When submitting a story to a speculative fiction magazine recently, I got a surprisingly fast rejection — we’re talking hours, compared to the usual 4–5 weeks. I was stunned, hoping that I had some formatting issue that made it auto-reject, or that the editor was so taken with the first few sentences that he/she thought, “hell with it, I’m accepting it on the spot!” (ha).
The reality fell somewhat short of both scenarios: the story received a curt rejection, with the following tip for revision: “characters lack inner depth, need to relate to them more, feel their conflict.” In other words, your characters aren’t three-dimensional, fleshed-out beings whose emotions and inner turmoil feel relatable to my own. Which is a fair criticism, since my intention wasn’t to develop characters in this story as much as explore the implications of the story/theme itself. Rejections have a habit of weighing on you, though, and this one gave me considerable food for thought.
So I continued to ask myself, do protagonists in every story or novel need to be three-dimensional? Fleshed-out? Familiar? A vessel you can climb into and work all the gears and levers and feel that, yes, this could be me, I could understand this. And if so, doesn’t this render more than half of the world’s literature (especially its fantastic literature) null and void?