Welcome to part four of how to avoid the sharp ax of rejection, the dreadful epic (a phrase I am coining now).
About ten years ago (Yes, ten), I went to a party where a songwriting guitar player wearing purple velvet pants performed a song about a valiant knight and a distressed damsel, who were in love. However, in the third verse, other knights and more damsels arrived. There was also a Gandolf-type character and three hobbits, who lived in a nearby cave, appeared in the fifth verse. Then a dragon showed up who had all the gold. Then, two different knights fought a duel over a different damsel with the winner getting a chance to kill the dragon and pocket all the gold. In the 11th verse, a king from a magical land offered a magical sword to slay the dragon. Then another knight wanted in on the action and the story went on in a minor key for dozens more verses, characters and plot twists – until I wanted to kill myself. Simply put, the story about the knight and the damsel got lost between all the overstuffed bits the artist wanted to throw in before attempting to tie everything together in the final line of the final verse. A three-minute song becomes a 17-minute dirge. Welcome to the Dreadful Epic.
In Do Your Homework, I wrote about the importance of giving the editor what he or she wants and becoming familiar with the publication.
The dreadful epic is the opposite of doing your homework. The story may meet a word count requirement, but to the detriment of the story. As an example, In The Know Traveler stories are between 450-600 words. This means stories are short and get to the point. There are no extra dragons or kings or magical swords or knights who want in on the action.
In the Dreadful Epic, a writer fills their story with too many ideas, extra characters, subplots or layers of insight, which take the reader away from the main focus of the story. In 600-, 1000-, and 2500-word article, there is a limited amount of space to tell the story. I would argue that good short-form travel stories are about delving into unique moments.
If a travel story is about a woman who climbs a mountain, then any information that does not directly impact the woman or her ability to climb (like the three drunk Belgium guys who just happened to be near the mountain and said something funny) uses up precious words meant to tell the story about the woman climbing the mountain. Of course, all this comes from the writers’ desire to tell an honest and complete story, and meet submission guidelines. I do appreciate this, but still always pass. I have spoken to other editors experiencing the same dilemma. They pass too.
The easiest way to fix this is to stay focused while writing and editing. Know the story you want to tell and think fillet and trim the fat. However, if the story is so much more than a knight and a damsel or a woman climbing a mountain then consider a medium that will do the story and the characters justice, like a literary journal, best-selling book, or personal blog.
Don’t get me wrong, I love stories that wind through complicated plots so characters can open up, develop and make me love them. This usually takes hundreds, if not thousands, of pages – just ask Homer, Tolkein and Rowling.
One final thought, I know there is always an exception.
The complete series
For Part 1, Why We Sucks
Part 2, Use Your Words
Part 3, Do Your Homework
Part 4, The Dreadful Epic
Part 5, The Easy Opening
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