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David D. Levine
matociquala has challenged all us writers to post the oldest, most wretched piece of juvenalia we can still find a word processor to open.

What's below isn't it. This is only the second oldest piece on my hard disk. The oldest is an "engineering fiction" story that's over 12,000 words and I will not subject you to it. I still think there might be a decent short story buried somewhere in that morass.

And this is only the second oldest piece of the modern era. I have stories from college, but only in hardcopy and on 8" CP/M floppies with the files in WordStar format.

What can we learn from the story below?

  1. Understand the markets and the genre conventions. I thought this story was hard science fiction, an examination of the possibility of a physical afterlife. But everyone who read it thought it was supposed to be a ghost story. So I submitted it to any number of horror and supernatural markets before I trunked it, but it doesn't have the right attitude to be a horror or supernatural story. It just falls into the cracks.
  2. First person present tense is terribly attractive to new writers. It seems to offer immediacy. But what it actually does is handcuff the writer -- you cannot offer insight, reflection, perspective, or anything else that the character doesn't have at that moment.
  3. No amount of critique can fix a story that's broken. I workshopped this story at least three times over a period of two years, but none of the nine drafts is substantially different from the others. Eventually I learned that the real point of critique is to improve the next story.
  4. Exclamation points are not a substitute for excitement.

The horror, the horror...Collapse )