Rachel and I have just finished making our selections for the August issue of takahe. Thanks to everyone who submitted. There were a large number of stories to choose from, and we could only take 12. Many of the pieces we didn’t accept had a great deal of merit such as an interesting theme, an intriguing plot or great characters. But in several cases, we rejected a potentially good story because it was overwritten. By this I mean the addition of words, sentences or even paragraphs that the story didn’t need. Often the less said the more powerful the writing.
We do hope that those of you who are short fiction writers continue to submit to our magazine. If you don’t already belong to a writing or critique group I would recommend that you find one to join. Almost all stories, even those written by experienced writers, can be improved by taking judicious notice of readers’ comments.
Our next issue is an on-line only issue due out in August when you will be able to read the stories we have chosen for you. Do let us know if there any you particularly like.’
Great news: on Thursday, Rachel Smith, our talented fiction co-editor, won second place in the National Flash Fiction Day NZ competition for her story ‘When Winter Comes’. Judge Emma Neale describes it as ‘admirably spare prose with cool drops of simile’. Hm. I like that. Spare prose, simile only in cool drops. Writers, note both of those observations, and a big congratulations to Rachel.
I was critiquing a story and suggested to the writer that the ending didn’t work.
‘But that really happened,’ she said. I replied that real events don’t always – or even often – make good fiction. When talking to friends about what’s been going on in our lives we tend to frame things in a particular way, embellish this, exaggerate that, so as to add interest to what we’re saying.
This is even more important when creating fiction. We might start from personal experience but we craft a piece as we write it, we wrap it in meaning, we add structure and significance.
Writers of fiction also produce works that have no basis in their own lives. But for these to work there has to be a connection between the writer and the work: the story expresses an emotion the writer feels or once felt.
Some of the short stories in takahe 86 (the April 2016 issue) are clearly based on personal experience. Some less so or not at all. Either way I hope you enjoy them.
I’ve been selecting the short fiction for takahe 86, due out in April. There wasn’t a single submission that didn’t have some merit – great style, interesting characters or a gripping plot.
As I went through the pile, making decisions, it struck me yet again how fiendishly difficult it is to write a good short story. The ones that appealed to me were those which read easily, the words flowing gracefully. Effort made so as to appear effortless; no forced metaphors or flowery constructions; no unnecessary extras.
More than this is needed, however. There has to be one or more characters that the reader believes in, a beginning that intrigues, an ending that satisfies. But above all I realised, as I read piece after piece, there must be a substantial reason – other than telling a tale, or showing a slice of life – why the writer has chosen this particular subject. I believe that the stories I finally selected were those whose creator had become immersed, obsessed perhaps, by the fiction they were producing.
I hope you enjoy reading the chosen pieces when takahe 86 appears.