Unintentional Promises to the Reader–Oops!, a Contest for Non-Professional Writers, and More

Do writers know when they’re making promises to their readers? Sometimes. Not always.

How can a writer spot accidental promises? Critique partners are invaluable here. But when doing your own revisions, the most useful self-editing technique is to keep an eye out for unintentional foreshadowing and misplaced emotional weight.

Did you spend a lot of time describing that ornate door that your main character walks past every day? Maybe you just needed to get your wordcount in, or you were warming up to the story. But in the reader’s mind, that door now glows with importance. If your main character doesn’t go through that door–or even if they do, but nothing exciting happens on the other side–the reader is going to be frustrated.

Did you mention an extremely dramatic element, even just in passing? Maybe there’s a deadly storm coming that’s expected to just barely miss the main character. Maybe there’s a big magical trial coming up. Maybe the corporate overlords are planning layoffs. These are classic Chekhov’s gun situations. Just by existing, they promise major drama.

Characters themselves can be dramatic elements.

Is there sexual or romantic tension between characters? You better believe the reader expects something to come of this.

Have you mentioned a missing or estranged loved one multiple times, to build your main character’s tragic backstory? The reader expects a resolution of some kind, or at least a heart-wrenching attempt and failure to connect.

Is there a minor character who keeps stealing every scene they’re in? They now want a story arc, too, however slight and off-page. Note: keeping this story arc mostly off-page provides a great opportunity to write it as a short story reward for readers.

Of course, after a writer has identified unintentional promises they made to their reader, the hard part starts: deciding whether to fulfill the promise, or rip it out of the story. This can be especially challenging when the promise is entangled in characters’ relationships. But the author is the only one who can decide if the promise’s existence supports or takes away from the focus of the story. No pressure!

What I’ve been up to lately, writing-wise:

I have a science fiction reading at DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis TONIGHT. If you’re in the Twin Cities, you’re invited!

On Wednesday, March 20th, ABRA STAFFIN-WIEBE reads and holds a reception as part of the Speculations Reading Series, from 6:30-7:45 p.m. at DreamHaven Books, 2301 E 38th St, Minneapolis.

Abra Staffin-Wiebe is a science fiction author who loves futuristic fairy tales, cheerful horror, and dark science fiction. Dozens of her stories have appeared at award-winning publications including Tor.com, Escape Pod, and Fireside Magazine.

Bring a friend! There will be cookies and soda as well as giveaways during the reading. Afterwards, we usually adjourn to Parkway Pizza for some social time.

If you’re on Facebook, event updates can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/6905583366237017

Things Shiny or Useful

Archive of all shiny or useful links: https://aswiebe.com/marketlist/shiny-or-useful-writing-links/

How to Make Google Show You the Good Search Results Again: https://lifehacker.com/tech/how-to-get-more-accurate-google-search-results

Rules, What Rules: The Passive Voice (Should not be Written In): https://aarubin.wordpress.com/2024/03/08/rules-what-rules-the-passive-voice-should-not-be-written-in/

Worldbuilding With Legs: Incorporating Insects into Your Stories: https://www.fantasy-magazine.com/fm/non-fiction/worldbuilding-with-legs-incorporating-insects-into-your-stories/

Can ChatGPT edit fiction?: https://theconversation.com/can-chatgpt-edit-fiction-4-professional-editors-asked-ai-to-do-their-job-and-it-ruined-their-short-story-216631

34 Transformative Prompts to Unlock Your Writing, Courtesy Kelly Link: https://lithub.com/34-transformative-prompts-to-unlock-your-writing-courtesy-kelly-link/

On fast rejections: https://neil-clarke.com/on-fast-rejections/

Writing Hasn’t Won Me Fame or Fortune But It’s Brought Me Friendship: https://janefriedman.com/writing-hasnt-won-me-fame-or-fortune-but-its-brought-me-friendship/

3 Tips for Writing Cosmic Horror That “Goes Beyond”: https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/tips-for-writing-cosmic-horror-that-goes-beyond

Featured Market

The Geek Partnership Society’s Annual Writing Contest for non-professional writers is open until 4/30/24!

This contest provides a forum for new talent of any age and gives them a chance to learn about the publication process and its requirements. The submission requirements are not negotiable, nor should this contest be used as a required class exercise by teachers. Teachers, please encourage your students to enter our contest but making it a homework assignment goes against the spirit of the contest.

Entries must be science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and alternate history in short fiction, poetry, or graphic stories (comic).

Please select a division to enter. You may only enter one short fiction division. You have the option to also enter a poem in the Poetry Division and/or a short comics in the Graphic Novel (Comics) Division.

  • Open: Short fiction only. Open to writers of any age. There may be TWO (2) winners chosen from this category. The Open Division winner will be chosen from all entries.
    • An additional local writer may be chosen from contestants residing within 200 miles of Geek Partnership Society to receive the Scott Imes Award. This award proudly honors Scott Imes, a major force in the Twin Cities’ science fiction reading and writing community who passed away in December 2001. For over two decades, Scott Imes worked at Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and promoted the speculative fiction genres. His recommendations served those far beyond its doors.
  • Poetry: Poems only. Open to writers of any age.
  • Youth 1: Short fiction only. Open to writers 13 years of age or younger as of April 30, 2024.
  • Youth 2: Short fiction only. Open to writers 14-16 years of age as of April 30, 2024.
  • Graphic Novel (Comics): Short comics only. Open to writers of any age.

Geek Partnership Society

Basics: speculative fiction and poetry, 5,000 word maximum, no reprints, prizes range from $50-$100. Submissions due: 4/30/24.

Guidelines: https://geekpartnership.org/programs/writing-contest/

Market List Updates

To see all the details about these new listings and what they’re looking for, go to https://aswiebe.com/marketlist/new/. For all the hundreds of listings, go to Aswiebe’s Market List and download the latest version of the spreadsheet, or view it online at https://aswiebe.com/marketlist/marketlistonline/. Best read on a bigger screen!

Screenshot of March update spreadsheet

Click to see details of the latest updates!

Keep writing, keep submitting, and good luck!

Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Keeper of Lists Feel free to share this blog post/newsletter with others by whatever means you like, as long as you include all of it. The next update of Aswiebe's Market List will be after 4/15/2024. If you don’t want to miss an update, subscribe to the Aswiebe’s Market List newsletter: https://aswiebe.com/marketlist/subscribe-to-market-list/

Remembering Promises to Your Reader

The next update of Aswiebe's Market List will be after 06/15/2023.If you don’t want to miss an update, subscribe to the Aswiebe’s Market List newsletter: https://aswiebe.com/marketlist/subscribe-to-market-list/

Website Update!

A reminder that my full market list is now, finally, fully searchable online! Of course, you can still download the complete spreadsheet and keep your own copy on your own computer.

And I’ve added a new page that is all the very latest updates (the same markets as in the table below, now with even more details!), searchable and sortable in the same way as the full market listings page. Both of these pages are, of course, best viewed on a wide screen.

Remembering Promises to Your Reader

Every story makes promises to its readers, even if the author doesn’t realize that they’re doing so. The trick is recognizing which promises you’ve made, and making sure that the ending pays those promises off in a way that either the reader expects … or will be delighted to have not seen coming. Handle that last one with care.

Critiquers can help. As I go, I ask my critiquers to write down questions they have (so that I can make sure they’re answered), the details they think are significant (so I can check if I want them to be), and things they expect to be resolved by the end.

I also train myself to notice the promises that I’m making. Is there a countdown to something? Is there unresolved tension (romantic or otherwise) between characters? Is there a big event coming up? Have I been foreshadowing anything? Did I set a gun on the mantelpiece and forget about it? Either that gun has to be removed from the mantelpiece, or it has to go off. That metaphorical gun can be a character, a conflict, a looming failure, or a striving for success.

I can’t keep track of all that stuff in my head. The promises that I make intentionally as I write, I also note down in my plot notes for the ending. (I’m approaching the ending of my novel now, which is why I’m thinking about this.) On my current project, I’ve been getting critique notes as I go, which is not something I always do and definitely not something I recommend for everyone! But it has helped me get a feeling for what promises my readers are picking up on, and that has shifted some of the details of the satisfying ending that I hope to provide.

During revisions, I keep a separate page just for notes of what I am promising and foreshadowing, and I check them off when I pay them off. I only write down the promise or foreshadowing when I actually see it on the page. Sometimes I need to work it in earlier to give it more impact. Sometimes the payoff isn’t good enough to be worth the promise, and I decide to take out the set-up entirely. It depends. Ah, the magic of revisions!

If all goes well, readers end up feeling satisfied with the ending, even if they don’t see all the moving parts that set up that emotional response.

What I’ve been up to lately, writing-wise:

I am at 120K on my “if T. Kingfisher wrote The Expanse” novel, about a derelict alien space station and the scrappy salvagers existing at its mercy. (Yes, I still need a better elevator pitch and comps!) If all goes according to plan, I should be able to finish the first draft of this book before the next edition of Aswiebe’s Market List. And then laugh. A lot. About how I was once worried that it would be “too short.”

Things Shiny or Useful

Archive of all shiny or useful links: https://aswiebe.com/marketlist/shiny-or-useful-writing-links/

6 Ways to Write Characters You Love to Hate: https://savethecat.com/tips-and-tactics/succession-barry-6-ways-to-write-characters-you-love-to-hate

8 Promises You’re Making to Readers—and Then Breaking: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/8-promises-youre-making-to-readersand/

Six Lessons from my Writing Crush: https://writerunboxed.com/2023/05/19/six-lessons-from-my-writing-crush/

How to Brainstorm Original Ideas for Christmas Horror Stories: https://horrortree.com/how-to-brainstorm-original-ideas-for-christmas-horror-stories/

Featured Market

Qualia Nous, Vol. 2 wants dark science fiction and all blended sub-genres of science fiction (horror, fantasy, etc.), pays $.10/word (capped).

The first volume of Qualia Nous (2014), edited by Michael Bailey, won the Benjamin Franklin Award for science fiction and was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology. It was a Foreword ReviewsBook of the Year finalist in horror, science fiction, and a bronze winner for anthologies, as well as a silver medal finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Awards, a finalist for the Indie Book Awards, and a winner of the International Book Award. It was also the first Written Backwards anthology (of eventually many) to contain work by Stephen King.

… While not many like the term “literary,” that is what this anthology is looking for: groundbreaking work that break normal conventions and will stand the test of time, propelling emerging and undiscovered writers into the mainstream.

Written Backwards

Basics: speculative fiction and poetry, 3,000 – 10,000 words (fiction), pays $.10/wd, no reprints, due 7/31/23.

Guidelines: https://nettirw.com/submissions/

Market List Updates

Go read the very latest updates. They are searchable and sortable. Best viewed on a wide screen.
Click to see all the latest updates!

Keep writing, keep submitting, and good luck!

Abra Staffin-Wiebe, Keeper of Lists
Aswiebe’s Market List
Abra Staffin-Wiebe’s Author Website