When I was an editor of fiction, every week I received some fifty to a hundred story manuscripts from men and women who had never submitted a piece of fiction before. The manuscripts stacked up on my desk daily and formed what is known in the publishing business as "the slushpile." Every new writer starts in the slushpile. Most writers never get out of it. They simply get tired of receiving rejections and eventually quit writing.
At both Analog and Omni I personally read all the incoming manuscripts. There were no first readers, no assistant readers. The editor read everything. It made for some very long days. And nights. Long— and frustrating. Because in story after story I saw the same basic mistakes being made, the same fundamentals of storytelling being ignored. Stories that began with good ideas or that had stretches of good writing in them would fall apart and become unpublishable simply because the writer had overlooked—or never knew—the basic principles of storytelling.
There are good ways and poor ways to build a story, just as there are good ways and poor ways to build a house. If the writer does not use good techniques, the story will collapse, just as when a builder uses poor techniques his building collapses.
Every writer must bring three major factors to each story that he writes. They are ideas, artistry and craftsmanship.
Ideas will be discussed later in this book; suffice it to say for now that they are nowhere as difficult to find and develop as most new writers fear.
Artistry depends on the individual writer's talent and commitment to writing. No one can teach artistry to a writer, although many have tried. Artistry depends almost entirely on what is inside the writer: innate talent, heart, guts and drive.
Craftsmanship can be taught, and it is the one area where new writers consistently fall short. In most cases it is simple lack of craftsmanship that prevents a writer from leaving the slushpile. Like a carpenter who has never learned to drive nails straight, writers who have not learned craftsmanship will get nothing but pain for their efforts. That is why I have written this book: to help new writers learn a few things about the craftsmanship that goes into successful stories.
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