Avoiding the omniscient POV

I am currently reading through the slush pile of stories for my next anthology: THREE TIME TRAVELERS WALK INTO…

And I’m noticing a commonality among some of the submissions from unpublished authors. Too many stories are told from the omniscient point of view.

That can work, of course. Dickens used it all the time, as did many authors long ago. Douglas Adams uses it in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (one of my favorite novels of all time). But you don’t see it in use hardly at all these days in fiction.

And there’s a reason.

We want to get inside our characters’ heads and we want to know what they’re thinking. A close third-person POV is usually best if you’re not doing a first person story.

But more importantly, when you use the omniscient POV, you are the character. Your voice in the narration becomes the character.

You want a good example? Read Lemony Snicket. It’s wonderful. Or William Goldman’s THE PRINCESS BRIDE. The voice of the narrator has a personality. And, of course, Adams.

Writing in the omniscient voice is very easy, which is why so many inexperienced writers use it. Writing it well is very hard, which is why so many experienced writers do not.

Too often, writers will use that POV and jump around from one characters’ head to another and let us know what they’re thinking (or worse, not let us know when we should) which can reduce tension and suspense. (Tension and suspense, in case you don’t realize, are good things in fiction.)

Part of the reason it doesn’t work as well is because that POV reminds us that we’re reading a story, especially when I get submissions like this: “The story of how these three people met is exciting…” Yeah? According to who? Or “Time Travel works this way…” No, I want a story, not a science lesson. If you have to explain how it works in the story, find a way for a character to explain it, not the narrator.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who submit these kinds of stories read stories themselves. I find that the best way to learn how to write is to read constantly. Advice books are fine, but you need to read novels and short stories to see how it’s done — and then you need to write and write and write until your work can compare.

It’s like reading a book about how basketball works and thinking that therefore you can now play as well as the professionals. No, you need to watch actual games, notice how the players use the ball and interact with each other, and then you need to get on the court and do it yourself, over and over again, until it becomes easy.

My Worldcon schedule

The World Science Fiction convention is finally in the US and on the East Coast again, so that’s where you’ll find me from December 16th through the 19th.  Lots of great guests and panels, and I’ll be mostly at the Fantastic Books table in the Dealer’s Room, but also on these three panels:

The Small Press Takeover of Short Fiction (Friday 4 pm):  There was a time, long ago, when short fiction had to be published in one of the “big three” magazines to get popular attention and critical acclaim. The rise of magazines like ClarkesworldUncanny, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among many others, make markets of today a much more level playing field. We’ll talk about what’s changed and why, and what it means for the state of speculative fiction.

Keeping White Supremacy Out of Fandom (Friday 5:30 pm):  White supremacists are infiltrating and laying claims to many aspects of fan culture, from Tolkien to Norse mythology, military speculative fiction, and the SCA. What does this mean for authors, publishers, and fans? How do we keep them from co-opting our work and poisoning our spaces?      

Zoom In. Enhance!  (Saturday 10 am):  Television and film make detectives and forensic scientists into superheroes. But how much can you really tell from a grainy video, fingerbone, or scrap of fabric? How accurate are the super-science labs portrayed in shows like Bones and CSI? Panelists separate the science from the fiction in film, TV, and video game crime procedurals.

The complete schedule for the convention is here.

Guests include lots of my friends! A complete list is here.


Terin Ostler book #3 released!

One barbarian tribe has a prophecy saying the legendary hero Bishortu will unite the three warring tribes. Another has a prophecy that directly contradicts this, and they want Bishortu dead. And a third, which may or may not be comprised of werewolves, refuses to let anyone know what their prophecy says. Meanwhile, the Duke on whose land the barbarians live wants them all gone.

In the middle of all of this is squire Terin Ostler, who has been mistakenly identified as the great Bishortu. Under the Duke’s orders to get rid of the barbarians, he heads to their lands without the slightest idea of what to do.

Along the way, he has to avoid assassins, werewolves, lovesick barbarian princesses, and confused goblins, while attempting to figure out the meaning of the magical and mysterious Wretched Axes.

Nobody said being a hero would be easy.

“Terin Ostler and the Axes of Evil” has been reissued from Fantastic Books with a fantastic new cover and a few minor changes. Click here to read reviews or to order your copy! (The ebook versions are coming soon!)

My Philcon 2021 schedule


I’m ready to once again step out to a convention, but it’s because they’re requiring everyone to be vaccinated and wear a mask. It’s Philcon, Philadelphia’s oldest literary convention. It’s in New Jersey.  (Look, it was cheaper, okay?)

I’ve been a guest at Philcon for years, and it’s always great to go back there and see so many of my friends. This year’s event will be on the weekend of November 19-21. Pictures from previous Philcons are below!

Here’s my schedule:

Perils and Pitfalls of Near-Future Scenarios (Friday 6pm): The problem with writing near-future science fiction in our fast-moving time is that often the present overtakes the predictions. What are some cautionary tales, and how do authors deal with this sword of Damocles?  If the storytelling is good enough, will the present catching up to the imagined future matter to readers? With Ian Randal Strock, Jennifer Povey, Margaret Riley, and Joan Wendland

What’s So Funny? (Friday 7 pm): Many authors, including John Scalzi, T. Kingfisher and Rudy Rucker, have written humorous SF. Can a story combine humor and serious speculation? What are the pitfalls? With Randee Dawn, Dina Leacock, Chuck Rothman, and Hildy Silverman

Reading: Michael A. Ventrella (Saturday 12:30 pm): I’ll be reading from one of my books, with the attendees choosing which one

A Beginner’s Guide to Time Travel Paradoxes (Saturday 2 pm): You know not to remove a major historical figure, hand Thomas Edison a cell phone, or kill your grandfather. But is it even possible to travel into the past without changing anything?  So you go back to Chicago in 1920, and eat a hamburger in a diner. But, unbeknownst to you, that hamburger was destined to sit for six hours, spoil, and sicken someone else, who misses an important appointment, and… there goes the timestream. Would nature have a way of correcting this? With John Ashmead, Russell J. Handelman, and George W. Young

Reimagining Babylon 5 (Saturday 4 pm): Babylon 5’s creator J. Michael Straczynski has confirmed that he is writing the pilot for a reboot and will be the showrunner if it is given the green light.  Will his involvement be enough for fans to embrace the new show?  Which storylines from the original could use more time to be fully realized, and which should be allowed a graceful retirement?  Should the reboot be called Babylon 6, or Babylon 5.1? With Matt Black, Lawrence Kramer, Andre Lieven, and Jennifer Povey

From Gaming Into Fiction (Saturday 5 pm): Many current writers grew up playing role-playing games online and in person. Some writers are moving into fiction after writing for interactive games, and others are going back and forth. How are these two approaches influencing each other? How can an author successfully transform their work to succeed in another format? With Eric Avedissian, Stephanie Burke, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Victoria Rogers

Masquerade  (Saturday 8 pm): The annual cosplay competition! I’ll be hosting the event, so I’m bringing my top hat.

Signing: Michael A. Ventrella (Sunday 11 am): Just in case you didn’t get a chance to see me at the convention otherwise, I’ll be at a table in the main hall where you can bug me.

Post-Colonial Steampunk (Sunday 1 pm): Steampunk’s original DNA is rife with Victorian Imperialism, but some authors are creating steampunk worlds that hint at decolonized alternate-history timelines, including  P. Djèlí Clark’s Master of Djinn, set in a technologically advanced and magically infiltrated Cairo; Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, where a multicultural group in Congo fights for freedom with steampunk innovations; and Maurice Broaddus’s Buffalo Soldier, set in Jamaica and a post-US America.  What other possibilities are available? With Stephanie Burke and Fran Wilde

And now… pictures from previous Philcons! (Click on a picture to enlarge)

Current events and writing

I had an excellent time recently being interviewed by Russ Colchamiro, along with Mark Olshaker (Mindhunter) and John French (retired Baltimore CSI). We discussed social and racial hot button issues including Black Lives Matter, Defund the Police, and the #MeToo movement as authors and members of the criminal justice system.

My Capclave 2021 schedule

So after a year and a half of avoiding conventions, I’m venturing out for one. I think I’ll take the risk, as they are requiring everyone to be fully vaccinated and masked at all times during programming.

Capclave is a fun small convention for literary science fiction and fantasy fans. (It’s where I met George R.R. Martin all those years ago and had my 15 minutes of fame for predicting the Hodor plot).

This is taking place near Washington DC on October 1 – 3. If you go, you’ll probably find me hanging out at the Fantastic Books table where you can also find my books (what a coincidence!).

I’ll be on the following panels:

Friday 5:30 pm: Author Reading — Michael A. Ventrella: Author Michael A. Ventrella reads from their recent and upcoming work.

Friday 7:00 pm: Writing YA for Two Audiences (Martin Berman-Gorvine, Mary Fan, Mary G. Thompson, Michael Alan Ventrella): Adults comprise a large percentage of the audience for YA, and are almost all the gatekeepers-editors, publicists, librarians and book buyers. How do writers write for both audiences? Are adult readers of YA looking for different things from younger readers? What makes some books effective at satisfying both audiences?

Friday 9:00 pm: So You Want to Edit an Anthology (Neil Clarke, Mary Fan, Kristin Janz, Michael Alan Ventrella): How do you edit your own anthology? How do you decide what holds the book together – a theme, a date, a concept? How do you come up with a theme? What sells and what doesn’t? How do you get the rights to stories for reprint anthologies? If you pick the contributors, how do you decide who to include and avoid getting repetitious stories? How do authors produce varied fiction within the limits of a theme anthology? How do you find a publisher willing to print it? Do you do a Kickstarter or not?

Saturday 4:00 pm: Near Future Collisions (David Bartell, Martin Berman-Gorvine, Sarah Pinsker, Michael A. Ventrella, Ted Weber): Sarah Pinsker wrote a novel that predicted many aspects of reaction to COVID, before COVID even happened. What do writers do when their fiction turns real? How do writers keep ahead of changes in the rapidly moving real world? What do you do when new discoveries/political changes invalidate your planned novel or worse, a published one?

Saturday 6:00 pm: For The Love of Evil: Making Compelling Villains (Marilyn Brahen, Charles Gannon, Aliza Greenblatt, Karlo Yeager Rodriguez, Michael A. Ventrella): How do you creating an opponent to your hero with believable motivations yet not ones with which the readers might agree? How do you keep the villain interesting without overshadowing the hero? Is it better to show some chapters from the villain’s viewpoint or keep the villain mysterious in the background? Do you kill off your villain or keep the villain around for the sequel? What works have the best villains and what makes them attractive?

Saturday 11:00 pm: Eye of Argon (Walter H. Hunt, Hildy Silverman, Ian Randal Strock, Michael A. Ventrella): Our panelists read the worst fantasy story ever written, mistakes and all, and if they laugh or read it incorrectly, they are forced to act out the story. Just try not to fall over laughing! At some point, volunteers from the audience can participate and discover firsthand the author’s contentious relationship with spelling, capitalization and punctuation.

Three Time Travelers Walk Into … Guidelines for Submissions

Take any three famous people from history, toss them together, and have an adventure.

How they got together is up to you – you could do an origin story of how they first met or you could write the story as if they had been adventuring for years. You can use a time machine or a rip in space/time or quantum magic or whatever. You could have some sort of universal translator or you can have the language barrier be part of your plotline.

And these three people should be really separate if possible, from different cultures and times. That’s part of the fun…

I’m now accepting story submissions for this upcoming anthology. You’ll be in great company, with New York Times Bestselling authors and multiple award-winning authors like David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry, Peter David, Allen Steele, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Adam-Troy Castro, Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, Keith DeCandido, James Moore, and L. Penelope!

Below are the guidelines for submission and some advice. Not following either greatly reduces your chance of acceptance. Follow the guidelines!

(The actual cover will look different)

STORY LENGTH AND PAYMENT: Try to keep your story at around 4000 words. This should be sufficient for what should most likely be a somewhat humorous tale. Take as many words as you need to make a great story, but if it is too long, it had better be so great that we can’t refuse it. We will pay 5 cents a word with a top limit of 5000 words. If you absolutely have to go over that limit, it won’t disqualify you but understand that we won’t pay extra. A good but padded story may get rejected over a concise, fast-moving one, because we want to fit in as many stories as possible.

No reprints. And only one submission. If you have two stories, send your best.

FORMAT: Standard submission format. Times New Roman, 12 point, double spaced. Your name, email, and word count at the top of the first page.  RTF format only, please.

Please include a short bio at the end in the same document. List previous publications or relevant experience in the bio. Don’t worry if you’ve never been published before. I have no problem accepting stories from first-time authors — but won’t overlook bad writing or spelling and grammar mistakes simply because you’re new at this. You’ll be held to the same standards as our professional writers.

DEADLINES:  The stories are due by Thursday, December 9th.  If you don’t get a response from me acknowledging receipt within a few days after you submit, please contact me to make sure it didn’t get lost in the internet somewhere.

My personal deadline for responding to everyone is January 6th. If you haven’t heard from me by that day, you can assume your story was rejected, but I will do everything I can to respond to everyone.

RIGHTS: First English Language Rights, with a 12-month exclusivity period (except for “Best Of” collections).

STORY IDEAS: As far as who to choose for your story: I’m looking for real people or people who are so ingrained in mythology that they could be real (Robin Hood, King Arthur, Mulan, etc.). Obviously, do not use any copyrighted characters or clearly fictional characters even if they are in the public domain (no Sherlock Holmes or Oliver Twist). If you are unsure, feel free to email me beforehand.

NOTE: Do not email me with a query like “I’m thinking of using X, Y, and Z. Would you be interested?” The answer is always “I don’t know; write the story first.” After all, the best idea in the world can fail if it’s poorly written. Only email me if you are unsure about whether a character you want to use fits my criteria.

Also, you should probably use fairly well-known people from history, because that’s what’s going to attract reader attention. Choosing three obscure people might hurt your chances of acceptance BUT what really matters is how good your story is. I don’t want to limit you or scare you away from a great story simply because you’re using three relatively unknown painters from different eras, for instance.

I have already received way too many stories with certain characters (Tesla, Einstein, H.G. Welles, Twain, Houdini) so please avoid these. Remember, your first idea has probably already been someone else’s first idea.

GENERAL ADVICE: Make sure there’s a story there. Often, I receive submissions that have a great concept but there’s no story underneath. The great concept is just the start of your story

Below is a recent zoom chat I had with editors Keith DeCandido and Randee Dawn, discussing how to submit to a themed anthology, what editors are looking for, and what will get you rejected quickly. (No, you don’t have to watch this if you don’t want to. There are no secret passwords or “cheat codes” in this chat.)

REJECTION LETTERS: I hate sending out rejection letters, having been at the receiving end of them myself, but that is part of the business. Please understand that if I reject your story, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad story. In every single anthology I’ve edited, I’ve had to reject stories I like simply because I don’t have enough room. Or perhaps I have more than one story with the same characters or themes, and I can only choose one. And sometimes it’s just a matter of taste. A story I don’t like could be loved by a different editor. (It might help if you have read some of the anthologies I’ve edited before or even my own novels to get an idea of the kinds of stories I like.)

PUBLISHER:  This will be published by Fantastic Books with publisher Ian Randal Strock. Ian has published my last two anthologies (Release the Virgins and Across the Universe, with Randee Dawn). Virgins was very successful, and Across the Universe received excellent reviews from Publishers Weekly, the Library Journal, Asimov’s and Analog. (Details about those books can be found here)

SUBMISSION EMAIL: Send your submission to Michael.Ventrella@gmail.com and please put “Time travelers submission” in the subject line.

Time Travelers Kickstarter Update

As I write this (September 4th) we’re about 60% of the way through our kickstarter campaign for the next anthology THREE TIME TRAVELERS WALK INTO… and about 60% funded.

We had a great chat at the ConTinual Facebook page a few days ago with some of the writers who will be contributing to the anthology. Check it out! You can hear from best selling authors and award-winners David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry, Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, and Leslye Penelope, along with me and publisher Ian Randal Strock. The writers discuss the stories they’re interested in writing and we all talk about time travel and why it’s so fun.

Also: Aspiring authors — yes, I’ll be looking for more stories to fill this book, but that will be moot if we don’t reach our goal. So please send your pledge to the kickstarter!

A picture from the chat. Click below for the video

Three Time Travelers Walk Into…

My new anthology! Take three random people from any time in history, get them together somehow, and give them an adventure! Three Time Travelers Walk Into…

Look who will be writing stories for this! Jonathan Maberry, Peter David, Allen Steele, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Adam-Troy Castro, Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, Keith DeCandido, James Moore, and L. Penelope!

As usual, there are bonuses you can get! You can pay extra and get one of the authors to name a character after you, for instance! Check out the pledges.

This is a kickstarter campaign with my publisher Fantastic Books, who previously published my anthologies Release the Virgins and Across the Universe (co-edited with Randee Dawn). In order to fund the book (and pay the authors) we ask you to contribute and pre-order your book. Don’t worry — If we don’t reach our goal, you won’t be charged.

Once we’re funded, we’ll be opening up the book for submissions, so for all you writers out there: I’ll be looking for stories! We’ll also be hiring a professional artist to do a great cover.

So please come join us!

The Top Ten Animated Feature Films

Some of you may be aware that in the 1980s, I founded a magazine dedicated to animated films. Animato! became quite a success, and after I sold the rights, it grew even more!

Announcing a new book I’m working on: The Animated Features Top Ten List.

I’m looking for professionals in the animation field to share their list of Top Ten Favorite Animated Features and tell why. We’ll print them all and then do a summary at the end as to which films got the most votes.

Please tell any friends in the animation community! Looking for writers, artists, voice actors, directors, animation historians, critics, and fans (although, admittedly, if space is tight, fans will be cut first).

Details are here!

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