Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Two Cents on Writing Short Stories

Posted: June 18, 2015 by writingsprint in My two cents, Writing
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writing

Recently a good friend of mine wrote his first short story. He came away exhausted by the process and frustrated by some of the thoughtful, though still negative, feedback he received. I gave him a pep talk on just how hard writing a short story is. He appreciated it, so I thought I’d share.

Dude, make no mistake, writing a short story is HARD. Lately I’ve looked at them like sonnets. They have a rhythm to them, and a structure. Yes, anyone can make their own and do it any way they want, but if you take the lazy perspective and say “just write it” — as most people who don’t write will say — it will kick you in the ass.

The trick to writing a short story is to come up with a single problem that could be resolved in the space of a day. Or a weekend, tops, and only if you gloss over the events of the weekend. I know we’ve read longer short stories, but I think the good ones move fast. It’s easier to imagine big, complicated problems that spiral out of control. Fiction is NOT reality. In a short story, things tie together. You want to do this as much as possible to keep your story focused.

A simple short story looks like this:

  • Meet the main character and what they want
  • What they want has a catch — do they really want it?
  • Put the outcome in jeopardy
  • Force the main character to choose: take what they want and pay the price, let it go, or invent another option
  • Wrap up

My favorite short story that I’ve done is Slave Soldier — several of these take place over one or two mini-scenes:

Scene 1: Cartog meets Lord Sestra, who can take away his slave collar
Scene 2: Lord Sestra turns Cartog’s squad into psychos
Scene 3: Cartog realizes his commanding officer won’t help him
Scene 4: Lord Sestra tells Cartog that he and his squad will serve him or else
Scene 5: During their next mission, Cartog arranges for a friendly fire accident to kill Lord Sestra
Epilogue: Cartog meets Darth Jadus. This scene really wasn’t even necessary, though it puts a good bow on the story, especially for SWTOR players.

Start, finish; beginning, middle, end; boom, boom, boom. Small focus is TOUGH. One of these days I plan to write a short story about someone who wants a glass of water, for the exercise. He wants a glass of water… but a little boy wants water too… the plumbing is broken… and THEN WHAT?

For your first short story, you did a bang-up job. Congrats, man!

Image credit: “diary writing” by Fredrik Rubensson at Flickr
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A Little Heist Now and Then

Posted: March 26, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Part 3 of my new Nanowrimo challenge

1,753 words tonight. I’m 178 words behind where I need to be, but at least I’m almost caught up. Tonight’s writing put a wrap on last night’s writing, followed by a spirited discussion between two nameless characters while I figured out some of the politics of the story. I hate politics. I don’t like pea soup, either, but it’s good for a change now and then. The plan is to learn to like politicking, or at least intrigue, and weave it into the story while the character-centered parts are going on. I wrapped up with a robbery scene from early in the story. At first I tried to make it draped in science fiction, but that proved too hard with needing to hit a word count and still get to bed at a decent hour. I switched over to real life. People are people, and I can add the tech later.

PS: a friend of mine is working on an action story, and today he sent me an email: “Do you know any good songs for inspiration for a shootout?” Did you know that if you do a Google search on “FPS playlist,” you can find collections of songs to listen to while playing a first-person shooter? I didn’t, either.

Flashback

Posted: March 25, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Part 2 of my new Nanowrimo challenge

400 words last night, 1600 words tonight, leaving me about 600 words behind. I started working on a scene with Risha as a child, from when she meets one of her best friends. I don’t even know if this scene will make it into the final story. It’s a decade too early. Still, I had to write it. I wanted to get to know the characters better.

Risha’s learning to be a con artist faster than I expected. Her parents’ integrity is showing in her generous heart, which is getting her into trouble. I’m not sure how long she can stay that generous in the life she’s living.

It is a weird feeling when you want the characters to go right and they insist on going left.

Here We Go Again…

Posted: March 24, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Last April I reblogged a post called “Seven Reasons to Set Outrageous Goals.” We set outrageous goals to make the impossible possible.

Last April I gave myself a challenge to have the first draft of Dubrillion Burning finished by the end of April. Well, I have somewhere over 50,000 words of The Lost Princess down, and a lot of concepts and research added since then, along with bits and pieces that I’ve thrown at the wall to see if they stick. There’s a lot that’s still undefined, but you know what, I’m in the home stretch now. I’m going to dive in and do another 50,000 words by the April and see what happens.

A Rough Start Is a Good Start

Posted: March 10, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Following up on my post “Is This My Process?“, I wrapped up the summary I was doing of The Lost Princess. For sure, it’s rough. It has dead ends and potential that needs places to go. All that can be solved. The miraculous part is, it’s DONE. I have the beginnings of a full-blown story. I even have ideas for some new scenes to write.

Next I’ll scrub it. The summary is tightly focused around a handful of characters. I want to add more layers and try to weave in some aspects that aren’t there now. Then I need to look ahead to books two and three and make sure I’ve laid threads of what happens next.

Is This My Process?

Posted: March 8, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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At the end of “We’ve Got Your Back” you’re going to see a summary of what happened to all the Mass Effect characters after the Reaper War in my personal “head canon.” When I first wrote it, I stared at the pages in disbelief when I was finished. I had just written a quick summary of the rest of the lives of over ten different characters. Why couldn’t I do that with my own stories?

Maybe I can. Lately I’ve been wrestling with writer’s block–more like “stubborn author syndrome”–over The Lost Princess. I didn’t like where the story was going, so I’ve been stewing in frustration and attacking the problem from different angles to break loose. I stay away from writing outlines because I can analyze anything to death and not get anywhere. But unlike outlining, writing the summaries felt creative–it had characters, it had mini-plots, and short moments of triumph and meaning. It felt like storytelling, expedited.

I’ve done it before, after the fact. When I submitted Shadow and Shade to publishers, some wanted a summary of the story attached to the query letter. The first draft came out to two pages, which I skinnied down to one. (I think. I can’t find the bloody thing. Kids, don’t be like me. Organize your files better.)

I decided to write as many summaries as it took to come up with a story that I wanted to write. I’ve started two so far. They mostly have one sentence per scene, more when I had to work through a knotty plot issue or if I got jazzed by an idea. The first summary got my attention. I made it several chapters into the story, and while it had potential, it wasn’t heading in the direction where I wanted it to go.

Some of you are thinking, “It’s not about what you want the story to be about. It’s about what the story wants to be about.” True. But if we take a few steps back and change some things, like the main character’s motivations, we can write a completely different story. In the second version, the main character doesn’t find herself in trouble, she gets herself into trouble. This version has electrified me. I want to take it to the end to prove that I can do it.

I’ve heard other writers talk about their process. Some say “start with a character.” One of my favorites writes the entire first chapter without stopping, and if it grabs her, she continues. I don’t have a process. I have characters I love and a collection of ideas that I want to turn into something great. Pulling them all together is like building a puzzle where you don’t know have a picture of how it should look at the end. For the first time I can see how the characters’ layers interweave with each other. I had two “oh my God” moments in one day. Is this my process?

Eyes open: a summary is one thing. A story is much, much more. True enough. But a summary still beats the hell out of stubborn author syndrome.

I Can Do This. I Will Continue.

Posted: March 2, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Tonight I wrote 400 words or so, along with racking my brain and scribbling ideas for an hour before then. I’m working on one of the first scenes in Risha’s story, and I’ve been procrastinating to the nth degree because every time I work on it, it gets bigger. A deal is going down, and it’s going sideways. Here are the kinds of questions I’m asking:

Who’s her crew?
Where is she?
Is it civilized or on the frontier?
On the frontier of what? Are there wild animals? Barbarians? Klingons?
What’s her cargo?
Big or small?
Is there a double cross or does something else go wrong?
Who are her friends?
Who are her enemies?
Does she meet them now or later?

The list goes on, and on. At this point one of my first teachers would say, “Back up. Start with the character. It all has to tie together and it starts with her.”

True. But does that mean I need to build the whole galaxy and her place in it before I do anything? I don’t have that kind of patience. I have a lot, but not that much. So I may do it in chunks. Zoom in as tight as I can and keep the focus on her, so that I don’t have to deal with the rest of the galaxy yet. I’ll work on that in parallel, a little at a time.

It’s funny. When I wrote Shadow and Shade, I had no idea how much work novels were. I said to a fellow writer that if I’d known, I might never have started. She laughed and said it sounded like raising kids. I have one thing now that I didn’t have then: the first one under my belt.

At times like this I like to remember this TED talk presented by Sarah Kay. I’m in awe of her craftsmanship with words.

I love the part when she says, “I can do this,” and then “I will continue.” That’s where I am. I’ll do step three along the way: “Infusing the work you’re doing with the specific things that make you you, even while those things are always changing.” For now I’m focused on steps one and two.

Side Note on “the Process”

Posted: February 28, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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Sometimes writing is like falling in love. It just happens and the words flow the wine.

Other times it’s like digging a ditch. It won’t dig itself. It isn’t fun. Staring at the ground and waiting for the ditch to dig itself won’t work. Getting yourself into the right mood to dig the ditch only works so well. Sooner or later, you have to just pick up the shovel and dig.

I finally bit that shovel into the earth today. Now it’s time to go to bed. I wish I didn’t have to sleep! I’m finally making progress! Not much of what I wrote was creative, but a start’s a start and I’ll take it. Tomorrow I have job-work to do, as opposed to writing-work, not to mention groceries and other household stuff, so I don’t know how much writing will happen.

Maybe I can do some writing “out loud” while I run the other errands.

I Don’t Know, and That’s a Good Thing

Posted: January 27, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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The best part about making yourself write every night is that it forces you to explore your scenes. You don’t always know what’s going to happen. You may only a rough idea of where the scene needs to go.

An easy way is to begin with a scene-setting image of where we are, or a precipitating event like someone showing up, walking away, or a throwing down a gauntlet. From there, either move into the character’s head with what they’re thinking about, or give the reader some physical details to pull them farther into the scene.

And to pull you in there, too. When you don’t know what’s happening next, you want to feel like you’re standing in the room. What would you do next? What do you wish you would do?

As far as physical details go, I’m partial to smells and tactile sensations. Sounds and sights need intellect to give them meaning, but smell and touch are visceral. You’ll react from the gut long before your brain figures out how it feels about them. Unless your character is eating, drinking, kissing or smoking, taste is a subtle one. Air can have a taste. Fear has a taste. Otherwise, there isn’t much call for it.

Those details will give you ideas on what happens next. Jump into why your character is here as soon as possible. Let them take a step toward it, then put an obstacle in their way. Make them overcome it or reassess their goal. Or, for the exercise, make it easy for them, just to see how boring it is 🙂 . Then try something else.

When you’re done, wrap up the scene and move on to the next. A sense of conclusion works well for scenes where you want the reader to go, “Ahhh.” Love scenes, reunions, moments of victory all end well if you let your characters and the reader enjoy the moment. Dropping a hint works well to pull the reader into the next scene, or the next chapter. Mention that things aren’t finished, that the character has someone to meet, somewhere to go, something to do that didn’t happen here. Then if you can, start the next scene where that thing happens.

Give yourself the freedom to wander. You’ll be amazed where you wind up.

Inch by Inch

Posted: January 26, 2015 by writingsprint in Writing
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ruler

Last night I spent two hours doing research on the geography of the Milky Way galaxy and another 30 minutes on theories of faster-than-light travel. I really wanted to read a book on train robberies in the Old West that I picked up on eBay, to get a feel for criminal life on the frontier.

I was scared of the blank page. I didn’t know where to start. How long would it take me get what I needed from the book? Would it take me farther down the rabbit hole? What if I headed in the completely wrong direction? At least with the Milky Way and FTL travel, the problem was well-defined: I don’t know anything, so hit Google and see what I come up with. Sift through the results.

Being scared is one thing. Being chicken is another. The story needs me to get into the heads of my characters. The map and the tech won’t take care of themselves — I will need to handle them sooner or later — but they aren’t what I need now right now to move the story.

I need to remember that even if I only move an inch a day, in a year I’ll have moved 12 yards. I need to be honest with myself when I write. No more avoiding. Each day, minimum, I’ll work on the story for 30 minutes, even if it’s nothing more than conceptual scenes I’ll probably change later. I’ll write the scenes as best I know them so that I get inside my characters’ heads and rough out the story.

Today I wrote the beginning of an argument between the two main characters, and I’m going to read from the train robbery book before I go to bed.

Inch by inch.

Image credit: “Ruler” by Scott Akerman at Flickr
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