On the Wanting of Good Stories, Or Not
Posted on June 21, 2008 Posted by John Scalzi 14 Comments
Nick Mamatas, in his capacity as acquiring editor at Clarkesworld Magazine (and also in his capacity as, well, Nick Mamatas), explains why he thinks the oft-expressed editorial comment of “I just want good stories” is a contemptible lie, and eventually stemwinds himself into this paragraph:
I don’t want good stories. I want great writing with no story, good stories with great writing, wonderful anti-stories with poor writing, nifty ideas on silver platters, stories that depend on having read some other story to make any sense at all, stories that nobody will think are good until three days after they are read, stories that couldn’t have been written before 1969, stories that will never be written again after 9/11/2001, mood pieces, monologues, atmospheric effects, grand tours, minute examinations of places I’ve never been, thinly-vieled autobiographies, grocery lists, liner notes of records never pressed, stories about pro wrestling that only people well-versed in kayfabe will fully understand, stories written as if “story” were some weird new thing that nobody ever heard of, etc.
Oh, Nick. There you go again. It’s certainly true enough, however, that blandly saying “I just want good stories” doesn’t begin to cover what most editors actually want, or for that matter, need for their venues.
What set you off?
What do you mean? Nick is saying it, not me. I largely agree with it. When I wrote “Oh, Nick. There you go again,” it wasn’t criticism, just acknowledgment of his history of riling up the writing masses.
Nick once turned me into a newt.
Yeah, but you got better.
Scalzi, dude, you gotta go post something that brain-breaking on a Saturday morning before breakfast? Ow… I think I’m gonna need a little Irish in my coffee.
Love it. Love it hard. Thanks for pointing this out.
EVERY time I hear anybody saying “Stories ought to be . . .” or “The right way to blog is . . .” or “The only way to [do something creative] . . .” — I automatically recoil. There are just so many examples of creators (even in supposedly non-creative arenas like corporate management) going off the reservation and getting great results.
So, way to go, Nick.
“Oh, Nick. There you go again,” it wasn’t criticism, just acknowledgment of his history of riling up the writing masses.
It sounded like criticism to me. I misread and I apologize. Don’t send any giant bats for me; I have no ABBA to defend myself with.
I’m not a writer but that made me want to write something. It definintly wouldn’t be good. But that’s what he doesn’t want right? I’m confused now.
NickPimp — Anyone interested in the writing/editing process, and who don’t follow Mamatas’s LJ, should click back a couple days from the above linked post and read his essay on story endings. Good stuff. Also, keep going back and look for post titles that contain the words “Clarkesworld” and “banned.” Instructive and hi-larious, every one.
Chris @7: What do you mean you “have no ABBA”? We all have ABBA, always with us, right here. C’mon, everybody: “Waterloo! I was defeated, you won the war. Waterloo! Promise to love you for ever more.”
Ehm. I, uh, actually Googled the lyrics, there. For a gag, see…
I get uneasy when one editor purports to speak on behalf of all editors.
When I write “I just want good stories,” it’s not a lie, it’s a plea: “Please don’t send me dreck.” I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Furthermore, “I just want good stories” is shorthand for “Give me something that plays within the standards set by our writing / submission guidelines that we can offer to the readers of our specific genre without further editing on our part to amuse, enlighten, entertain, and provoke their return for our next issue.” It is the punchline of a joke so thoroughly permeated throughout our segment of society that we don’t have to repeat the entire setup to achieve a mutually understood result. I have no problem with embellishing the sentiment, but as a wordsmith, ‘lie’ is an incorrect word, and he should know better.
Nick can have as many cows as he wants, I’m keeping it simple. I want good, well written stories. I have to choose between good and well written, then I’ll take good. It’s easier to teach a good story teller good writing, then it is a good writer good story telling.
Memo to self: Nick Mamatas willing to pay good money for grocery lists.
Follow-up memo to self: Flood the zone. No sense in letting that grocery list money go to someone else, and there’s no telling what kind of grocery list Mamatas wants.
Follow-up follow-up memo to self: PERL script to make random-length lists of nouns for email submission (!!!) to Clarkesworld Magazine fastest way to effectively flood the zone.
The urge to see “liner notes of records never pressed” reminds me of the wonderful bits of business throughout Michael Kube-McDowell’s late-1980s novel Alternities, in particular the lyrics of a song from one of the alternate universes’ Judy Collins (10-inch) LP, Not Legal for Trade. (Later, offstage, this is played for the “real” Judy – none of the novel’s alternities is our own – who says that it sounds like it could be her sister, but that none of the songs are what she herself would sing.)
Sorry, the Alternities comment was mine.