That’s how long I waited for a rejection to a story I submitted on December 19, 2015. I waited that long because — on the off chance it was accepted — it would have a lot of exposure.
That brings the total for my short stories rejections to fourteen, but it also frees up the story for submission — and rejection — to other markets. (note: I have more rejections in the flash-fiction markets)
At this point, my confidence in these stories is unfounded but remains unshaken. I like my stories, so that’s understandable.
At least, this time I received a bit of feedback . . .
“This one was a little heavy on the exposition for us, but another editorial team might respond differently to your story, so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.”
I had to stop and think about what that meant . . .
The story in question is The Shirt, first of five written before my sojourn at the Viable Paradise XIX workshop. By the way, that story is password-protected. It’s also the unedited rough draft. The version I’m submitting has gone through a couple of beta reads and subsequent editing. If you are a new subscriber and want to read the story, ask for the password below (do not include your e-mail address; I’ll respond to the e-mail address associated with the notification).
“Heavy in exposition” . . . I appreciate the feedback, but that is a bit cryptic. More than I usually get, but cryptic. For them who might not be familiar with what they mean, welcome to the club. I mean “heavy in exposition”, not cryptic; I assume my readers would know what cryptic means. It would be ironic if they didn’t.
OK, I could give you links to many definitions, but my interpretation of “exposition” can be encapsulated by the time-tested “As you know, Bob, . . .”
Meaning, it’s something that has to happen so that your readers can properly frame the story, but also something that can quickly bore readers to tears. A correct balance — whatever that means — is tricky to achieve.
Josh drew the Clavick and tossed it to Bruce who used it to dispatch the vampire. And they all lived happily ever after.
That is what one might call not enough exposition. We have no idea what a “Clavick” is, how it might be used, and why it would kill a vampire.
Here’s how that might be rewritten:
Josh had been waiting for this moment. He drew the Clavick from its hiding place and tossed it to Bruce.
Clavicks had once been supreme weapons in the war against vampires, but in the years since The Slaughter, the memory of them had passed from history. Some even doubted their existence. Constructed from walrus ivory and incorporating the runes discovered in an old Romanian monastery, they resembled a slimmer version of the Wahaika, a traditional Maori weapon of war, with an added bi-forked hooked spike. Typically used in close quarter fighting, it was a skin irritant to vampires and deadly when it came in contact with their liver.
Bruce had studied its use but never dreamed of ever actually holding one. He knew the best strategy was to use the slight hook to catch the vampire’s arm and force the beast to turn, giving him access for a strike to the liver. He had never practiced with one but now relied on ancient tribal memory to execute the perfect parry and attack. The vampire too late realized what she was facing, the surprise registering on her face as her liver reacted to the contact by sending now poisoned blood coursing through her vascular system.
Josh and Bruce would now be free to marry, the dissenting vampire sent back to its demonic realm.
That is an example of too much exposition. I imagine the proper balance is somewhere in between the two.
The above might also be exposition at a wrong place and time of the narrative. One might have taken care to disclose some of that to the reader in some other way, like, for instance, earlier in the story an old man showing Josh how to construct a Clavick . . . and just lose the crap about ancient tribal memory.
The rough rule of thumb is “show, don’t tell”.
It’s sometimes a fine line to thread. In the case of The Shirt, there are only two protagonists, and one of them is a shirt. There can only be so many ways to do exposition, and most of it is through Todd, the human protagonist, “explaining” things.
I’ve been re-reading it and have made some modifications but I guess my story-telling skills are not up to removing a lot of the exposition . . . perhaps if I sleep on it.
The thing that bothers me is this portion of the feedback:
” . . . but another editorial team might respond differently to your story, so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.”
That’s the problem . . . it’s subjective.
One approach is to revise every time one gets feedback. The problem with that is that unless asked to resubmit, the etiquette is to not submit the story to the same market.
Do you see the problem, Bob? Say I change it, swapping the exposition for more action. How do I know if the next editorial team would have liked the original better?
The other approach is to submit this around and if the story eventually exhausts all the markets, well, then, maybe it needs heavy revision.
The average time for short stories responses is seventy-six days. If I remove this latest as an outlier, the average drops to forty-seven days. That means that each story will — on average — take a year to make it through all the markets in my submission cycle.
OK, OK . . . I know I should have more than four stories in the rotation but . . . you know . . . Trump took away my impetus to write. It’s difficult being optimistic.
“Well, shoot, write dark stories!”
Oh, Bob, that’s so easy to say. But, once I go down that path, I know I’ll careen deep into the ravine. And yes, a segment of the population will revel in the misery and despair I can dream up, but that means I won’t ever read my own stories. Right now, reading my stories gives me a measure of calm, a measure of hope as I wallow in the idealized and mythical worlds of honor, justice, and hope; worlds that see no counterpart in reality.
Edited to Add: the above photos were added to THIS Gallery.
And now, this:
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