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Showing posts from May, 2012

Excess Baggage: Turning Lurking Themes into Short Stories

I’d just finished writing the first draft of yet another novel that seemed to have wandered off in several directions when I made an important discovery. I was trying to work out (in retrospect) what my theme was, and so got out my old creative writing coursework books (this was pre-Google). As I checked through my manuscript for any inkling of the theme, I realised what I’d done: I tried to fit every single thing I wanted to say about everything (except for the stuff I’d written about in a previous novel) into this one book. And because I hadn’t planned on this particular book being very long or meaty, it really suffered from the lack of focus. I opened a sticky, peeling binder and found a yellowed sheet of paper with some old notes that jumped out at me: Determine your theme for your story – one theme per story [double underlined]. New theme, new story. (Complementary subthemes are okay.) Protagonist is “pro”-theme vs “anti” Antagonist. Every additional (unrelated) theme y

Break Writer's Block with Flash Fiction

Flash fiction can be even better than journaling for working through writer’s block. Creativity and imagination require an open mind ready to receive new ideas and play with them. Many of our feelings and reactions to a situation (even a fictional one) can shut this valve off, often when we most need a creative response. Sometimes the very reason we experience a block is due to an ingrained and conditioned aversion to digging too deeply into something we don’t understand. You may be writing well when suddenly a character confronts you with a behaviour you don’t want to write about. Perhaps it’s your own behaviour, but it may be that of someone close to you, or someone who has hurt you. Flash fiction is an ideal vehicle for exploring your feelings about behaviours that you were told were acceptable but are not, or vice versa. Let your characters explore subjects for you. Prejudice, insecurity, fear, misconception and misunderstanding, rules and religious laws, jealousy, resentment,

The Short Story - A Gift or a Chore?

Some people plan to write short stories. Some people also plan out their short stories, much like they plan out a novel, thinking about characters, plot, setting, etc, before they ever put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. I am not one of those people. With only a few exceptions, my short stories have been gifts from my muse that have come almost fully formed from word-one to The End. Some novelists are similarly gifted. Alas, I am not one of them. Novels take much more advance planning and thought. The first short story I had published in a major magazine was titled A String of Pearls , and my muse woke me up one night with the story. I stayed up for several hours writing it all in longhand - have I mentioned my writing career started when dinosaurs roamed the earth? This was also when a bunch of little kids roamed my house, so it was several days before I could get back to the story and see if what I wrote in the middle of the night made any sense. It did. So I typed it and sen

The Long and Short of It – Stories, That Is

As a writer and editor of novels, I found May’s theme to be challenging. Even after completing a Writer’s Digest course in short-story writing twenty-five-plus years ago, I favored the longer, more complex content of the book-length tale—and I still do, both for reading and for writing.   Recently, however, an author whose fantasy novel I had edited decided to write companion short stories to give her readers some background on the main characters in her published book. The shorts, which range from 30 to 40 pages in length, will be made available to readers who want to know a bit of the back story that led up to the moment where the book started. It was an interesting idea to me, and I found myself quite taken with the history and events that shaped her characters into the beings that populated her novel.   The more I read, the more I saw the value in these peeks into a character’s past—particularly in the case of life forms from alien worlds. Having said that, I believe such piec

Corner Cafe Soon to Open

I'm excited to be part of a fun enterprise, called The Corner Café: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories , edited by Dani Greer and Helen Ginger, with special assistance by Bob Sanchez, and cover design by Sherry Wachter. Featured are stories by the following authors: Marian Allen, Shonell Bacon, Karen Casey Fitzjerrell, W.S. Gager, Helen Ginger, Dani Greer, S..B. Lerner, Audrey Lintner, Morgan Mandel, Maryann Miller, Bodie Parkhurst, Bob Sanchez, Mary Montague Sikes, Red Tash, and Christine Verstraete.  Dani Greer Dani Greer, fearless leader of the BBTCafé e-group and The Blood-Red Pencil blog, is the instigator. She's the inventive one, who always comes up with great suggestions to expand our blogging and marketing horizons. This time she asked for volunteers from her BBTCafé e-group to compose short stories for a free collection to offer our readers. Not just any stories. Each must contain the words "Corner Café" somewhere in each story. Though I was

Why Novelists Should Write Flash

If asked to list the top three literary activities that have aided my growth as a novelist, they would be: an intense study of story structure  my written evaluation of stories, both published and unpublished  writing flash fiction  Did #3 surprise you? It may seem counter-intuitive. By definition, a novel is long (60,000 to 120,000+ words) and flash fiction is short (usually 100 to 1,000 words). What could the long-winded novelist have to learn from writing flash? The answer: everything. You will learn to get to the point. Flash fiction must have a beginning, middle, and end, with a character arc involving a turning point, often using only four times as many words as I crammed into this sentence. You will choose words wisely. Flash fiction is, in essence, a prose writer’s exercise in poetry. The yellow flowers scattered across the lawn will become buttercups or daffodils or dandelions—whichever contributes best. Instead of cranking out word count, you’ll spend your time d

How to Win a Writing Competition

Please welcome Dr. John Yeoman* to the Blood Red Pencil today. John is here to share some tips on improving your chances to win an online writing competition.   After a disappointing experience with an online contest, John decided to use his expertise as a university tutor in creative writing to offer contest entrants feedback on the stories they submit to his Writer's Village contest. He says, "Just for fun I decided to run a contest where every entrant was awarded marks out of 45, across six publishing criteria, and given a brief practical critique on how their story might be improved. That’s how students are treated on MA (MFA) programs. Why not contestants?" The criteria John uses in judging the stories entered in his contest is as follows. "I award the highest marks for ‘emotional engagement with the reader’ (a maximum of 10) and ‘originality of concept’ (10), followed by ‘the power of the first paragraph’ (8) and ‘structure, including conflict and closu

New Adult Genre

Our guest today is author Lynn Rush, who is touring her new release, Awaited , second in the Wasteland Trilogy . To celebrate, she is offering a FREE “Prelude to Darkness” short story. About five years ago, when I first began writing for publication, I just wrote. Seriously, I just put down everything that came to mind. Heck, I didn’t even know what point of view (POV) meant—much to the dismay of my very first critique partner.  As I learned the craft, I soaked up anything and everything I could find about my new-found passion. Then around six months into my journey as a writer, I was told my characters were too young for Adult novels yet they were too old for Young Adult (YA) novels.  Naturally, being a newbie I asked, “So what should I do?” And the overwhelming response was, “Change the age of your characters.” That didn’t sit right with me, so I didn’t change anything.  Then, as I continued writing, I heard that my romance was a bit sweet for Adult but a little too intense f

The Craft of Writing Short Stories

Or Why I Stick to Writing Novels The title of this article, I realise, is provocative. It would seem to imply that I consider short stories to be inferior examples of the writer’s art: practice works produced by novices, or the second-rate oeuvres of mere dilettantes incapable of the sustained creative effort required to produce a full-length novel. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Painful as it is for me to make this confession, the reason that I don’t (or very rarely) write short stories because (in general) I lack the intense, tightly-focused imagination needed to write a good one. The question now arises: what are the attributes of a good short story? Opinions here will differ, depending on who is addressing the question. A writer of Literary Fiction (who has read and admired the works of Raymond Carver) will contend that a good short story is one which evokes the cultural ambiance in which the writer is writing. By this standard of measurement, the

What Makes a Short Story Short ?

Our third Wednesday Guest, Susan Malone, is here today with an interesting look at the short story form. Those of us who write fiction are often drawn to both novels and short stories, although most folks will say they love one over another.  Many write both, and many focus only on one form to the exclusion of the other. And while we can all point to authors who are proficient at both, in reality that’s tough to do.  Because they are different art forms.  Yes, both require wonderful prose, well-drawn characters, and a storyline that takes off from jump and keeps the reader’s interest until THE END appears. Sounds pretty similar so far. But where most writers get tripped up is in thinking that a short story is just a shorter form of fiction than a novel. And therein lies the rub. Because short fiction is its own beast, rather than a condensed full-length work, and what makes it a short story goes to the heart of our matter. Similarities do exist between short stories and

Expressing Thought-Reactions in Fiction

I wonder if she thinks of me? Here again is another helpful post from our guest, Jodie Renner. How do you express thoughts and inner reactions in fiction? Thoughts, like dialogue, need to drive the story forward and sound natural and appropriate for both the thinker and the situation. For this article, I’ve purposely used the term thought-reactions, instead of just thoughts, because in fiction, in any given scene, we’re in someone’s point of view, so in their head, privy to their thoughts. In that sense, all the narration for that scene is, or should be, in their thoughts, written in ordinary font, with no special punctuation or thought tags. For example, in Sandra Brown’s Ricochet , we’re in Duncan’s point of view. We read: “Within seconds Jenny appeared. All six feet of her, most of it sleek, tanned legs that looked like they’d been airbrushed to perfection.” This is obviously Duncan’s viewpoint and his opinion/thoughts. No need to say “he thought.” Thought-reactions, on th

Writing Short: Is It For You?

Please welcome our regular 3rd Tuesday guest, Terry Odell, with some interesting information on selling short stories in this era of e-publishing. "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I've written a long one instead." - attributed to Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, Voltaire, and probably others too. That's how I feel about short stories. For me, they're much harder to write, because you don't have time to spend on character development, elaborate descriptions, or sub-plots—all things I enjoy. I rarely bring a novel home in much under 100,000 words. My first completed draft of my first novel was 143,000 words. (It was published at about 85,000 words.) Yet the very first thing I published was a short story. A very short story. 1800 words. In fact, it was really two stories, 900 words each. The completed piece is a simple scene told first from the man's POV, and then repeated in the woman's POV. I wrote both POVs because I couldn't deci

The Importance of Care in Becoming a Better Writer

I attempted to write this post for my Writing in 140 series, but it couldn’t be done. Perhaps in four, five posts, but not in one. What topic presented itself with this abundance of words? Care. The care to become a better writer. For the last 12 or so years, I've edited hundreds of books, short stories, essays, etc. Only a handful, less than 10, have made me want to run for the hills and give up the editing profession. I mentioned this in passing to someone recently, and the person was surprised that the latter number was so low. Thinking about it at the time, I have to admit I was surprised by the number, too. Then I thought about it. How I present myself as an editor goes a long way in determining the type of clients I will receive. I am an educator. I teach. In everything I do, I teach—to include editing. My main goal as an editor is always to have a return client whose next work is better because of what was learned in the initial experience. Growth. That matters to m

Cues from the Coach: Avoiding Homonym Headaches

During my years of editing, I have found homonyms (words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings) to be problematic for many writers. It’s not always that the writer doesn’t know the right word, but rather that—in the heat of getting the story down before something crucial is forgotten or the roll falls victim to daily distractions—we type the first spelling that comes to mind . . . or that flows automatically off the tips of our fingers without conscious thought. These little errors are big red flags to our readers, so we need to do a thorough self-edit of our manuscripts and then use readers and a competent editor to watch our literary backsides. Below is a list of frequently misused words that often show up in manuscripts, but it is by no means complete. • Carat (weight), Caret (punctuation mark), Carrot (vegetable) • Cent (money), Sent (caused to go), Scent (odor) • Cite (to summon, to quote, to refer to), Site (place, situation), Sight (view)