The Anatomy Of A Short Story : Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing

How do you write a short story?

Sometimes it begins with an idea, or a mood, but for me, most often, a short story begins with a hook. When I have the time and the inclination to work on a shorter piece, I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I make it happen.

Usually this occurs during mindless tasks where I’m free to let my thoughts wander, like while doing the dishes or washing my hair in the shower. And it starts with a challenge:

  1. Think of a first sentence that’s shocking, or intriguing, or just plain grabs some attention.

When I land on a sentence I’m happy with, I use it as my launching point to develop a scene or a character or a plot by asking:

2. What situation might this apply to, who might say it, or what might it lead to or mean?

One of those answers will be stronger than the rest. Sometimes I get an image in my mind of the person who would say it. Other times I imagine a chain of events that the line sets in motion. Occasionally the overriding thought is the place where the character is or event occurs when the sentence happens, which dictates:

3. Whether the story is driven by character, plot, or setting.

Knowing that, I’m able to take the next step forward, juggling a few “what if” or “if, then” scenarios.

What if this character did that? OR If this happens, then that happens.

Example: A character is in trouble. What did they do to get in trouble? What will they do to get in trouble next? What will they try to get out of trouble?

This allows me to create at least two points in the story, which:

4. Gives me the jumping off point I use to begin writing.

Sometimes the rest flows organically, practically writing itself. When that doesn’t happen, I create momentum by answering questions like:

How can I create tension? What does my character want? How should I deny them that or make them fight for it?

Answering these questions often provides me with the crux of my story, which:

5. Gives me an endpoint to aim for.

But the process doesn’t stop there. In fact, I’m really only getting started once I have a first draft. Because then it’s time to edit.

6. The first round of edits I tackle the story, which means I have to ask myself:

Is this believable?

How is the pacing?

Do the characters/settings/moods/themes need to be developed better?

Have I created enough tension to keep the reader vested?

Is there something in the story (a feeling, an emotion, something experienced by the senses, etc.) that most readers will have encountered themselves at some point in their lives? (Giving the reader something to identify with help

7. The second round of edits, I address the structure.

Is my meaning clear?

Are my sentences easy to understand?

Have I bogged down the pages with too much description?

Is there too little description? Am I leaving my characters and readers in a wide, empty space?

Do the events segue smoothly from one to another or are there jumps?

Are my character’s actions consistent with their personalities?

Is there any information in the story that contradicts something else on the pages?

After answering these questions, I’m ready to:

8. Edit. Edit. And edit again.

Checking for grammar, punctuation, typos, etc.

9. Then it’s time to think about publication.

This is when I decide what genre or category the story best fits. Then, I research who’s open for submissions using Duotrope (which charges $5 a month for full access) and The Submission Grinder (free, but perhaps not inclusive).

10. Then I sumit!

Which involves carefully reading the requirements for each publication, making sure I follow directions, and a great deal of finger crossing.

This post came about because I realized I haven’t had any stories published this year – I haven’t even submitted because I’ve been focusing on a novel instead. So, I’m dedicating the next 6 weeks to brushing up a few old pieces, writing a few new ones, and submitting, submitting, submitting. Hope to have some acceptance news soon!

If you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them to the best of my ability, based on my own experiences!

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing: Characters Who Make You Care

Think of a book that made you care, that had you so invested in the outcome that you wanted to cry or shout or throw the book when things didn’t go the right way. When you think of that book, what is it that you think about? The setting? The plot? Or the characters?

For me, a good plot keeps me hooked, but a good character makes me feel.

Anne Of Green Gables. The Hunger Games. The gang from Harry Potter.

Would any of these books have such lasting and widespread success if the characters didn’t feel so real to the readers? I don’t think they would. Because these characters feel like someone we know. A friend. An ally. Someone we care about.

So, what is it about these characters that draws us in? What makes them feel so real?

I believe it’s their quirks. Their vulnerability. Their flaws. They have insecurities, they doubt themselves, they feel anger and shame and sorrow. But they also feel happiness and joy – just like a real person would.

Making sure your characters are well-rounded is what brings them to life.

So give them flaws. Make them doubt themselves. Make them feel and think things we’ve all felt and thought before, something the reader can identify with and have an, “I’ve felt that way too,” moment.

Happy Writing!

Here are some articles to check out if you want to some writing tips:

Character Development: How To Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget

33 Ways To Write Stronger Characters by Kristen Kieffer

15 Ways To Make Your Characters Suffer (For The Good Of Your Novel)

 

 

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing ~ Leveraging Fear

Since it’s Halloween, and I’ve been focusing on tension and suspense in my own writing, today has me thinking about fear, and how fear can be leveraged to increase tension, suspense, character development, and even setting in any genre of fiction.

Image result for halloween movie release dateIf I were to ask, “What are you afraid of?” I’d probably get plenty of similar responses. For some, it’s serial killers, ax murderers, and bad people in general. For others, it’s disease, illness, or the loss of a loved one. Spiders, clowns, heights, and other phobias all have their places, and while all of these themes can be woven into any genre, what if you don’t want to focus on a specific fear, but instead invoke the feeling in general, because, let’s face it – sometimes people (and characters) – don’t know exactly what it is that they’re afraid of. 

See the source imageA general uneasiness of unknown cause can be crafted into scenes that create just as much tension as a character locked in a haunted house with Hannibal Lecter and a dozen sadistic, serial killing clowns.

The question is, how do you leverage fear without making it blatantly obvious?

Well, consider this – fear takes many forms and has many faces. At it’s most general, fear is anxiety. And anxiety isn’t always the enemy, especially when it’s felt by a character in a piece of fiction.

If I were to ask, “What makes you anxious?” would I get the same answer as when I asked what you were afraid of? Now what if I asked, “What makes you uneasy?”

Three different questions, all with different answers.

Image result for dr evilThis is how to subtly leverage fear in your writing. Pick a different emotion or feeling and develop it. Make it grow into something more. Something, dare we say, sinister.

How do you feel about isolation? Would being in an unsettling situation by yourself be more unnerving than if you were with others? How about if others were there, friends even, but there was no cell service, basically cutting you off from the rest of the population? Now, what if you were in a location that further isolated you, like an island?

It’s a popular trope, but a good example in that it’s a situation that can also be enjoyable. On an island with friends and no cell service, nothing to do but relax, unwind, and party? Sounds like torture, right?

But that’s the fun thing about fictional fear – taking paradise and making it pergatory. Best of luck!

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The Beauty of a Bad Book

wpbook5There’s nothing like a good book to inspire a writer. You read an incredible story that transports you to another place, and magically, you’re unable to put the book down. The beautiful prose, the edgy dialogue, you read it and say to yourself, “I want to create something like this.”wpbook4

That said, there’s nothing like a bad book to get you writing.

Don’t get me wrong – I love, love, LOVE getting lost in a good book. But . . . I’ve noticed that there’s a little problem with that. When I can’t put a book down, my reading time cuts into my writing time. I find myself making bargains – write 500 words and you get to read five pages. Only five pages turns into ten and then I’m sweating trying to squeeze in the other 1500 words I try to write a day, laptop on the counter while I’m making dinner, literally stir the pot, type a sentence multitasking, and that’s no fun.

wpbook1I consider myself lucky that I had a really long run of great books to read. Only, that seems to have come to an end. At first, I was really uncomfortable, pulling at my collar, looking at the words on the page, thinking, “But this isn’t good. The writing doesn’t flow, the characters aren’t developed, I don’t like this at all.” It was the same kind of itchy uncomfortableness that comes from trying to give up chocolate. It just doesn’t feel right.

wpbookInstead of looking across the room at my book with longing, I find myself not looking at it at all. Instead, I find myself typing. Creating. Being much more productive in my own endeavors. And when I take a break and, say, take the dogs outside, the book is there. When we come back in, there is no battle to put the book down and get back to work. I just do it.

wpbook6Eventually, another incredible book will fall into my hand. I’ll treasure my time with it, even if it takes time from my own writing, because you gain so much from reading a good book. But if the next book is subpar, I’ll read that one, too. Because sometimes bad books, stories with gaping holes in the plots and poor writing and boring characters, have even more to teach you. What not to do when you get back to work!

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