Friday, May 27, 2022

Six Questions for Jason Thayer, Editor,-in-Chief, Complete Sentence

Complete Sentence is an online magazine of single-sentence prose. We champion punchy and poignant work that celebrates syntactical exploration—narratives that expand or contract within a single sentence.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Jason Thayer: I was having trouble focusing on my longform writing project—a memoir that was becoming more and more difficult to hold in my head as the world burned in 2020. Taking a break from the manuscript, I started writing single-sentence essays and stories, finding it easier to focus within these parameters. I started Complete Sentence because I figured that other writers—and readers—were also struggling with longer stories and essays at this moment in history when attention spans are shrinking and so many pressing issues pull our brains in different directions. We’re living in the age of single-sentence prose, and I was shocked no other magazine like this already existed.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

JT: We’re always reading with an eye for representation—have we published this perspective before? What about this story, this identity, this lived experience is underrepresented in the lit world and in our own magazine? Why is it important that we use our platform to help this person get their story out into the world—and why is it valuable, necessary for our readership to consider this narrative?

Next, we’re drawn to pieces with a sense of urgency and immediacy—content that pairs naturally with the breathlessness of the single-sentence format. 

Finally, we’re looking for pieces that stick the landing—essays and stories that culminate in that striking image, that glimmer of reflection that puts everything that has come before into a sharper focus, a new light. Punch us in the chest. Endings are so hard. Sometimes when a piece is really good, but the ending isn’t hitting hard enough, we’ll work with a writer on revision. Regrettably, we can’t always give each submission the attention it would need in revision, and so we pass on a lot of really good pieces that just haven’t quite found their ending yet. The closer you can get it to the finish line, the better. 

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?


Like most mags, we’d like to stress the importance of reading our magazine before you submit—and also reading our submission guidelines. Sometimes we’ll get a submitter who sends us several pieces at a time, even though we ask that writers send only one piece. It’s a small thing, but it tells us that you’ve been intentional with this submission.

SQF: Is there such a thing as a sentence that is too long?

JT: A sentence can certainly be unwieldy to the point that you sacrifice clarity and readability for style and flex, and we do frequently pass on pieces because somewhere syntax tripped us up, or because there isn’t a compelling reason that the piece needs to be written as a single sentence—the subject lacks the urgency, the immediacy that a winding, single-sentence essay conveys—and this pains us, because a lot of these circuitous stories are compelling and difficult to reject, but a good thought exercise for writers is asking yourself why you’re writing this story or essay as an ever-lengthening sentence as opposed to a more traditional form—like, for example, are you writing about a traumatic experience and you want your syntax to imitate the lightning-quick language of grief, how thoughts, memories ping pong through the brain, the way anxiety courses up and down your body?—because form should follow content, and this is especially true for the best single-sentence writing.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

JT: We’ll often pass on submissions that are anecdotes, without any further reflection deepening the piece. It’s hard because you’ve only got one sentence—telling a story and making sense of it on the page is difficult to do within those parameters. This is why I’m so proud of the pieces we put out—these writers manage this impressive feat, this seemingly impossible ask.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

JT: Not so much a question, but I’d like to thank you for putting in so much time to run this blog, promoting independent lit mags and helping writers find homes for their work. And on that note, I just want to remind writers the importance of being good literary citizens. When I was in MFA, I think I was like a lot of people, focused on my own writing, not really engaging or contributing anything to the literary community outside of the writing I’d submit to lit mags. For this community to thrive, we need to pour into it. We need to support each other. This means reading people who are publishing in your communities, sharing their work. This means volunteering at lit mags, not just submitting. This means buying people’s books when they come out, or, if you don’t have a lot of money, requesting that your local library buy them—that’s a thing. You can write reviews or share lit mags’ calls for submissions. There’s a lot you can do to positively contribute to this community and sadly, that’s not emphasized at most MFA programs.

Thank you, Jason. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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