Murder, Murder Everywhere

As of this moment, just over 140 stories have been submitted to the Hint Fiction contest. And I’m seeing the same trend in stories that I saw for the last contest and for the open reading period: murder and killing. It got so bad that at one point on Friday afternoon I sent Ben White this text:

Am starting to get sick and tired of the same old murder/killing stories.

He responded a few minutes later:

Me too! I reject 9 out of 10 just because … they’re so “meh” at this point. Murder without cause is an event. Not a story.

And I think that sums up perfectly what’s wrong with a good number of stories that have been submitted so far: the murder just happens without reason, and the reader is supposed to, what, care about this somehow? In fact, it’s even gotten to the point that the very best stories about murder and killing don’t impress much anymore.

I’m not alone. Ask editors what one of the biggest trends in stories they see is, and they’re apt to tell you murder and killing and any other form of violent crime. (Which all would make for an interesting study into the psyche of a writer … or maybe that writing about murder/killing is the easiest thing to write about, which says something completely different about our society.)

One of the main reasons I asked James Frey to be the final judge of this contest (besides the fact he’s James effin Frey) is because he’s genre neutral. Writers won’t, in theory, immediately assume that because he writes such-and-such, that’s what they need to submit. So that’s why I didn’t ask an established horror or mystery or science fiction writer to be the final judge. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those genres — I’m a fan of them all — but oftentimes writers will manipulate their own stories to try to fit a judge’s sensibility instead of simply writing the very best stories they can.

So am I saying you shouldn’t write and submit stories that deal with murder and killing? No. But if you do, be aware that your story must be the greatest story ever written (hyperbole, yes, but you know what I mean). And keep in mind my previous post about story titles and how they’re even more important in Hint Fiction. Here’s an example of a typical murder/killing story:

Close Call

The cop pulls me over for speeding. He lets me off with a warning. Thank God he didn’t see the blood dripping from the trunk.

Okay, so what do we know here? Obviously that the narrator has something in his trunk (I'm assuming, of course, the narrator is a he) that’s dripping blood. It’s probably a body, but it could be a number of things. But let’s say it is a body. So what? Does the reader really care about a dead body in the trunk? Does the reader get any sense of the narrator’s character or motivation? Yes, it’s Hint Fiction, but is it good Hint Fiction?

Now let’s change up the title:

Because She Said No

The cop pulls me over for speeding. He lets me off with a warning. Thank God he didn’t see the blood dripping from the trunk.

The title certainly adds a new layer to the story. But is it necessarily interesting? More so than before, maybe, but still it’s a typical murder/killing story. Nothing too special here. It’s a story that many other writers would probably come up with at some point. And that’s the thing in all fiction, be it novel or story or hint: the goal is to write something that nobody but you would come up with. That’s the idea of being original.

Note the main reason I kept the submission process the same as last year — through the comments section — is a) I think it's more interesting this way and b) writers can see what's been submitted thus far. Just like in American Idol, you have the advantage of seeing your competition. So use it!