“Your Submission Needs a Plot,” by Shira Musicant

Dec 28th, 2022 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

Professor Beatrice Polk (bspolk@sitiyu.edu)
To: smusicant@sityu.edu
Re: Your Submission of Fred
September 26, 2022

Ms. Musicant,

Is it possible you have enrolled in Short Story 101 by mistake? There is still time to withdraw from the class without penalty. You might consider switching your major from creative writing to math, which may be more suited to your literary skills.

Here is the issue with the first draft of your short story: It lacks a plot. There is no conflict and thus, no resolution.

In fact, your character, Fred, is in dire need of a story. It is up to you to investigate his desires, and what thwarts them. What is he asking for, and from whom? Find the obstacles! Something is needed to get him off the couch.

Your details are not bad: thinning hair and a perfectly acceptable comb-over, the stain on his tee shirt, and the worn slippers on his feet as he watches television. But why do we care? And about his dirty laundry on the floor and the dishes accumulating in the sink: Do these details serve a purpose in the story?

If you choose to stay in this class–and I do recommend dropping it—you may want to see what happens to Fred if he is visited by an alien, or witnesses a murder. Those situations could create some tension and momentum for your character. But a TV dinner heated in the micro, and a beer enjoyed on the couch, intrigue the reader not at all.

With complacency the main attribute of your character, and no conflict in sight, you may as well write Fred’s obituary.

I am returning “Fred” to you, ungraded. Should you opt to continue in this class, please rewrite. You might want to find an interesting way to kill Fred, so that you can start afresh.

Professor Polk


Professor Beatrice S. Polk (bspolk@sitiyu.edu)
To: smusicant@sitiyu.edu
Re: Your Submission of Fred
October 10, 2022

Ms. Musicant,

I admire your persistence with this re-write. You have certainly written a lot of pages and used white space to your advantage, and perhaps to your readers’ also.

It was clever of you to transform Fred into the killer. There is a scene in your writing where details do shine. Your description of the choking, for example, is quite realistic: gasping, tongue protruding, and limbs going flaccid. The image of Fred cleaning his fingernails after the crime is one of your more memorable moments.

I would like to caution you strongly about the excessive use of adverbs. Were you paying any attention in class when we discussed—thoroughly, I might add—their over-use? Walked behind her quietly and placed hands forcefully on her throat would be greatly improved by snuck behind her and gripped her throat. Let me repeat the lesson: find a verb that does the work.

It is, of course, too late to drop this class, but not too late to change majors. The entire Literature Department would support you in this.

With Sincerity,
Professor Polk


Professor S. Beatrice Polk (bspolk@sitiyu.edu)
To: smusicant@sitiyu.edu
Re: Your Submission of Fred
December 10, 2022

Ms. Musicant,

Your final version of “Fred” continues to host numerous problems, not the least of which is confusion about your character’s motivation. The fact that the victim is an English teacher would be considered, by most, insufficient reason for killing an ex-wife. Did he have a traumatic experience with an English teacher? Some back-story would elucidate.

And, returning to the plot issue: What actually happened in this story? Besides the fact that Fred left the couch to murder his ex-wife who happened to be an English teacher. And then returned to the couch.

I am giving you a passing grade so that you do not repeat this class.

Ms. Musicant, should you insist on continuing in the Creative Writing Program, I suggest that next quarter you take Creative Nonfiction 101 with another professor.

In all Sincerity,
Professor Polk


Shira Musicant has accumulated multiple simultaneous rejection letters from numerous literary journals. Nonetheless, she soldiers on, with stories in Two Hawks Quarterly, Gold Man Review, Santa Barbara Literary Journal, Montana Mouthful, and Star82 Review.

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