Monday, May 20, 2013

Wordcraft -- The short and the short of it

“I had my first story published in the seventh grade,” author Lou Antonelli told his audience at the recent DFW Writers’ Conference. “The trouble was, I did it instead of my French homework.”

Possibly chastened by the story’s reception, Antonelli concentrated on journalism until ten years ago when he started writing short stories again. By the time the program for this spring’s DFW conference was printed, he’d sold seventy-six stories. By the first day of the conference, that figure got updated to eighty.

You’ve seen a lot of his stories if you read Daily Science Fiction. Or Asimov’s Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, or Greatest Uncommon Denominator, etc., etc. And the number is probably higher by now, since he’s listed new sales on his blog.

After last Monday’s post on short stories from the perspective of an editor, I wanted to give readers a take from the standpoint of an author, although I’m finding it hard to do a straight job of writing without tossing in Antonelli anecdotes, like the bait and switch he pulled on his homework assignment.

Or witticisms like “a short story has all the things a novel has -- beginning, middle and end -- and that order is important.”

I’ll attest to that, having once written a story in flashback, with the end at the beginning. It managed to get published (actually, twice) but the fact is, I’ve never tried it again.

Which is one of the great things about writing short stories -- we can try out a lot of different things. As Antonelli said, this time in apparent seriousness, “If you got to learn your writing craft, the short story is the place to do it.”

He echoed editor Matthew Limpede’s advice from last Monday about the need to hook the reader, in “An editor’s take on short stories,” May 13, 2013.

Some of us might think the first challenge in writing a story might be to have an idea, but Antonelli discounted that. “Ideas are the easiest part. Don’t fret over the originality -- there’s only so many plots in the world.”

The real first challenge for a writer, he said, “is to get the reader to turn the page.”

And for that, “humans have to be at the center. It’s the relationships that are important -- why should I care about this guy or this girl?”

Incidentally, Antonelli often used the term “conceit,” in the sense of an arresting metaphor, instead of “idea.” Despite his insistence on the human element, “conceits,” he mused, “have a way of getting a story going, like the grain of sand in the clamshell.”

And once we, the writers, have formed pearls around our grains of sand, “don’t give the editors an excuse to kick you out,” he said. “It’s better not to send a cover letter than to send a stupid one with a typo,” especially since your contact information should be on the story copy itself.

For more about Antonelli and his writing, see

And oh, you wanted to know where to find story markets? Since his writing is usually somewhere on the edge of science fiction or fantasy, he likes the free site,

(Next Monday, I’ve got room for one more DFW con post before moving on. The con had something new this year -- forensics experts who love to talk to writers. But you tell me which you prefer -- writing craft or knowing what really happens when somebody stumbles across a corpse?)

No comments:

Post a Comment