Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Dan's Promo Page

This issue marks the start of Aphelion's eleventh year online. Once again, Happy Birthday Aphelion!

What does this new year hold in store for Aphelion? Who knows? More great fiction and poetry, more writers leaving us for the paying markets, and more new writers eager to learn all they can about fictioneering. Same as every year, I suppose. That's the thing about the future: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Change is the only constant.

What then can we each do to make our writing better and to garner more success in the year ahead? Well, read more books, on all sorts of subjects and every genre you can stand. Don't forget magazines and web pages, either. Read everything you can lay your hands on, because you'll need more information than you'll find in a single genre or subject. Writing is an art of synthesis, a way of putting different things together in a whole new way. History, science, biography, news, entertainment, culture, architecture, transportation - facts, as well as fiction - are just some of the tools of your trade. Writers turn anything and everything into elements of a story. Every part of your day-to-day life enters into your writing.

Study different styles of writing as you stock your mind and exercise your imagination. Look at the way the writers put words together in those books and articles that you like. Look even closer at the ones that you don't like. Every writer has something they can teach you. Whether it's "how to" or "how not to" write one style or another, everything you read can provide some sort of lesson. Learn how to construct dialog that sounds real to the mind's ear. Your characters will be better for it. Learn how to world-build, how to construct the sets and settings that your stories take place within. The stage and scenery that is the backdrop behind your story is just as important as the plot and the characters.

Naturally, there will be things that will be more difficult for you, yourself, than for someone else. That's because we're all individuals, with differing strengths and weaknesses. Think about those differences, but don't get hung up about them. "So-and-so writes better dialog than I do," or "so-and-so writes better characters than I do" are just different ways to say "I'm feeling depressed because I don't have the same strengths as someone else." That's the wrong way to look at it. Try "I like the way those characters speak," or "I'm going to try giving my characters some flaws this time, and see if I can add depth to them..." You can turn the situation on its head just by choosing to look at it in a different way. If you get discouraged about what you see as flaws in your work, don't give up, but do change the way you think about it. Explore different points of view. Stretch your mind a little. Try new things, or even old things in a different way.

When you have a story you want to submit to the paying publishers, you'll have worked on it a long time. You'll have checked out the kinds of stories that they accept as well as the formatting that they prefer. You'll have spell checked and re-read your story many, many times. You'll have checked for grammar errors while you re-read your story. You'll have asked someone else to read it to check for those mistakes that spellchecks overlook. You know the ones: "there" where you meant to write "their" or "sea" where you meant to write "see" or "you're" for "your" or any of hundreds of little nit-picky things like that. After a while, your mind fills in details that you meant to put in, even if you slipped up. That's why having someone else read and comment is so useful.

Another hard lesson to learn is to accept criticism without letting it make you feel angry or depressed. That was probably the most difficult lesson that I have had to face. For me, learning to use critiques as a tool to improve my writing was even harder than re-learning all those fiddley bits of grammar that I'd forgotten from school. Critiques are important, useful, vital tools. That's why Aphelion writers and readers are urged to use the Lettercol forums. Every comment you make about someone's story helps them to learn something. Every comment made about one of your stories helps you to learn something. The Aphelion community is one of the best tools we have to offer our fellow writers. Like any tool, it becomes dull if it isn't used.

So stock your mind by reading everything you can get your hands on. Study what you read, as well as what you write. Stretch your mind, excersize your imagination, explore different points of view... Keep your tools and your wits sharp by using them as much as you can. Polite, reasoned, constructive criticism is just as important a tool as a spellcheck or a grammar handbook. Use every tool at your disposal. Writing is hard work, but like any other kind of work it becomes easier with practice.

Now it's time for me to shut up and let you get to reading. This is our annual "Best Of" issue, so besides lots of new material, you'll find some of the most outstanding stories that Aphelion featured during the past year. Enjoy!