In this editor’s opinion, the fictionist is best advised to:
- Let the writing be guided by a strong sense of who the (hopefully somewhat interesting) protagonist is, even if zero time is spent developing any other characters.
- Keep any speculative (“what if?”) element simple, or take it out altogether. If the zombies are fast and smart, and the disease angle never becomes important to the story, then it could almost certainly be improved by making them regular old human attackers instead. No reason you can’t still have all the violence and horror you want, and the end result will be a lot more believable and hit closer to home. The great news about Pseudopod is that we do run stories grounded entirely in realism, so you don’t need a speculative element to sell to us. And as the age-old spec fic writing advice goes, if the speculative element can be removed without substantially affecting the story, then it should be.
- Preferably, tell the story using standard past tense, third person, active voice. Neither second person (the letter or monologue to an inert “you” represented only when the speaker refers to “you”) nor present tense exposition are fast routes to more innovative writing, but they are some of the easiest ways to unintentionally annoy an editor at least a tiny bit.
Nothing is taboo on Pseudopod. Send us your splatterpunk and your erotic horror. We love sex and violence — just bear in mind that I have a frail suspension of disbelief, so characters must say and do rational (not to say always ethical) things unless there’s a reason why not. With that in mind, go nuts. Have fun with it — you know, in the Addams Family sense of the word — and we will too.
As for what not to do, I theorize that good writers focus more on positive examples than negative ones; but having said that, if your internal critic is just not loud enough for you and you want a shopping list of what to stay away from, Strange Horizons has already compiled a list of overdone horror plots.
I, too, have seen all of these quite often. In fact, I have little to add except to say that it is still possible to sell a story that matches any one of those patterns — it’s just that actually attempting to do so may be best considered an advanced exercise left to seasoned fictionists. If your entire plot and resolution can be summarized in a simple sentence like one of these at all, it probably wouldn’t hurt to complicate it.
– Ben Phillips