Read Part 1 here.
Here’s the rest of what Robert had to say about what he’s looking for when he’s going through the submission slush pile:
How quickly or slowly a story moves through its plot, character development, and revelations has a real impact on how your reader absorbs and retains information and the story as a whole. We’ve all read a book or seen a movie where too much is happening too fast and you end up forgetting everything immediately after it’s over, and we’ve all checked out of something that just went too slowly to keep our attention.
Pacing is a tricky thing – you don’t want to go too fast or too slow, but there is often a mix of both that is needed for an effective work of fiction. If something big happens in your story, you need to pace that event appropriately – if a major character dies, for example, characters should react appropriately, and this takes time. That being said, it’s also one of my favourite narrative techniques to have tension building to an impossible degree, followed by a single decisive stroke by one side of a conflict, and then bam – smash cut to a huge time-skip. The point is that every kind of pacing works in some cases, but you will really notice pacing problems in a story because they drag the reader out of being engaged.
Last, but definitely not least, I want to talk about consistency in character and worldbuilding. This is a huge topic, so I won’t try to be exhaustive here, but rather I will sum this up: things need to make sense in your story. If your protagonist is a cowardly person, they shouldn’t run headlong into danger in chapter one, unless there are extreme circumstances (in which case, maybe you really haven’t had time to establish them as cowardly yet, so think about that). If your character’s parents/partner/child were murdered by the serial killer they are trying to hunt down as part of a personal quest for vengeance, then they probably wouldn’t crack jokes about similar situations.
I want your world, story, and characters to be consistent with each other. Most of what we publish at Mirror World is commonly called ‘genre’ fiction: fantasy, sci-fi, etc. And every story of that form starts with some sort of suspension of disbelief: maybe the characters can fly through magical means, maybe everyone is a psychic android capable of projecting their feelings on a neural Internet, or maybe they are all three-toed sloths who evolved to take over the planet and enslave their former human masters. The key is that a story or setting does not need to be Realistic to be Consistent.
It doesn’t really matter how you get past the initial premise of the story, you’re going to have to accept that this world is Different from your own, often in some crucial, critical way. What matters in these cases is that your world is Consistent and works within the boundaries it defines for itself. If you set up some fundamental truth of your world, only to have your characters constantly breaking that truth, then you need to think about the story you are writing and whether your setting actually works for it or not.
It can be hard to portray all of these aspects in your submission package, because you are only including a sample of the finished work, but you can also show other strengths of your worldbuilding and characters in your query and synopsis. It’s important to know how you structure a whole story and how you summarize the strengths and weaknesses of your protagonists.
I’m super eager to get to this year’s submissions and I hope you’re just as eager to send your stories to us.
With a passionate attention to detail and a lifelong love of reading, becoming an editor seemed the logical choice for Robert. He’ll read almost anything, but prefers imaginative plots with great dialogue and pacing. He makes a hobby of collecting literature and his shelves are always near to bursting, even when he’s just bought a new one!