Unity in a collection of literature is an often overlooked aspect of putting together a literary magazine. I’ve seen numerous times in literary magazines, particularly college- and university-run magazines, where the content of the magazine seems to be an amalgam of different stories, different poems and more noticeably different kinds of work. Many magazines include the submissions that they feel were the strongest pieces, but less often is it seen that the pieces in a collegiate magazine are unified thematically or tonally.
As a reader, I don’t enjoy being jarred when turning the page and finding a story that is dramatically different in content from the previous one— even if the magazine isn’t necessarily meant to be read through at once, clashing sorts of stories can make a great deal of dissonance with the reader. I think it’s the editor’s job to make sure the stories are presented in the best light possible, and that means paying attention to how the whole collection flows.
An example of good unity in a collection is Asimov’s Science Fiction. The stories connect with each other in their shared sci-fi aspects, but also in their literary slant. Where some sci-fi and fantasy magazines will accept any stories from those genres, Asimov’s typically will publish stories that fit a style or emotion rather than a blanket of sci-fi without a common thread.
It’s very important in my opinion, then, that the stories put forth in Runestone can connect to each other in some way— whether it be from content, or theme, or tone, or even in character or musicality. The pieces themselves are, obviously, the most important aspect of a literary magazine, and we are intrinsically limited in regard to unifying the magazine given that we don’t have any say in what submissions we receive, but it is important to attempt to make the readers experience what we want it to be— and above all that it is smooth enough in between works to keep them from putting it down. It may also be a matter of setting guidelines for what sort of stories and pieces we’re looking for, encouraging authors of those types to submit to us and discouraging those pieces that we would not consider for publication.
As for what that sort of unity might be, I have no idea. It may be something devised and envisioned, but it may also have to be something arising from the best pieces that we choose— or it might be something that rises spontaneously out of those submissions. Whatever the case, however, unity must be a factor in deciding how a literary magazine is organized and structured. If a story does not fit into a greater whole, even if it is exemplary writing, it must be handled carefully to ensure that it does not turn away readers.
Meet the blogger:
I’m Matt Swenson, a student of Hamline, a gamer, and primarily a Fiction author, and have been writing seriously for at least fifteen years. I tend towards Fantasy and Sci-Fi though I dabble in almost every genre, and read as much as my spare time allows.