My first science fiction short story has returned my first two rejection letters from science fiction markets. Both were form letters, but the second one actually had a lot more useful, if generic, information. A bell went off in my head. One of the things I noticed was that the story is 9800 words long. Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but SFWA defines that as a novelette. (A novella is not quite a novel. A novelette is too long to be a short story.) There are other flaws, ones that became apparent after ignoring this story for two months, but length jumped out at me.
9800 words, almost 10K, is a big chunk of space to give to a writer who has no published science fiction.
I’ve talked about this before. Science fiction, as with all speculative fiction, needs to establish rules and convey them in a short amount of time. Writing crime does not require this because most of the readers are usually aware of the settings. If one does not live in a place similar to the story’s setting, they have most likely visited one or at least seen one on TV, in movies, or in a book. If I say “Antarctica,” you immediately think of a bone-chilling cold, perpetual ice, and penguins. If I describe, say, Cincinnati, and you’ve never been east of the Rockies or west of the Appalachians, you probably have been to a mid-sized city and know enough about the Midwest to create a rough version of Cincinnati in your mind.
For Metropolis, the second largest city on Tian, I’d have to explain, first of all, where Tian is, what Metropolis is, and, let’s be honest, how a city that won’t exist for at least a hundred and fifty years came to be named for a city in a comic book series from the 1930’s. Saying “New York in space” or “alien Hong Kong” doesn’t really cut it.
So I need to take “Gimme Shelter” back and lose at least 3000 words. It’s not a problem. The story is one of those back-and-forth stories like “A Walk in the Rain,” only the past storyline could easily be cut. Of course, I wouldn’t send it back to the first two markets. I don’t believe in antagonizing the editor until the editor is in a position to antagonize back, which generally means a story has been accepted.
I also became aware that, in discussing the anatomy of the aliens in the story, I may have drifted perilously close to R rated territory. Oops. That’s just changing one line.
Part of the problem goes back to the days when I played in someone else’s sandbox. All the rules were established already, and the thrust of my storytelling was to get away from the old science fiction chestnuts. But that’s cheating, really. If the SF elements are already implied, then the need to play by those rules are reduced.
Back to the drawing board.