NOTES ON CRAFT: 15 REASONS WHY YOUR STORY IS BEING REJECTED by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: 15 REASONS WHY YOUR STORY IS BEING REJECTED by Olakunle Ologunro

trash can

Notes on Craft: 15 Reasons Why Your Story is Being Rejected

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,

Here’s a story from my life

In 2016, a few months after I graduated from the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop, I decided to apply for a writing fellowship that was open at the time: the emerging writers’ fellowship by A Public Space magazine. I had no doubts that my piece would be accepted. I had just come from a workshop taught by the Chimamanda Adichie. Who/what could stand in my way?

So, I sent in my story. Three months later, I was slapped with a rejection. I thought, “Are these people okay? Do they not see the literary gold I sent in?” The next year when it opened, I applied again. I had been working on a ‘fantasy’ story I cooked up in my head and showed to a friend who told me it was the best thing since Lesley Arimah’s “Who Will Greet You At Home.” I had never written fantasy, but I was sure of that story’s creativity. I was sure that the readers would see my piece, read the first line and fall to their knees in awe. So, I sent it in. Again, another rejection. I looked at the email — polite, yet firm in its resolve to tell me that my piece was unwanted — and thought, “Nah, you people just don’t like me.”

In 2019, I was cleaning my tiny off-campus apartment when I found the manuscript for the fantasy story (I print out my stories to enable better editing). I thought, “My literary gold. Let me read this again and feel good.” Dear friend, I did not feel good at all. As I read, the only thing I could think of was, “Kunle, what exactly were you high on when you sent this thing? What level of idiotic courage made you think the judges would say yes to this?”

To start with, it was ridden with grammatical blunders: the syntax was in disarray, and in some places, I misspelled some words. What was worse, the characters felt absurd. Forget that it was meant to be fantasy — there was nothing fantastic about the characters. The entire story didn’t add up. And while there might have been a hint of creativity in some places (the hibiscus flowers that glowed in the dark, the character’s mother who stiffened to the point of immobility, the uncle who scrubbed fish scales from his face), it was misapplied creativity, almost like icing a cake with cement mix. I closed the manuscript and said, “No wonder they rejected you.”

Long story, but you get the idea: sometimes, rejection comes because you sent in a piece that has not been thoroughly worked on. You simply did not do your best. 

Critiquing a piece to be accepted is done using objective criteria, and a bit of subjectivity. The objective criteria, finely broken down by David K. Slay who writes for Craft Magazine, is what I’ll share here. To make this easier, pick out a rejected piece of yours and as you read, try to identify areas you think your piece faults. Be honest.

  1. DEPTH:

Does this story have depth? Is it superficial? That is, does it simply scrape the surface of things when it ought to probe deeper? Do the characters have ‘interiority’: are they highly motivated to pursue something central to their development? Do they have agency or are they simply forgettable? Are they stereotypical?

  1. STRUCTURE

Here, you look at the narration of the story. Is it unclear, inconsistent, lacking a definite structure (linear, circular where it ends at the same place it begins, etc)? Is the structure too apparent that it seems to drive the characters rather than have the characters move naturally? Are there inconsistencies in the story being told? Is the story itself illogical, wildly unreasonable?

  1. PACE:

The pace of a story tells you how to read it. I believe it is possible to know a fast-paced story and a story that takes its time. A balance must be achieved. Ask yourself: is this story too fast or too slow? Is the pacing irregular?

  1. BEGINNING/ENDING:

How does it begin? How does it end? I treat the opening of a story as a hook to sink into the reader’s mind, one that wouldn’t let them go until they get to the end. In a short story, you don’t have the liberty of time and space to dawdle or miss a proper first impression with your opening. 

How does it end? Is the ending weak? Is it something you contrived to simply wrap up the story? Does it feel like you tried to summarise? Is the ending memorable enough?

  1. ORIENTATION:

This deals with confusing time and or tenses, or a story where the reader is not grounded in the time and place the story is set.

writing
  1. IMPACT:

How engaging is the story? How remarkable is it? Here, David K. Slay points out things to look out for: Little at stake, lacks tension, impact is unearned, the writer attempts to use surprise endings, melodrama, gratuitous violence, sex, profanity. 

  1. CREATIVITY:

How creative is the story? Is the theme too familiar? Is the plot or story simply unimaginative? Is there an overreliance on adverbs, adjectives, cliches and stereotypes? I wrote in one of my last letters about defamiliarisation where a seemingly familiar story is made new. You should read it here.

  1. LANGUAGE/ PROSE:

Does your story contain irregular or unnecessarily complicated syntax? Does it show a limited vocabulary? Is the rhythm disjointed? In Nigerian-speak, does the story flow?

  1. EXPOSITION:

Does the story tell more than it shows? Is it too explanatory? Does it use a fancy style when it should be lucid? Does the story suggest things it ought to make clear?

  1. VOICE:

How does the story’s voice sound? Does it fit the kind of story being told? For example, I do not expect a story being told by a 5-year-old to read like something a 32-year-old would tell. I do not expect a story told from an illiterate’s point of view to sound boujee, like something a Harvard graduate would pen. How consistent is the voice? Does it carry to the end or constantly fluctuates between coherence and incoherence?

  1. ECONOMY:

How long is the story? Yes, sometimes long can be too long and you need to cut down, especially if some words are superfluous and repeated to no consequence. More importantly, you do not want a story that rambles.

  1. INTENTION:

Are there signs of author contamination? Let me explain: imagine a homophobic writer writing a story with gay people in it. Imagine a misogynistic writer telling a story about women. Characters should be allowed the full range of their humanity, not you, the writer, forcing them to speak or act in ways that are unnatural, more suitable to your interest than to their story. So, check. Does your story consciously or unconsciously promote an agenda?

  1. DIALOGUE:

Do your characters speak like real people? Or, is the dialogue lifeless and unnatural, lacking human touch? Does it contain unnecessary details or convey information the speaker or character would already know? 

  1. POLISH:

How refined is the story? Here, you look at the edits. Does the story look rushed? Is it carelessly presented? You’ll probably find it funny, but some people send in stories without titling them. I once sent a story to a reputable magazine only to discover after that the pdf converter I used had a glitch that blanked one whole page of the entire story. Of course, I got a rejection.

  1. GUIDELINES:

Did you send them what they called for? Imagine sending fantasy to a magazine that needs realist fiction. Did you follow the submission instructions? Right font, formatting rules, titling, and others. 

Now grade yourself. What did you score?

See you soon.

-Kunle

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Resources:

What We Talk About When We Read Submissions

Photo Credits:

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

 

A MEDALLION IS A SMALL THING by Oluwadare Popoola

A MEDALLION IS A SMALL THING by Oluwadare Popoola

woman wearing white sleeveless lace shirt

A medallion is a small thing

by Oluwadare Popoola

For Michael Olajumoke

 

Joys come in measured orders,

and when you arrived from the desert,

I saw the geysers of a stream

in your eye,

carrying a desolation.

 

Your body is the utopia for a measure of desolation,

because you, a woman

is the lush of a countryside

built from the war.

 

Your body, an epigram

points in the direction of love

like the torn legs of a war-struck thing

still picking an abode in disarmament.

 

And in your songs,

if joy were a small thing,

it would be stuck between your sadness.

 

Source: From the Isolation Issue (September 2020)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

OLÚWÁDÁRE PÓPÓỌLA is a poet or so he thinks, a student of Microbiology and a Sportswriter for a media company. He writes from a city by the rocks and longs to see the world without discrimination of any form. He is learning how images are made from words and his poems are up/forthcoming on Mineral Lit. Magazine, Headline Poetry & Press, Feral: A Journal of Poetry & Art and ang(st)zine.

RELIC OF GRIEF by Oluwadare Popoola

RELIC OF GRIEF by Oluwadare Popoola

sad bald man

Relic of Grief

by Oluwadare Popoola

a coloured thing,

black coloured as a friday wake-keep,

arch heir of death,

skin lurking as a memory site for the revolt of a republican,

dulling a memory refilled with what he could have been,

becoming a clam to escape its own silence,

where it is exactly hidden

between the stop of mother

before she picks up the next prayer for the government.

but silence is innuendo alright

and she still gives consent[

with her mouth twiddling into a rosary bead,

a relic of grief

searching for the creator’s numen

and then the panther sleeps on an ocean again

in desolation.

Source: From the Isolation Issue (September 2020)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

OLÚWÁDÁRE PÓPÓỌLA is a poet or so he thinks, a student of Microbiology and a Sportswriter for a media company. He writes from a city by the rocks and longs to see the world without discrimination of any form. He is learning how images are made from words and his poems are up/forthcoming on Mineral Lit. Magazine, Headline Poetry & Press, Feral: A Journal of Poetry & Art and ang(st)zine.

A MAN’S BORDERLINE TO OVERCOMING LONELINESS by Oluwadare Popoola

A MAN’S BORDERLINE TO OVERCOMING LONELINESS by Oluwadare Popoola

art back view backlit boy

A MAN’S BORDERLINE TO OVERCOMING LONELINESS

by Oluwadare Popoola

there is familiarity,

a twinkle in our eyes for unknown places

that beg a birdsong to settle

for one of milky eyes or murderous ears.

a chalice or wine.

 

I don’t think I know the crevices of insanity well,

but it sure looks like a jagged muscle

from a mouth tilted in the position of a rig-saw.

 

you leave the ninety-nine

and come after my body,

measuring slabs of it with your eyes,

resectioning its tissues with your teeth,

cooking it with spices from the internet.

& then you see

that you have cooked up a ghost.

it’s a white coat carrying rashes,

something you call letters

or a relic of it

that soon becomes songs.

 

you bathe them in your spittle

and give them a home in photographs

or tie them to a group of wintering bluebirds

and in electronic papers that are all apparitions.

calories wasting & eyes singeing.

 

you go to the kitchen to search for lost energy,

sleep and dream that I became your neighbour

and woke up to ninety-nine retweets.

Source: From the Isolation Issue (September 2020)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

OLÚWÁDÁRE PÓPÓỌLA is a poet or so he thinks, a student of Microbiology and a Sportswriter for a media company. He writes from a city by the rocks and longs to see the world without discrimination of any form. He is learning how images are made from words and his poems are up/forthcoming on Mineral Lit. Magazine, Headline Poetry & Press, Feral: A Journal of Poetry & Art and ang(st)zine.

ABRIDGED PATHOLOGY OF A SYSTEM UNDER LOCKDOWN by Ayokunle Betiku

ABRIDGED PATHOLOGY OF A SYSTEM UNDER LOCKDOWN by Ayokunle Betiku

black and brown desk globe

Abridged Pathology of a System under Lockdown 

by Ayokunle Betiku

first   the body embraces confinement

as a fast

 

interlude within the immune walls  of 

living 

 

cells      roses sprout  from the  elastic

skins

 

of  streets &  highways  bristling  with

grave

 

silence      the heart  beats well  till the 

rising

 

figures  of  fallen  bodies   go viral  &

cripple

 

a nation’s system    the walls of living

cells

 

get rigid  & extend  after heavy  bouts 

of infections

 

plague the nation      empty  stomachs

develop guts

& leave the walls      some captured by 

hosts

 

in olive  fatigues       the eyes long  for 

sights

 

behind window blinds     & everything 

held

 

in shadows leaves the body  yearning 

to embrace

 

faces   sun rays & a reed organ in the

open field

Source: From the Isolation Issue (September 2020)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AYOKUNLE SAMUEL BETIKU is a Nigerian writer who sees his fingers as bridges between his heart and the world. His works have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Parousia, Monus, EOPP, BPPC, Kalahari Review, African Writer, Libretto & elsewhere. He lives in the city of Ondo, South West Nigeria, from where he writes.

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