Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Little Bit Off the Top

Phew! I managed to cut “The Body and the Bomb” down from 9,000 words to 7,600. It’s not quite the 6,000 that had been recommended to me in the excellent advice from the reader at Strange Horizons, but I think I’ve improved the pace considerably. I’m a little less sanguine about how well clued the story is: I think a number of readers are going to guess the ending midway through. I’m gone through and removed some clues, muddied the waters a little, but it may still be too obvious. Still, I think it’s a solid enjoyable piece, more so now.

So I think that my plan of action will be to send this draft as-is to the next two electronic markets. If neither of them takes it, I’ll shelve it for a month and try a more thorough hack job later.

Besides, I don’t want to spend too much time on that now, because I’ve got a nice shiny new short story in the works. The tentatively titled “A Stab in the Dark” looks to run about 5,000 words, and is a lot more in line with traditional murder mysteries with alibis to break and weird clues to frame correctly. It’s got a good solid plot, and I think it will be a lot of fun to read. My original plan for it revolved around what turned out to be a really clumsy, flimsy clue -- but I kept picking at it, and managed to shove that bit to the side in favor of something much more iron-clade.

One of the things that I’ve really struggled with is how to make these actual science fiction mysteries: that is, I want the science fiction aspect to actually be important, not just “Sherlock Holmes in Space.” These should be stories that just can’t work in 1920s London or the modern day. Looking back, I think I’ve had the most success with those stories that would fall apart without the sci-fi element: space-borne telescopic arrays, robots as lethal instruments, pervasive sensor logs, home-built nuclear weapons, etc.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the stories that don’t really need that aspect (“Down Came a Blackbird” and “The Detective and the Detective”) are the ones that I’ve really stumbled on, the ones that have given me fits. But the ones that work, I’m pretty proud of. The writing is still pretty rough, and I’m sure I’m making plenty of amateur mistakes, but I’m happy with a lot of what I’ve written, it doesn’t make me nervous any more to show them to people.

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