The Whole Story

There are many reasons short stories get rejected. Many, MANY reasons. So many, in fact, that it would be impossible to safeguard your story against all of them. If the slush reader’s having a bad day, if the editor just doesn’t dig your writing style, or if the magazine JUST accepted a story about a cross-dressing werewolf (which is exactly what YOUR story happens to be about), there’s not much you can do about those things.

There are, however, a few things you CAN do to vastly improve your story’s chances, and one of these is to make sure that you have a complete story. Conflict, change and growth are the lifeblood of all stories, both long and short, and a lack of these elements is one major reason that many short stories get rejected.

Now, the advice “write a complete story” might sound like an obvious no-brainer, and if we were talking about novels, it would be. If your novel’s main character doesn’t have a problem, then you, as the author, have a big one.

But short stories, especially flash fiction (1,000 words or less), can be a little trickier. With so few words, it can be easy to fall into the trap of writing a beautiful scene without any actual substance, or a trick-the-audience, twist-ending story in which nothing actually happens (I’ve been guilty of both of these charges myself, and I’ve got the rejection letters to prove it!).

Consider these two examples:

I could write a moody, atmospheric piece about Katie, the sailor’s daughter, staring out at the ocean on a misty morning, thinking about her father, who’s been lost as sea for eight months. If done well, this has the potential to be a really gorgeous, heartbreaking scene. However, unless Katie actually DOES something—maybe she decides to go hit the high seas and look for Dad, or realizes she has to let him go and get on with her life—then it’s not a complete story.

I could also write a tale about Nora, the meek, mousy, small-town librarian, who, as it turns out, spends her nights as a wildly-popular exotic dancer. Now, this is certainly a fun idea, but simply setting up the character as a soft-spoken, overlooked librarian and then revealing at the end that she’s a smokin’-hot stripper isn’t enough for a full story. Nothing changed for Nora—she knew she was a stripper all along. The only thing that’s changed is the audience’s perception of her—and that’s just if they didn’t see the ending coming (which many readers—and editors—will).

So, what does it take to make a complete story, and how can you make sure your piece fits the bill? Here are three simple tests to put your stories through before you send them out into the big, bad, rejection-filled world:

1.) Ask yourself: What is the CONFLICT in my story? Is it:

-Man vs. Man
-Man vs. Nature
-Man vs. Himself
-Man vs. Society
-Man vs. God

If you can identify a clear conflict, chances are you’ve got a full story.

2.) Ask yourself: What CHANGES in my story? How are things different at the ending than they were at the beginning? If you can see a clear difference in your story’s character or situation as the result of the events that took place, you’re probably in good shape.

And the final test:

3.) Boil your story down to a single-sentence summary, e.g.: “Katie thinks about her father, who is lost at sea” or “Nora the dumpy librarian is actually a highly-paid stripper.” When you’ve got your story in this bare-bones state, look for key words that indicate change or conflict, such as:

-realizes
-discovers
-learns
-decides
-struggles

Notice that neither of the two examples above have words like that. However, if I make a few tweaks to the storylines: “Katie, the sailor’s daughter, DECIDES to go look for her father, who is lost at sea” or “Nora, the dumpy and over-looked librarian, DISCOVERS true joy when she takes on a secret life as a stripper”—now I’ve got something that maybe, just maybe (if all the stars are aligned and neither the slush reader nor the editor are going through a messy break-up) has a chance of getting published.

Best of luck on your submissions, and keep writing!

-Gretchen

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Mentalist Review: Episode 3×18 The Red Mile

Another golden oldie! Here’s a review of The Red Mile, one of the series’ best episodes (at least, according to Cass)! Can’t wait for tonight, when we’ll have a brand new one to review! But until then, there’s this:

Review of Episode 3×18: The Red Mile
by castiello

This was a powerful episode. And for me, a very emotional one.

Like the previous ep, I enjoyed the use of the whole team. Sometimes, particularly this season, it seems like Cho/Rigs/Van Pelt are so terribly under-used that I have this secret fear that one of the actors will actually leave the show in search of a meatier role. (Or, basically any role with more than one line per episode.) But here, they all had a nice part in things, and it made me happy.

I thought this episode was really well written, managing to explore several different themes in a number of different ways.

We looked at the concept of mercy – from Jane offering solace in a dying man’s final moments, to a killer slashing the throat of her victim so he would avoid the painful death of a gunshot wound, to Rigsby choosing to spare Grace some potentially painful knowledge about her fiancé. Three very different acts that can each be interpreted as merciful.

We also looked at the idea of people caring what happens to them after they die. The doctor feared what would happen to his physical remains, while the mother-in-law was more concerned with less tangible things, like her good name and her legacy.

It’s actually really weird, the timing of this episode, because I had already been thinking about these things (mercy and legacy), before the show even aired. We had a plane crash here just this past week, where the pilot, right as the plane was going down, did a last-minute maneuver to avoid hitting a field where a girls’ sports team was practicing. No one on the ground was injured, but the pilot and both passengers on the plane were killed. I think I’ll always wonder whether turning the plane like that to save the kids made a difference in the pilot’s ability to bring the plane down safely, if he knowingly gave up his life and the lives of the passengers to spare the girls on the field…A terrible tragedy, an incredible act of mercy, and a wonderful legacy – to be the person who did everything he could, in his final moments, to save a playground full of kids…

Returning to the episode, I could definitely relate to the doc not wanting to be autopsied. Back when I was registering to be an organ donor, I read this pamphlet which assured that being an organ donor would not affect the appearance of your body. At first, I was laughing about this, because who the heck cares? I’m going to be dead, so what does it matter what my body looks like or what happens to it? But the more I thought about it, the more disturbed I got by the idea. It got really creepy. Even gave me a shiver. I decided that maybe I do care on some level…

In the mother-in-law’s case, it’s very ironic that the reason she killed was to preserve her legacy – and yet, by choosing to become a murderer, she muddied her own name so much worse than the alien abductee support society ever would have.

Which brings us to abductees. The episode did a pretty good job showing all the different types of people that a self-proclaimed alien abductee is likely to encounter: skeptics who think the person is crazy (e.g. Jane, mother-in-law, business partner), believers (e.g. the man’s wife), people who keep an open mind (Grace), people who want to exploit or take advantage of the abductee (the guy’s shrink, who wanted to write a book about him, and the support group guy who wanted to bilk him out of money).

It may be the X-Files fan in me, but I feel a lot of compassion for those people who either have been abducted or at least believe they have. I don’t know if aliens are actually scooping people up and poking at them, or if it’s some kind of hallucination, but I believe that the pain and fear of the experience are very real to the person going through it.

And lastly, speaking of pain, I will come to the final big issue tackled by the episode: the suicide of a terminally ill man.

This was the part that really got to me. I almost couldn’t believe that they were going to show Jane watching this guy kill himself. It was very intense, the way it was filmed, with the coin gleaming in the light, hypnotically appearing and disappearing, and Jane’s soothing voice while the doctor died…Just a very gripping scene, kind of shocking, a little bit beautiful.

I was clutching my pillow really hard during that scene. I think I cried just a tiny bit. I was definitely shaking.

Two people in my life have committed suicide. Both of these people were suffering from depression, and yet I feel that with the right treatment, both could have gone on to live long, healthy and happy lives. Instead, they died, leaving behind devastation on the level of a train wreck. I have very strong feelings about the waste of life…

…And yet, when it comes to terminally ill patients, my feelings are much more confused. Here, the person isn’t choosing whether to live or die, but rather just the method of death. Isn’t it someone’s individual right to choose whether he/she wants to be spared the agony of a prolonged death? At least a part of me believes this is true.

I myself have had terminally ill pets euthanized over the years. I’ve made that choice for a living being that could not express its wishes to me, believing that I was doing the right thing – sparing unnecessary pain, delivering relief. But what if I was wrong? If the cat could’ve spoken to me, would it have said, “Please don’t kill me, I want to live every last moment I possibly can, even if it will be painful”?

In some ways, it seems almost easier in the case of a human being who can fully express his wishes. And yet…I’m glad Jane said what he did, about not being sure the doctor was making the right choice, because that’s exactly how I feel. I’m just not sure…

What if the doctor was suffering from depression when he made the decision? Surely there’d be depression after finding out you are terminally ill. If the symptoms of his depression were treated, would he change his mind and decide to stick it out? What if he’s denying himself the chance for something unexpected to happen, like a spontaneous remission or a medical breakthrough? Should anyone throw away even one second of his or her life, when so many others would be grateful just to have that one more second?

It’s hard stuff, people…I felt the show handled it respectfully and sensitively.

This episode made me think, and it made me feel, and isn’t that exactly what television, at its very best, should do?

Mentalist Review: 3×16 Red Queen

Just dusting off some old reviews in anticipation of the season premiere on Sunday! For nostalgic purposes, I give you:

A Review of Episode 3×16: Red Queen
by castiello

I really liked the episode. There was a lot going on, I was very engaged.

Hightower: I’m glad she didn’t turn out to be guilty; I’ve always enjoyed her character. At the beginning of the ep, I was pretty sure she was innocent, because they made her look so, SO irredeemably guilty. But then in the middle I was starting to question myself. Her affair with that officer, and then her little blue dot so close to the holding cell…It didn’t look good. The show kept me guessing. Hightower’s goodbye scene with Jane was sweet. I like that she told him to confide in Lisbon.

LaRoche: I liked him in this! I thought he handled things well. I was impressed by his map – it really showed at the meticulous effort he put into the investigation. Seeing his house at the end was funny – definitely not what I pictured!

Bertram: Whoa…Um, didn’t see that coming (which is cool), especially the way it was revealed. For me, he was always one of those characters who just seems icky, and I tend not to suspect those people of being the really bad ones because it would almost be too obvious. He started sounding very “iffy” when he was talking about Hightower’s guilt; something to the effect of, “It’s a shame it turned out to be one of our own, but at least the case is all wrapped up.” That did not seem like quite a normal reaction to the situation. And then he said the poetry stuff, and my mom and I flipped out! Bertram must be VERY confident that Jane hasn’t told Lisbon anything, to make such a bold, in-your-face statement. Not good…

Van Pelt: She didn’t seem to be in this one much, which is a shame. There was one mention of her fiancé, so at least there’s some continuity. I still hold out hope that FBI Agent O’Something might be shady. His response to Rigsby saying “Don’t hurt Grace” was not a reasonable reaction. At best, it was a jerk-face reaction. At worst, a creepy/evil one.

Rigsby: Lots of fun with him in this one! His trouble understanding the man at the museum was very amusing. I thought Owain did a great job on his American accent, especially since he had to really emphasize some of the words for humorous effect. I don’t know what he said in Spanish later on, but I’m not entirely sure it was correct! I really felt for him, having to paw through Hightower’s unmentionables… The discomfort was palpable! Nice detective work noticing the heavy drawer, though.

Cho: Still getting the best lines! (Rigs: “Maybe they don’t speak Spanish…” Cho: “Maybe you don’t.”) He was a cool cat in the interrogation room, as always. It was nice to see him and Rigsby working in tandem during the shootout. They totally have each other’s backs.

Lisbon: She was great in this episode. Strong and smart. I love how she stood up for Hightower. They really bonded in the last episode, and it showed in this one. Also, I like that Lisbon was able to sniff out a “Jane scheme” (even though she couldn’t get him to admit to it) and after everything still maintained her belief that Hightower might not be guilty. It’s neat that she and the team figured out the Todd Johnson connection to the more recent murder, and were able to share that with Jane, rather than him figuring everything out on his own.

Jane: Loved him at the museum. I love his curiosity and wonder, that he takes time to appreciate little things in life. It’s sweet that he thought of the security guard’s son and bought the tooth replica for the boy. Jane misses being a dad so much…

Liked his line to Hightower: “You’ve been LaRoched.” 🙂

Jane with the gun was scary. I totally believed he was dead serious. I wondered why he went and got that gun, instead of just using his own. (Did he say he took the armory key from Van Pelt? Is that important? Do all the agents have a key?) I thought maybe the larger gun was more intimidating, or it reminded him of the one he killed Tanner with. Maybe Jane needed to get in that lethal frame of mind, to steel himself for what he had to do, and/or remind Hightower what he was capable of. Then I thought maybe he wanted to keep his personal gun a secret for now. Then I realized he was probably just planning ahead, in the event Hightower turned out to be innocent. The duct-tape thing wouldn’t really have worked well with a small gun. That was a neat trick, especially with the tinted window on the van.

Not sure if Jane was actually hurt in that crash or not – he was definitely playing it up for dramatic effect, but at the same time, he did crash hard enough to make the airbags deploy. I would think that’d leave him a little sore at least.

Oh!! Jane said “Thank you” to Lisbon for riding to his rescue!! (Even though he was not ever in danger, she certainly believed he was…) It’s nice to see him appreciate her like that. A “thank you” from Jane is like a shooting star – rare, beautiful, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. 🙂

I like that Jane got Hightower out when he realized she was telling the truth. I totally get his reasons for wanting to go it alone against Red John – I really do believe he’s trying to protect Lisbon. It’s hard to blame him for feeling this way after everything that’s happened: his family, Bosco and Co, Kristina…And yet, if he had told Lisbon about “Tyger, Tyger” they would now know the truth about Bertram. Instead, everybody’s still clueless. Except the audience, of course. 🙂

It’s interesting – I could be wrong, but I don’t think the Mentalist does this very often, giving the audience a major important clue that the characters don’t have. Usually, I feel like the characters are ahead of me. Jane and team (or sometimes just Jane) have orchestrated a plan, off-camera, to catch the bad guy, and the audience figures things out as the scheme is unfolding. Usually Jane knows who the bad guys are right from the start, it’s just a matter of trapping them. But now, the audience knows something before he does…I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.

All in all, a very cool episode for me. I hope other people liked it, too.

I’ll have to go read and find out! (Also have to go look up what a dire wolf is…) 😉

First Things First

Welcome to AS THE HERO FLIES, a website for writers, readers, and fans!

Hi! My name is Gretchen Bassier, and I write short stories, novels, scripts and the occasional bad poem. My alter-ego’s name is castiello (“Cass”), and she writes fan fiction. Together, we created this blog as a way of bridging the gap between our two worlds.

As a fledgling author, I’ll be sharing useful tips for other writers, who, like me, are just starting to dip their toes into that vast (and sometimes very chilly) ocean we call “The Publishing Industry.” Whether it’s an exciting new fiction market, a helpful suggestion I gleaned from a rejection letter, or a wonderful writing website I just discovered, if I find something that can help other writers write better or get published, you can bet your favorite pair of boots I’ll post it on here.

As the ultimate fan girl, Cass will be bringing you: reviews, fan fiction recommendations, sneak peaks of her upcoming stories, fandom announcements, cool links, and much more. Anything that has to do with The Mentalist, Supernatural, Superman, The X-Files, X-Men, Iron Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man, Harry Potter (or any of her numerous other obsessions) is fair game, because if there’s one thing neither Cass nor I can get enough of, it’s our heroes. 🙂

Thank you so much for joining us, and we hope you’ll come back soon!

-Gretchen