Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pulp Modern Update; Some tips for newer writers

So I've gotten a lot of submissions for Pulp Modern, many good, some ok, quite a few in need of some advice.  If you're relatively new to writing and submitting your writing for publication, let me give you a few tips that I wish I had gotten twenty years ago--

1. See that copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style?  Pick it up.  Read it.  Learn it.  Study it.  Worship it.  Make the rules in that book your religion when it comes to writing.  Do you dig Stephen King?  His book On Writing is a very entertaining guide to good, crisp writing.  I can tell you, however, the golden rule to take away from King's book:  Drop your unnecessary modifiers.  Don't tell me he "ran quickly," it sounds silly.  Don't talk about the femme fatale's "forced smile," describe what that smile looks like, what does it do to her pretty blue eyes?  How do the muscles in her cheeks stretch when she 'forces' that smile?  Big Steve King says adverbs are your enemy.  So are adjectives that would do better to be fleshed out and described.  It's the best lesson I've learned over the last few years and I believe it has improved my writing, ah, drastically...

2. Get to the story.  If you need two pages of back story before the actual story begins, take another look.  How important is all that information?  Can you sprinkle it in throughout the actual story?  I do my best, as an editor, to read an entire story sent to me.  It becomes difficult when I'm on page four and still can't figure out what the story is about, who should I be paying attention to, etc.  Most editors are not nearly so patient.  If you don't grab the reader's attention right away, you're in trouble.

3. Control your point-of-view.  Decide in your prewriting whether your story will be first person, third person limited, or third person omniscient (second person in fiction-- not a good idea).  First person, of course, means a narrator tells us the story from his or her point of view.  Third person limited means we see the story through one of the character's eyes (this means we do not know what other characters are 'thinking').  Third person omniscient means we know what every character is thinking.  This point of view is best reserved for novels.  Also, I don't want to raise any controversy, but if you are going to write a piece of fiction in the present tense, it had better knock the reader's socks off, literally.  It's almost painful to read in the first place and when it's done poorly, it's torture.

4. When submitting fiction to a print journal, use twelve-point type, double-spaced, normal paragraph formatting.  I'm getting a lot of submissions that are formatted for Internet publication.  If I accept a story formatted that way, I have to go through and re-format it when I put the journal together.  That makes me grumpy.  I think about that when I'm reading the submission.

5. This is specific to Pulp Modern-- If you submit a horror story, make sure it's a story that scared the crap out of you while you were writing it.  If it didn't scare you, chances are, it won't scare anybody else.

Thank you for your time and patience.


  1. Yeah, I'm probably preaching to the choir here at NMC.

  2. All great advice. I've broken the tense thing, but I only use it for one character: a brain damaged fellow who uses it to keep his memories and the present apart, in his dented head.