Looking for Great Free (Sci-fi and Fantasy) Fiction? Check Out These Online Magazines

Looking for Great Free (Sci-fi and Fantasy) Fiction? Check Out These Online MagazinesDo you like reading free stories? A lot of people, surprisingly, don’t know that many online magazines and journals provide free access to their content. And that’s why I’m here today. I’m about to open up a world of free story nuggets — and you will never be short of reading material again.

Since I’m a predominantly literary and speculative fiction writer, that’s what I tend to read. Literary journals typically require a subscription, but many will showcase one or two pieces from their latest or past issues. They are worth reading, especially if you’re thinking about sending a piece of your own.

Speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, and horror) magazines tend to have more content available for public consumption. Below I’ve taken the time to amass a list of a few of my favorite magazines that offer free and easily accessible fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Speculative fiction (horror, sci-fi, fantasy):

Daily Science Fiction: This online journal publishes science fiction and fantasy (and everything speculative in between) flash fiction. If you subscribe, you get a free story emailed to your inbox each weekday. That means a daily dose of 500-1500 words. But the entirety of their selection is available on their website.

Fantasy Scroll Magazine: This is a newer magazine (it only has three issues out), but I was delighted by one of the stories I read and have continued to read it since.

Strange Horizons: This magazine has a huge database of stories they’ve published, all accessible free of charge. From their site: “Strange Horizons is a magazine of and about speculative fiction and related nonfiction, and has been shortlisted for or won Hugo, Nebula, Rhysling, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr., and World Fantasy Awards.”

Tor.com: Tor.com is the short story version of Tor the publisher of novels, and has a ton of quality fiction. One of their short stories won a Hugo this year, actually.

Clarkesworld Magazine: Clarkesworld publishes a new issue each month. The magazine itself has won the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine three times, and the fiction they’ve published has also seen a fair share of recognition. You can read stories freely on their website or pay the subscription fee and help support the magazine.

Abyss & Apex: You can find fiction, non-fiction, and poetry here. All of the spec-fic variety. They have a yearly subscription of only $5.00, but you can access stories and poetry online for free.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies: This magazine appeals to my personal taste as it distinctly publishes literary speculative fiction. My two favorite genres combined into one perfect package! If you’re like me, in that aspect, this magazine comes highly recommended.

(Note: All of the above-listed magazines, except for Fantasy Scroll Magazine, are publications counting toward membership with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Also called the SFWA.)

Other Online Magazines/Journals

Narrative Magazine: This is not a speculative fiction magazine. But it’s one of my favorite literary magazines. They have a story and poem of the week, which you can get via their mailing list (or by accessing their website). As a normal (free) subscriber, you can read a huge amount of content. If you feel like paying the fee, you get what’s called a backstage pass, and you have free reign. But even if you opt not to pay, you won’t be disappointed with the stories available to you.

Flash Fiction Online: If you’re short on time — on break, reading something with your morning coffee, on the bus — this is the place to go. FFO is accepted by the SFWA, but I am putting it here because they actually publish more than speculative fiction. In fact, they pretty much publish any and every genre imaginable. No matter what you like to read, you’re sure to find something here that interests you.

In Conclusion . . .

I highly, highly suggest paying subscription fees to the magazines you love reading. It helps them fund their writers (and maybe eventually you, should you attempt to publish) and in turn allows them to continue providing you with great stories. But if you can’t afford to pay, then simply giving a shout out to the authors and magazines you love can help them a ton.

Got any other journal or magazine suggestions? Know any for other genres that you’d like to share? Let others know in the comments!

Planning for Pantsers

Planning for PantsersEveryone’s heard the planner/pantser (or architect/organic as G. R. R. Martin refers to it) differences in writers. We tend to be naturally more of one than the other and can fall anywhere on the spectrum.

The most common fallacy about pantsers is that we don’t plan. We do, but we plan unconsciously and it feels as if we discover much of the story in the writing, whether that’s actual draft or pre-write. This might be why we say the story comes from someplace other than our conscious mind. It does, including the planning.

As a pantser, I’ve experimented with several methods for “outlining” a novel. I’ll include a quick overview of just three of these methods. I think it’s good to try different things, so you can incorporate the parts that work for you into your process and disregard the parts that don’t.

The MC Arc

One method of planning a novel is to simply plan the Main Character Arc and work the plot elements into that arc. The elements you need to know are:

  • Where your character starts in terms of mindset, emotions, situation, and relationships.
  • The event that sparks your character’s story and how she reacts to it.
  • The choices and options available to your character as a result of the event.
  • The low moment in the story, the scenes in which your character feels all is lost.
  • The big action or decision (the tipping point) your character makes to change their future.
  • Where your character ends in terms of mindset, emotions, situation, and relationships.

By thinking about and planning these sections of your novel, you’ll have elements to write toward. Of course, the elements might change as you write, but it’s good to have a starting point. This method works well for character-driven novels.

Pivot Scenes

Sometimes stories start with a character. Other times they start with a plot. Planning your pivot scenes is very similar to the MC Arc, but instead of focusing on the character, you’re focusing on your plot twists and development.

  • Starting point – The shortest part of a novel, this leads quickly to the inciting moment
  • Inciting moment – This is where your story actually begins.
  • Crisis point One – This is the first obstacle/plot event.
  • Crisis point two – A second obstacle/plot event to complicate things for your character.
  • Crisis point three – Third plot event/plot twist, optional depending on length.
  • The climax – The big moment of your story.

Again, very similar to the MC Arc, but a good way to work with a story idea that comes to you with plot first.


This is the method I’m currently working with, and I’ll admit it works a bit better for me after I’m about 20k into the story. It is my roadmap for the middle of the book as well as revisions. There’s freedom to move scenes around for maximum impact and helps ensure I don’t miss key elements.

Advantages include being able to maintain micro-tension, plan chapter endings that make the reader turn the page, and spacing sub-plot elements over the length of the novel. If you have multiple points of view, it also helps ensure the POV is balanced between characters.

Essentially, I make a table or draw a grid on paper and label each box with a chapter number. I plan three to four scenes per chapter and the number of chapters depends on the length I’m aiming for. Since it’s a bit more involved, I’ve included an image of a current project so you can see how I use the boxes. This particular novel has multiple POV, so scenes are color-coded for the POV character.

Charting a Novel

I pre-write up to half the word count that will appear in the final novel, and from that exploratory document, I’ll fill in the boxes. This novel is targeted for 80,000 words, so I have 80 scenes broken roughly into 20 chapters (this is just a benchmark as the actual word counts per scene and chapter will vary). About 50 of the 80 scenes are noted. The rest will be filled in as I write.

Pantsing is an intuitive way to write that seems to come from a hidden place in the brain, but applying just enough structure beforehand can help keep you on target and provide a roadmap of where you’re headed.

If you have any questions about these methods or have used others that work, please let me know in the comments.

As a pantser, how do you plan out your novels?

Deus Ex Machina

Lately, I have been stumbling across stories that contain the deus ex machina literary plot device.  It is astounding how many authors attempt to use this device and often fail.  Deus ex machina is not a well known device, and I hesitated to write about the plot device as there is much criticism against it.  But you know me, I like writing about things that are often criticized.

The deus ex machina plot device is a tactic introduced when a writer writes himself or herself into a corner when he or she is unable to resolve an issue or conflict.  In most cases the use of the device is ad hoc and not well planned out, often resulting in a failed attempt to create a resolution that leaves the reader angry and unimpressed.  Though, when used correctly, it can provide an element of thrill or comic relief.  

(c) m anima

(c) m anima

Deus ex machina is a Latin phrase that means “god out of the machine”.  It originated during the Greek theatre era where actors, who had the role of a deity, were strung up on a crane-like contraption and lower onto the stage to instantly resolve a conflict.  The criticism around this device is that if a conflict takes route that cannot be resolved, the author would introduce a divine character in the storyline to immediately wrap up the conflict.  The divine character, quite literally, appears out of thin air, swoops in, and steals away all problems.  This allows the main characters to go about their merry way and the reader is left to scratch his or her head in confusion.  In its poorest fashion, the deus ex machine literary device is a complete cop out.  Lord of the Flies is a one of the best examples of poor use of the deus ex machina device.  At the conclusion of the book, a Naval personnel happens upon the castaway island, right before Ralph is about to become mincemeat at the hands of the hunting party, saving all the adolescent boys from becoming lost to their primal tendencies.  This Navy character’s appearance is sudden, jolting the reader out of the suspense and turmoil that is being played out between Ralph and the other boys.

While I personally feel that the Lord of the Flies story is one of the best dystopian novels in existence (and a favorite of mine), the ending left me irked.  I felt robbed and it seemed like William Golding was in a rush to wrap up the conflict.  That he just threw in the Naval officer as an afterthought.  In order to make the conclusion less jarring, he should have added more foreshadowing about a naval vessel canvassing the waters around the island, or something to that degree.

When efficiently used, the deus ex machina device can be a mark of a true genius.  Very few authors have been able to master its use.  Shakespeare leverages the device very well in a few of his comedies and tragedies.  For example, in As You Like It Hymenaios suddenly attends the wedding disguised as Forest of Arden to sort out Rosalind’s problems.  Leading up to this scene, there were details of the event defined and so the reader would not be caught off guard by the appearance of disguised Hymenaios. Shakespeare used the device again in Hamlet, where Fortinbras arrival pretty much nixes any attempt of anarchy within Denmark.  Again, the use of foreshadowing prevented Fortinbras from seemingly appearing from thin air and saving the day.

However, Shakespeare poorly used the device in the Merchant of Venice when Portia tells Antonio that all of his ships have come to port, even though throughout the story it is said that the fleet had been destroyed.  His entire life rested on the arrival of his ships and the conflict was solved with Portia’s lines of reassurance of the ships making port.  There are no details or explanation as to how the ships survived the storm or how the rumor started that the fleet was lost.  The audience / reader is left in mystery of what really occurred.

As you can see from these examples, the use of this device has ranged from poor to exceptional, which leaves the device in much criticism as it is mostly not utilized in the best scenarios.  However, as a writer you should not fear it.  You should be experimental with your writing, giving the deus ex machina device a try and the critics a run for their money!  

If you ever write yourself into a corner and think that the deus ex machina path is your only way out, or if you want to experiment with the device, just take into account these four thoughts:

1.  Don’t pull a Hail Mary pass and drop in a God-like character to save the day.  Revise your story and give that character a little background earlier on.  That does not mean that the character has to make a full appearance within the earlier scenes, but references or foreshadowing the character will not make his or her appearance seem so sudden.

2.  Don’t allow your deus ex machina character to disappear as suddenly as he or she appears. Allow that character to have a little screen time and purpose in your story, other than just to instantly appear to solve the “unresolvable” conflict.

3. Plot and plan the use of this device.  If you can shape and mold the dues ex machina in such a way that it is agile with your plot, then damn, you are going to have one interesting and memorable story.   If the idea comes to you to use this device, THINK about how you are going to introduce it and how it will play out in your story.

4.  Be unique with the device.  Add your own creativity and spin to it.  If you have no read Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, do it now.  The way he explores this device is pure genius.  Trust me, it will be memorable and hopefully inspirational.

What are your thoughts on the deus ex machina literary plot device?  Do you believe that the criticism over its use is deserved?  Do you think you may utilize it in a story someday?

Buzzfeed Lists For Writers

I love gif images. I’m a visual person, so combine that with anything writing related and I’m in heaven. I found these posts by Buzzfeed and had to share them with all my writing friends. Enjoy!

33 Untold Truths That Writers Know Too Well

29 Words That Mean Something Totally Different When You’re a Writer 

10 Essential Tips for Dating a Writer

We can all relate to these. I know I can. *giggles* What do you think?

Sorry I don’t have something more exciting for today. But I promise to have something awesome for my next post. Any suggestions for a topic? Leave a comment.

<3 Jen