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
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
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!