Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction


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Tips for getting published

Posted by rickjankowski on February 12, 2017 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)


Why I’m blogging


I just finished reading yet another article that purports to give a magic formula for getting fiction published. You know the kind of article, the one that says proofread, edit, use outlines - and oh, by the way, purchase our services to do these things and you too will soon be a published writer.


The problem is: there is no magic process you can follow to become a published writer. Meticulous proofreading and careful editing can make your story better, but there are more important elements that your story must have in order to make it into print.


I’m not here to sell you anything or to give you a magic formula. Instead, over the course of several articles, I’m going to share some tips that helped me get my stories published. I’ll also give you concrete examples of what I’m talking about. You’ll have to decide if they’ll work for you. My suggestions come from my experience having three dozen of my short stories traditionally published in literary magazines, small presses and e-zines.


Show Show Show


To me, the biggest tip to getting published is to show instead of tell, so that’s what this first article is about. Some writers never learn to show. Others say they can’t see the difference. But there is a huge difference between telling a story and showing a story. When you show a story, you step off the stage, the characters take over and your readers becomes immersed in the tale.




In my latest story, Switching Sides, Leon, a catcher for the Chicago Cubs, is hypnotized by a psychiatrist. If I were telling my story, I’d say something like:


The doctor used a pocket watch and hypnotized Leon.


Here’s the same scene using showing:


The doctor began to wave the watch slowly in front of Leon’s face. The watch picked up speed as it rhythmically arced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.


Leon’s eyes followed the watch, and soon his face turned waxen and then slackened. The doctor continued waving the watch for a few seconds, then he stopped. He slid the watch into his pocket, placed his fingers directly in front of Leon’s face and snapped them. Leon didn’t move, didn’t blink. The doctor snapped again. No reaction. Then he turned, picked up the metallic case and sat on the seat next to Leon.


The telling method is obviously efficient, but in the showing method, the readers see what is taking place in detail. They are in the room with Leon and they know he’s been hypnotized without my ever using the word.


Something odd happens next in the story. Nathan, an investigative reporter, is in his car, remotely watching Leon and the doc via a Bluetooth camera that’s wirelessly connected to a laptop. If I were telling the story, I would have written this to describe what occurs:


The blue tooth connection was lost, Nathan’s computer screen went blank and Leon and the doctor disappeared from view for a minute.


Instead, if I show you what happened, I build dramatic tension and mystery:


Why’s he doing that? thought Nathan. Then his eyes grew wide. He placed his face within a few inches of his screen. “Stupid Bluetooth,” he said. Everything in the middle of the screen was becoming pixelated. Leon, the doctor and the chairs wavered and turned to tan, brown and navy lines. The lines broke into dots, the dots shimmered, the entire screen became cloudy, and the dots disappeared.


“What the heck,” said Nathan, his voice a hiss. He swatted the laptop with the back of his hand. “C’mon, where’s the signal!” He smacked the screen again. The cloudiness began to dissipate, the screen wavered, the dots reappeared, streamed and gathered into lines. Then the lines coalesced and Leon, the doctor and the chairs blinked back in high resolution.


Finally, thought Nathan. I must need a new cam.


By showing what happened, I place the readers in the car next to an exasperated Nathan and they’re almost as confused as he is by what happened. Was it a computer glitch or did Leon and the doctor really vanish? Hint: They did vanish, but the readers can’t be sure. They are, however, starting to formulate their own opinions of Nathan, what is really going on, and in the process they become totally engaged in the story.


Showing takes you, the author, out of the story and inserts the readers in your place, allowing them to become immersed in your fictional world. The more you show a story, the more your readers become engaged. And engaged, interested readers are what publishers want!


You try it!


One way to transform a scene from a telling scene to a showing scene is to describe without using adjectives. For example, show me someone is beautiful or angry or sad without using those words or synonyms of those words. Do this by describing their features, actions, emotions or other characters' reactions to them.


This is the first in a series of blogs. (Please be aware, no outlines were used in the making of this article - or ever will be, by this outline-hating writer!)