Don’t do this

Don’t do these things. Please.

You can if you really want to, but these are things that we see a lot of, and that generally don’t work. Avoid them unless you’re really confident you’re right.

  • ‘Was’ instead of ‘had been’. Learn how to use the past perfect continuous. No, I don’t care what it’s called either; I had to look it up. There are times for ‘was’ and times for ‘had been’. They’re different. I see a widespread inability (reluctance?) to use ‘had been’ properly. It may be the most common grammar flaw I see.
  • It’s over Jim – Poor punctuation is the second most common grammar flaw. See this.
  • Present tense – I see a lot of stories written in the present tense. Most of them don’t benefit from it. Think about why you’ve chosen the tense; unless you have a good reason, you’re probably better off in the past. (Weren’t we all?)
  • Careless/no proofreading – One or two typos is okay. More than that suggests you’re not trying.
  • isms – I want stories with a modern perspective, not worlds that recreate historical mistakes. If your story is about gender relations, by all means have subservient women (or subservient men, or subservient gender neutrals) if it’s relevant. If that’s not what your story’s about, I’m not interested in a standard medieval model where men are in charge because they’re men, or a distant future world where skin color (or sexual orientation, or …) works just like it does today. Dream bigger.
  • Tired tropes – Unless you’ve done something really unusual with it, no vampires, werewolves, zombies, military SF, or time travel. No excerpts, no serials – standalone stories only.
  • Retreads – I don’t mind if the concept of your story is something the world has seen before, so long as you do something new with it. But don’t send me Tolkien and Clarke with the names changed and a fresh coat of paint.
  • Fan fiction – Make up your own world instead. I’m especially not interested in Lovecraftian fan fiction. I won’t get it, and I won’t be interested. Save us both time and don’t send it.
  • Acts/chapters/timeframes – It’s a short story; very few pieces of this length need to have labeled chapters or scenes. In most cases, we’ll know what eon, dimension, and time of day it is from context. In a short story, formal dividers are often a sign you’re not introducing material well in the prose.
  • “Joe/the day/the town was ordinary, except for one thing…” – very few of these stories turn out well; it’s almost always the mark of a novice writer. There are far better ways to give us this information than by simply telling us. As readers, we assume people, days, and towns are ordinary; show us straight off why yours aren’t.