Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hard-sell Stories

I can’t speak for the other assistant editors (and Edmund would telekinetically extract my voice box if I tried speaking for him), but there are some stories I’ve become extremely tired of recently:

Hospital Stories

So…I’ve spent a lot of time with loved ones in the hospital.  So much time, in fact, I know the perfume and deodorants that the various nurses and doctors use.  And when I smell it on the street, my subconscious triggers the emotions that I felt when I was there in the hospital—a soup of  heart-sickness, anxiety, exhaustion, and boredom.

Writers RARELY get hospitals right.  Even writers who are doctors or nurses rarely get hospitals right (from a patient or loved one’s perspective).  Not to say it hasn’t been done well, but I’m extremely discriminating when it comes to accepting stories that treat on ideas of sickness, treatment, and relationships with the diseased. 

(No—watching the execrable Robin Williams film ‘Patch Adams’ is NOT acceptable research for preparing to write a story set in a hospital.  Nor, alas is House, ER, or Grey’s Anatomy.  I’ll accept Scrubs but only because it’s funny.  Hilarity covers a multitude of sins.  Uh…research the hilarity, NOT the practices of the residents or doctors…)

Time Travel Stories

I’m going to say what I know everyone is thinking: there are no more unique time-travel stories.  Good stories remain to be told in this sub-genre, but if you’re banking on the originality of your idea to carry your story, just…don’t.  The concept of time travel is well-worn enough that I dare to say that it’s kind of tapped out.  (Prove me wrong.  PLEASE prove me wrong.)

Love Stories

Man, for a society obsessed with love and romance, I have to say, we’re not really very good at depicting it.  At least not in short story format.

I am biased.  You know what was a good love story?  Tara and Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  They didn’t fall in love immediately.  There were no star-struck moments of heady, desperate, you-were-made-for-me, LUUURRRVE.  It was a natural progression from friendship, to close friendship, to romance, to commitment. 

It took excellent writers MULTIPLE episodes over at least two seasons (by my recollection) to move them from friends to couple.

You know what was a terrible love story?  Willow and Kennedy from the last season of Buffy. 

Same show, same characters—completely different execution.  One was a such a tremendous success that we could kind of sympathize with Willow’s point in tracking down and executing the man who accidentally killed her partner.  (And her subsequent attempt to destroy the whole Earth because reality without Tara SUCKS.)  Sure.  Because their relationship had bones.  It was a product of time, energy, and consideration. 

The other?  Um…boring.  Inconsequential.  False.  Because the writers not only did not take their time building to a believable relationship, they worked contrary to Willow’s established character. 

(Also, I’ll be honest: I was kind of hoping for Oz to return.  I love me some Oz.)

Here’s where this tracks to short stories: there’s just not enough time for most writers to put characters’ romance into swing.  At least not from my point of view—as seen above, I’m kind of a traditionalist.  I do not believe that True Love is a product of sudden, sharp, mystical reactions between two individuals.  My suspension of disbelief just won’t reach that far (usually).  For it to be believable, the relationship has to have some progression.  There has to be some time devoted to getting to know one another, finding common interests, etc.

Love ain’t cheap.  The price needs to be figured into your story.


Let it not be said that I don’t offer helpful suggestions for story themes. 

Here are some things I’m always delighted to see in the slush pile:

  • Retellings of classic fairy tales (I like both dark and lighter versions)
  • Humorous stories (Think Terry Pratchett rather than Douglas Adams)
  • Military science fiction (Battles and skirmishes are especially welcome, along with well-characterized protagonists)
  • Alternate histories (Example: I loved Stephen Kotowych’s Under the Shield)

--Scott M. Roberts

Assistant Editor, IGMS