Review Readers’ Checklist
This page is a kind of FAQ file. It deals with the twelve most frequent or serious problems encountered in submissions. It contains many references to articles in The Writer’s Craft as well as others.
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Does the content constitute “fan fiction,” such as Star Trek spoofs?
If so, we can’t consider it. We don’t want to infringe on copyrights or trademarks. Merely changing names may solve the problem.
Does the content contain f- or s-words?
If so, are any used in their literal sense? If yes, the f- or s-word is okay. Otherwise, characters may cuss a blue streak, but they can’t use the f- or s-words as expletives. Explanation here.
Does the content use stereotypes of any kind, e.g. “All [members of any group] are or do [whatever]”?
If so, who says it? Fictional characters may use stereotypes; authors may not. The problem occurs mainly in third-person omniscient narration.
The principle is: people are identified by who and what they are; they are characterized by what they do. Reference: When East Isn’t East.
Does the text begin with a grammatical puzzle such as the personal pronouns “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” “you” or “they” without an antecedent?
If so, we will need a rewrite. Reference: Speedways to Literary Oblivion.
The pronoun “I” is exempt; it is understood to refer to the author or a first-person narrator.
Other common verbal tics and style faults:
“As” is overused in the sense of “while.” Reference: It Beats As It Sweeps As It Cleans.
Present participles create ambiguity or run-on sentences. Reference: Fun With Present Participles.
Does the text contain odd formatting, such as an excessive use of italics or lengthy paragraphs?
If so, the Managing Editor can discuss these problems with the author. References: Italics and our “long road” guideline.
Is the story a vignette? Is it purely descriptive or narrative — even in dialogue — and have no meaning beyond itself? Does the account leave a conclusion up to the reader?
Other publications may consider or even specialize in the genre; BwS does not, because we don’t know how to choose.
Ambiguity is merely baffling: “What does this mean, if anything?” Equivocal endings can be successful but are very rare, cf. La Fontaine’s The Cricket and the Ant.
A rule of thumb: Almost all stories seem to fall into the categories of tragedy or comedy. In tragedy, hubris succumbs to its nemesis. Comedy — which may or may not include humor — restores a balance or achieves redemption. If a story is neither comedy nor tragedy, is it a vignette? Reference: Story vs. Vignette.
Note: Lyrical essays are welcome, e.g. Behind the Masaredos.
Does the story end with “But it was all a dream” or an equivalent?
If so, we will need a rewrite; the story logically cancels itself out.
Note: BwS has no objection to dream sequences in fiction. Dreams are a means of interpreting reality, not reality itself.
Does the story end with “Bang! I was dead” or an equivalent?
If so, we will need a different conclusion. A character may expire in mid-sentence, of course, but a narrator is not allowed to interrupt himself by dying; someone must live to tell the tale.
Note: The “dead narrator” restriction applies only to first-person narration. It does not apply to narrators who die after the story ends, as in Albert Camus’ L’Étranger. Nor does it apply to stories in which the point of view shifts to that of another person before the narrator dies, as in “Pieces of Stars”; nor does it apply to ghost stories or narrators speaking from “beyond the grave.” Reference: Pink Flowers Explained.
Does the story have only a first-person audience? Is it “dear diary” literature that is accessible only to the author?
If so, we have to ask the author to find ways to make the text accessible to others. References: Who’s Your Audience? and Subtlety and Symbol.
Is the poem micro-poetry, e.g. haiku, senryu and the like?
If so, we can’t consider it. Other webzines specialize in such genres; BwS does not. If we accepted any, we would have to accept all, because we do not know how to distinguish between them.
Note: BwS arbitrarily classifies as “short poetry” any text of fewer than 120 words. Anything shorter than about 20 words may be acceptable, but the odds are against it.
Special case: BwS is averse to submissions in any genre that appear to be written by a computer application or by a person pretending to be one. Guideline: If the editors can devise an app that can reproduce the text or something similar, they may assume the submission is computer-generated.
Does the poem constitute purely inspirational literature within a single religious experience? Is the poem a collection of proverbs or moral precepts without any demonstrated application?
If so, we can’t consider it. Other webzines specialize in such literature. Its audience is too narrow for BwS.
Note: Essays or even poems explaining religious rites and practices in any culture are fair topics as long as they do not presume the readers’ adherence to any particular sect.
Does the poem use non-standard punctuation or spelling, especially capitalization?
BwS’ rule for capitalization and punctuation is: standard or none. Otherwise, BwS is very likely to consider non-standard spelling, punctuation and capitalization as a distracting affectation. If the content is acceptable, the Managing Editor can discuss the style with the author. Further information at: Submissions: Poetry.