As fiction editor of Little Patuxent Review I am often asked, “What do you look for?” The answer to that is: a good story. But what is a good story? We all have different tastes, different opinions, but what makes art Art? What is it that elevates a piece from okay to good? The fiction readers for LPR tend to agree on about ten stories out of the hundreds we receive each reading period. What is it that elevates these pieces?
I would say that first and foremost is the voice. The voice of the narrative—be it first, third, or second point-of-view—must engage the reader. The voice must draw us in and transport us, make us believe that the story is well worth the read, that there is indeed a story to tell that matters, that will enlighten us in some way. In short, it must make us believe.
Second, the story must come off as seamless—as one breath. This does not mean that a story must be written all at once. When you write you are tapping into the imagination, the subconscious, the muse, and this can be exhausting; so shorter writing periods, I believe, are more effective than extended sessions. But it is important to stay in the dream, to return to that story each day, even if it is just to review what you have already written. Too often stories seem to lose steam or an ending is tacked on for the sake of ending the piece. In my own writing, I find endings to be the trickiest thing, as they need to come organically from the piece, and this often takes time. Writers are so eager to get that story out there, to hit that Submit button, that they do not give that ending time to manifest. I can’t stress how important it is to give your story time. Worlds are not made in a day.
Lastly, good stories are complex. Complex characters. Complex, often layered plots. We are not looking for rewrites of the Hallmark Channel movies. Love stories are fine, but the characters must be ones we haven’t seen before, and their trials must be unique to them. The same holds true for stories that deal with sickness and death; write us a story we don’t know, that we have never heard before. There are only so many themes in the world, but the takes on these themes are boundless. Consider the four stories published in the Summer 2017 issue of LPR; all of these stories deal with loss in very unique ways.
Finally, a good story stays with us. It embeds itself in our hearts. It touches that something we call soul and becomes an everlasting part of us. That may sound like a daunting task, but if you continue to hone your craft and give the creation time, you may surprise yourself again and again.
Bio: Lisa Lynn Biggar is the fiction editor for LPR. She received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is currently working on a short story cycle set on the eastern shore of Maryland. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review, Newfound, The Other Stories Podcast, and is forthcoming in the winter issue of The Delmarva Review. She teaches English at Chesapeake College and co-owns and operates a cut flower farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with her husband and four cats.