Larry Hodges is a science fiction and fantasy writer, as well as a table tennis coach. (Yes, that’s a strange combination.) Larry is a graduate of the 2006 Odyssey Writing Workshop, the 2007 Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp, and the 2008 Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop. He’s an active member of SFWA with over 100 short story sales, including ones to Analog, Amazing Stories, and Escape Pod, and 18 to Galaxy’s Edge. He’s also published several novels (When Parallel Lines Meet, co-written with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn; Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions; Sorcerers in Space; and The Spirit of Pong) and short story collections (Pings and Pongs, More Pings and Pongs, and Still More Pings and Pongs). In the world of non-fiction, Larry’s a full-time writer with 17 books and over 1,900 published articles in over 170 different publications. You can visit him online at www.larryhodges.com.
You’re a 2006 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. What made you decide to attend? What insights did you gain into your own work?
I did some research and asked around, and Odyssey seemed the most recommended workshop. (Having Robert J. Sawyer as a “Writer in Residence” that year greatly helped!) Probably the biggest insight I learned about my own work was that I’m an “idea” and “humor/satire” writer who needs to focus on character and other aspects equally. I also went in knowing that I had little feel for description, and so have spent years working to overcome that. One thing that helped: Robert and Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos suggested writing a story that was all about description, and so I wrote and sold “In the Belly of the Beast,” where the whole story takes place in the belly of a dragon that has swallowed a bunch of people, including a wizard who creates a field to protect them in the dragon’s stomach—and much of the story revolved around vivid descriptions of the “venue.” It also became a character story about the wizard.
How many stages does your work go through before you send it off to a publisher? How much of your time is spent writing the first draft, and how much time is spent in revision? What sort of revisions do you do?
You asked for it! Long ago I created a personalized twenty-step process for writing my stories. Here it is! (Note that for #17, “Get outside critiques,” I often use TNEO: The Never-Ending Odyssey, an eight-day workshop for Odyssey workshop graduates. I also use critters.org.) This doesn’t mean everyone should follow this path; this is what works for me. (For example, some writers prefer to get the story down quickly, in rough form, and then focus on rewriting, while in #6 I prefer to do much of this as I’m writing the first draft.)
Twenty-Point Short Story Writing System
by Larry Hodges
1. Either from sudden inspiration or from an ongoing file of story ideas, choose the ideas to use for the story and expand on them. This should include general ideas as well as themes, character sketches, settings, etc.
2. Develop the basic plot around these ideas. Make lots of notes.
3. Do a character sketch for the major characters.
4. Plan out a flexible plot, scene by scene. In particular make sure you know the ending so you can write to that ending.
5. Decide where the story should start and the point of view.
6. Write the story, one paragraph at a time, or sometimes a few paragraphs at a time. Reread and rewrite each paragraph or paragraphs as they are written, making sure they are “perfect” before going on.
7. At the end of each scene, make sure the scene accomplished what was required.
8. Be creative in making changes and additions to anything as the story goes on, always aiming for the ending planned—though that can change if you come up with a better one. If a change in the story necessitates a change in the ending, make sure you know what the new ending will be before moving on so you can write toward that ending.
9. Go back and work on the opening, making sure the story started at the right place and has an effective “hook” to draw the reader into the story.
10. Go back and flesh out each scene with any needed descriptions.
11. Do a checklist on the following items: Good opening? Vivid, interesting characters? Vivid settings? Authentic and interesting dialogue? Strong plot? Excessive exposition? Unneeded side plots or anything else that can be cut? Satisfying ending? Strong theme? The right point of view?
12. Do a search for problem words, such as passive verbs like “was” and “were,” words that end in “ly,” and other common problem words, such as “of,” “that,” “by,” and “very.” (Each writer should have their own list of problem words. See Ken Rand’s book The 10% Solution for more on this.)
13. Read the entire story onscreen several times, making changes along the way.
14. Print out and proof, paragraph by paragraph. Read dialogue aloud.
15. Wait at least one week, then read entire story onscreen again, making changes along the way.
16. Print out and proof, paragraph by paragraph. Read dialogue aloud.
17. Get outside critiques.
18. Final rewrite.
19. Final proofing, first onscreen and then from printout.
20. Create market submission plan and start submitting.
Bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson has collected 750 rejection slips over the course of his career. How many rejections have you received on a single story? What is your philosophy about rejections?
Rejections are proof that editors are mere humans who make mistakes and so don’t always see the sheer brilliance in my work. 🙂 My general rule is when I get a rejection, I submit the story somewhere else within a day (often in minutes), if there’s a good market open for it. (I’ll hold back if there’s a better market I’m waiting on.) I also look to submit another story to the market that made the egregious error of rejecting my story, thereby giving them a
second third fourth fifth zillionth chance to see the error of their ways.
Recently I sold a story that had been rejected 53 times. That one had been a finalist at five markets, including two professional-rate markets. I made a pro sale with another story that had been rejected 48 times (a finalist at two markets). I have a story that’s been a finalist at seven markets, three of them pro markets, but has now been rejected 61 times. It’s back in submission. Someday it’ll sell.
You had 16 stories sold or published in 2020. What are the most stories you’ve ever had in circulation at once? How do you motivate yourself to write and submit so many stories?
I currently have 39 stories in submission (three of them finalists, including two at pro markets), but I’ve had over 50 in the past. I also have 52 stories currently awaiting markets. I have four stories that are finalized, but I’m holding back as possible submissions for TNEO. I also have 19 stories in my “works in progress” listing—I sometimes put aside problematic stories to work on later. I also have dozens of stories that are “retired.” My sales are nice and even right now—exactly 124 short story sales, including 40 to pro markets, and exactly 40 resales.
So, what motivates me? Two things. First, when I have a story idea, I have to write it or my head will explode. (Someday I will resist the urge and see if my head actually explodes, just for the sake of science.) And second, the overwhelming drive to make sale #125 and pro sale #41!!! As we all know, anyone can get lucky and sell 124 stories, but it takes great skill to sell 125. (Every time I sell a story I have to update that.)
Here ends Part 1 of our interview with Larry Hodges. In Part 2, which will be posted next Sunday, Larry will talk about the inspiration behind some of his short stories, some of the challenges he’s faced as a writer, the importance of integrating character into the idea when writing humor, and more!