David Kubicek

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Writing Fiction: Be True to Your Inner Voice


On most magazines’ Submission Guidelines page, the editor suggests reading a few issues to see what type of stories they publish. While it’s a good idea to be familiar with the magazine to which you’re submitting, sometimes this can be taken too far.

I’m talking about slanting a story to fit a magazine, an editor, or an audience. Early in my writing career I read lots of articles about how to slant stories to fill editorial needs. Many of them suggested dissecting a magazine, taking note of such things as:

  • Preference for male or female characters
  • Age of characters
  • Genre of fiction preferred
  • Profession of characters
  • Length of stories, etc.

Many even suggested taking notes on the percentage of the  magazine devoted to advertising, and what kind of products are advertised. A writer of one of those how-to-slant articles told about how he dissected Good Housekeeping in this way, wrote a story for the magazine, and they bought it.

But I am reminded of the late Richard McKenna, author of The Sand Pebbles. When he was trying to break into print, he decided that he wanted to write for the Saturday Evening Post. He analyzed several copies and started submitting stories. The Post rejected the stories, so he sent them to other magazines. On rejecting the stories, those editors included notes that were a variation of this: “This is so much like a Post story, we wonder that you haven’t tried them.”

As you probably have gathered by now, I’m not a big fan of slanting. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to know a publication well enough so you don’t send a western to a mystery magazine or a science fiction story to a woman’s magazine (unless you know that the woman’s magazine publishes SF). And you do need to take certain things into consideration – don’t send a woman’s romance to a man’s magazine, for instance – but those things are easy enough to see; no heavy analysis required.

One of my objections to slanting is illustrated by the Richard McKenna story. No matter how well you slant a story to a particular magazine, its acceptance is not guaranteed.  There are lots of reasons editors reject stories, and “not being right for us” is only one of them. If your story is rejected you’ll have to substantially revise it before you submit it to the next editor, and the one after that, and the one after that … And that’s a lot of work. It’s also not being true to yourself or your craft.

Which brings me to the most important reason for not slanting – if I jump through hoops to write a story for an editor, I’m ignoring my inner voice, which is screaming: “No! No! That doesn’t make sense. You’ve got to write it this way.” Stories can often be written several ways, but a few of those ways are better than others. You must trust your instinct. The way you write your story must come out of you; it must not come out of an attempt to make it acceptable to a particular editor.

That’s a tough way to go because it may mean that a lot of what you write is not what other writers are writing, so you may collect more than a few rejection slips. But it is how you write your best fiction, by being true to yourself.

Ray Bradbury had an awful time breaking into print. One of the reasons is that he wrote stories his way, which was not the way many editors wanted them. He succeeded because he was a disciplined and prolific writer (he wrote a story a week), and he started selling a story here and there. Soon he developed a following, and readers – and editors – looked for his work. Many of the other pulp writers of the Forties have long since been forgotten, but we remember Bradbury and other writers who were true to their inner voices.

Think of the best stories you’ve ever read. How many of them are standard, run-of-the-mill stuff? I would be willing to bet the stories that stick in your mind have a fresh, a different perspective. And that can only happen when the author is true to himself or herself.

So my advice is to write first, then find a market for what you write. Remain true to your inner voice, and you will be published, and you will write lasting work.

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8 thoughts on “Writing Fiction: Be True to Your Inner Voice

  1. Hi David,

    I saw your blog over at NWG and thought I’d hop on over to check it out. I really like this post on voice. Some authors I’ve talked to are afraid to use their voice (and sound different from traditionally published authors), so I thought they’d find this post encouraging. I was wondering if I could use it as a guest post at a blog I co-administer http://selfpubauthors.wordpress.com/. You’ll be given credit for writing it and I’ll put your two books, In Human Form and The Moaning Rocks, at the bottom with links to buy them. I’ll also add this blog and any other links you’d like on there as well.

    Here’s a guest post I recently put up so you can see what I did: http://selfpubauthors.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/guest-post-s-d-livingston-building-your-dream-book-why-the-nuts-and-bolts-matter/

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    • Ruth Ann, I just checked out your blog, and I’m impressed. I would be honored if you used this article as a guest post. The links to my books would be good, and if you linked back to my blog, that would be cool, too. Thanks so much for your kind words.

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      • Thanks, David! I’ll try to post it tomorrow. I have to make sure the other three authors on the blog don’t beat me to it. 😀 I’ll let you know if it posts tomorrow or later this week.

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  2. You’re welcome, Ruth Ann. By the way, I took a closer look at your blog and noticed that one of your partners is Joleene Naylor. I don’t know if you realize this, but Jo designed the covers for my two recent books, THE MOANING ROCKS and IN HUMAN FORM.

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  3. It looks good, Ruth Ann. Thanks. The only comment I have is that the link http://www.davidkubicek.com/Store.html doesn’t work. It’s the right Web address, but for some reason it doesn’t click through.

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  4. You’re welcome. The new links work. Thank you for fixing them.

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