That’s It! The first submission period for the inaugural edition of Firewords Quarterly has closed. It closed a couple of weeks back, but I’ve just caught up reading the last of the submissions assigned to me.
It’s been a complete eye opener being on the other side of the fence. There’s a great sense of responsibility that bears down on you. The responsibility to Firewords Quarterly in only accepting stories that genuinely warranted publication. There’s the responsibility to the submitting writers. Reading all work in an open and honest manner, and giving honest feedback.
Rejections are inevitable. The majority of submissions will end up being rejected at any publication. The reasons for rejections? Well, I can’t list them all, but in this post I’m going to talk about the Stock Concept. But one important point of note before we begin, and it’s vitally important. Any comments I make regarding my experiences with Firewords are my own personal opinions. They in no way reflect the views of the owner, or any other editor. Now we’ve got that sorted let’s talk about…
The Stock Concept
What do I mean by the stock concept? Anything that’s been done countless times before. Here’s a few off the top of my head, and some of which we’ve seen at Firewords:
· The best-man forgetting the wedding rings on the big day
· Characters that don’t know they’re dead until the ‘twist’ at the end of the story
· The ghostly house that seems to have a life of its own
· The killer prostitute – throw in a caring punter and an aggressive pimp too
· The boxer paid to throw the fight
· A young girl nervous and afraid to tell her overly strict parents she’s pregnant
Hopefully, you get the idea. So they should be avoided at all costs right? Well, not exactly. They need to be handled with care. You – as the writer – need something unique. It could be a unique setting, an unusual character, something that gives your ‘stock concept’ story an edge over anything similar.
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is a great example. It’s littered with stock concepts. Vampires have been with us in literature for a long time. King’s vampires obey all the usual rules: sunlight kills them, a stake through the heart kills them, a familiar protects the ‘master’ through the daylight hours, the master vampire sleeps in his coffin, holy water burns the undead, etc, etc. However, King replaced the mystery shrouded gothic castle with the ramshackle house shrouded in urban myth. He put his vampires on your doorstep and he set his story in the present day. The first part of that book sets up character and setting. King does that to put you in the world of the everyday, with characters you know or you can relate to, because they’re the people in your town. King did something different with a stock concept, and he sold a lot of books in the process.
Watch the film 28 Days Later. The film draws a lot from John Wyndham’s The Day of The Triffids. The man eating plants were replaced with zombies, a classic horror monster, but instead of the lurching lumbering zombies of old we were introduced to the fast and agile running zombie. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland did something different with a stock concept, and a film that cost approx. $8M to make raked in almost $85M at the box office.
Probably the best example of recent times has been GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF). There are many stock fantasy elements in this highly entertaining saga: Numerous prophecies, a magic wall to keep the bad guys out, dashing princes and beautiful princesses and the list goes ever on. But Martin took those stock items and literally tore the rule book up. Fantasy before Martin was pretty linear. Good guys were good, and the bad guys were bad. Sure the good guy would have difficulties and adventures aplenty, but they’d pull through in the end. Not in ASOIAF. Good guys – as in main characters – die. The most dashing knight of all is gay. Characters evolve and some that were most definitely ‘bad’ become ‘good’ or at least inhabit some grey middle ground. Martin took a whole genre – that had become very predictable - and he rode rough shod over it and re-invented the genre in the process.
So if you want to tackle stock concepts / themes, or ideas, go right ahead but push the envelope and take some risks. Dream big! Playing safe will likely lead to a rejection slip irrespective of the publication you send the work to.
That’s it for now.
M J Wolfson - That's me.