Issue 35, Final Fringe

Slush Readers of the World: Forgive Me

by Lizzie Stark 01.18.2010

The NY Tyrant Guide to Not Being a Horrible Writer in the Year 2010 is Vice’s uncharitably snarky take on slush pile cliches, and it proves that I, too have tortured readers of slush piles the world over. Here are a few of my favorites from the list:

When you think you are about to write something really good, go to the grocery.” This is true of my own fiction writing. If I think a sentence is great, that’s generally because it’s full of purple-prose or writerly diction that calls attention to itself and takes the reader out of the story. A  good rule of thumb is to cut it in the second draft.

Oh sweet, you went to that museum alone one day and had a tuna sandwich in the cafe? You’re killing me, please.” I’ve written this story. Twice. And it even got submitted out. <dies of shame>.

Write less dialogue, unless you are really good at it, which I guarantee you aren’t.” Yeah, I suck at dialogue. Now I mostly try not to write it. Reported dialogue and narrative summary are my friends.

Please, God, no characters who are musicians. There is nothing worse than trying to describe music, or how someone plays it. Leave music to douchebags.” I have apparently been a douchebag.

A number of tropes familiar to anyone who has read for a literary magazine mercifully pop up on the list, including a moratorium on stories about European backpacking trips (I’m guilty too), pieces featuring protagonists who go to prostitutes, and elaborate imaginings of the freaky stuff your upstairs neighbor is in to. And yes, Vice writers, I have printed out my manuscript and bathed in it. That’s part of the whole editing process, isn’t it?

There’s a similarly soul-crushing but less snarky listing of the “moves” in contemporary poetry over at <HTMLGIANT>. This list comes complete with examples from contemporary poetry and points out the banality of verbing nouns — surely a move close dear to the heart of Fringe’s tag line — or using reversals of size or expectation in a poem.

Hey, maybe these lists will simply add to our collective writer’s toolboxes while revealing the extent to which certain moves and plotlines have become completely cliche. After all, as The Bible says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Not even in contemporary literature.

Lizzie Stark

Lizzie Stark


Lizzie Stark is a founding editor of Fringe, and the author of Leaving Mundania (Chicago Review Press, 2012), a narrative nonfiction book about the subculture of live-action role-playing, or larp. Her freelance journalism and writing has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, io9, The Daily Beast, and elsewhere. Her next book, Pandora’s DNA: How the breast cancer gene changed everything is due out in 2014.  She blogs at

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