. We encourage writers who take risks, as well as those who champion perspectives that have been traditionally marginalized. We like reading stories we haven’t seen before. Whether this is in the plot, the character, the story structure, or the voice, we are excited when we see something we’re not used to. This is especially true if this starts happening on the first page, or even in the first sentence.
To be clear, we don’t expect submitters to come up with something that’s never been done before, but we do appreciate it when writers put twists on our expectations for what a story is going to be about.
Most importantly, we care about characters. We like stories where the characters drive the plot, rather than the other way around. We believe the strongest stories center around believable characters with some sort of emotional need (again, bonus points if this need is hinted at or shown early in the story!). If we can know something about their past, about who they are, and what makes them tick, it goes a long way. And we like reading about the characters’ journeys from start to finish: how have plot points challenged them, driving them ultimately towards a realization of some sort?
More than anything, we want to be able to connect with your character, and even if she's a one legged pirate from 1752 we want there to be something in her dirty, drunk pirate heart/mind that we can relate to. If you love your story and characters, there’s a good chance others will love them as well.
At the end of the day, we just love stories. That’s why we’re grateful for the chance to read your writing, and carefully consider each piece sent to us. We thank you for your continued support, and look forward to reading your future submissions.
In writerly solidarity,
Jimmy Roach, Carter Foster, Alix McManus, Shannon Slocum, Mike Bjork, Mary Bargdill, and Ethan Leonard