I have been asked where I get my ideas for my short stories. Recently, because of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, my ideas have stemmed from the letter of the day. I like playing with names and discovering odd or silly sounding names like Greta Grimmward and Horatio Horrocrux. I pulled the character’s first names off of baby name lists, and the last names are twisted versions found off of surname lists. Then, I write the story based on who I think the characters are because of their name.
Another place to find inspiration are the many websites that specialize in writing prompts or theme generators. One of my favorite sites is Writing Exercises and Prompts. This site has a plot generator, random first lines, random subject generator, etc. I have had some great ideas blossom here.
Chuck Wedig’s blog is another place I have found ideas. Every once in awhile he hosts a short story writing challenge with prompts posted by his readers. I picked up on one prompt that turned into a short story about a guy named Bob. It was a fun way to flex writing muscles that I didn’t know I had. If you visit his blog, be aware that he does not soften the edges. He freely uses every four letter cuss word there is, plus a few shorter ones too.
What are some other ways to find inspiration? Just look behind you. Where have you been? What have you experienced? Family members can provide a wealth of story material. Got a crazy uncle? What about Great Grandpa? Was he a horse thief? Have you ever gone into Walmart to see who’s shopping there? You can find such a huge variety of characters in a Walmart.
Where do you find your ideas and inspiration? Share them in the comments. I love finding new ways to get inspired. Like this post which was inspired by the letter…..
“Why, hello Horatio. Having some trouble?” I leaned against the door frame watching Horatio scramble to reach the blade I put in him. For the first time in a millennial, I am happy. What the heck, it felt good to drive it in to him. What a jerk he’d been all these years. I just wanted him back, but he tripped over himself on a daily basis.
I grabbed my hair. Out of habit I untied and retied the band that held it back. “How does it feel Harry? Do you recognize it?”
He turned on me, “Don’t call me Harry! You know how I feel about that.” Horatio went back to grabbing at his back trying, in vain, to get the knife out. “Am I supposed to know something about the knife? It is in my back. It does hurt. Let me tell you what else I know about you Greta. You’re jealous. You just want what you can’t have. You’ve been a step behind me trying to steal my mist. Every time you’re too slow, and you can’t stand that I’m there first.”
Laughter rippled up from my stomach. Heratio Horrocrux was an idiot. It’s safe to say I never really liked the guy, but like every feeder I did have a sympathetic side. His paranoia was pushing him further and further into the dark places that feeders end up. The deeper he went the further he fell from the tribe and it was time for him to find his way back. My job was to see he came back in the fold and yesterday I finally caught up to him.
“OK. I’ll give you my snarky name calling Horatio, but you need to focus. Stop thrashing around and tell me about the knife.” I moved closer to Horatio. “It was your’s at one time. Have you forgotten? You spoke the first enchantment, and captured the first feeder.”
Horatio froze. Something seemed to wash over him and I hoped it was recognition. He was the first chaser for the tribe, but after a thousand years of huffing the fumes from the humans he forgot his place. He lost his way. Addiction replaced responsibility.
Lunging at me he roared, “No! I won’t go back! I won’t do it!” He turned on his heel and slid through the window. The human stirred. Thank the Tribe he didn’t break the pane in his rush to leave. I followed him knowing he wouldn’t get far. The addict never did. Once the knife finished it’s job, and chemicals were out of his system we could work to bring him back. It took time, but I hoped he would recover. Maybe it would work this time. Maybe.
This ends Part 2 of the Greta Grimmward and Haratio Horrocrux series. Read Part 1 here.
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Someone put a knife in my back yesterday and now I’m pissed. I had a list a mile long. Humans to feed on, fear and loathing to relish in, and death to ponder. Now, none of these things will get done. And worst of all? There’s a knife in my backside that I can’t get out.
What was yesterday? Yeah, now I remember – Monday. Mondays are a busy day for me. I relish the ooze that slithers in the ethereal stratum. Especially at first light. Humans hate Mondays. They drag from their beds with a luscious aura of dread. It is candy for me and I freely move from house to house, room to room, bed to bed, inhaling the raw bliss.
I remember most of yesterday with clarity, but toward the fifth or sixth house I felt a tickle. Or was it a niggle? Something was making the hair on my back ripple with static. I should have looked in the dark corners more closely, but this particular Monday was exceptional. My gorging distracted me. A floorboard creaked and a whisper of what I now know to be a blade being unsheathed.
The enchantment embedded in the blade was the crowning blow. The moment it pierced my flesh was the moment my ability to feed stopped. The abrupt cessation ripped through me with pain exploding along every nerve. I felt a raw surge of fire just before I blacked out.
I woke up just a bit ago with my face planted in a pile of dirty clothes. Normally I would have delighted in the sweet perfume that filth exuded, but not today. It was more like the vulgarity I usually felt with joy, happiness, or birth. All pleasures I felt yesterday were gone. I feel empty. Hollow.
Greta Gimmward’s name was all over this. She has been chasing me since…well, I’m not sure when. The first time we met humans they were barely scratching for survival. The fruits of their fear were less sweet than they are today. They existed back then without much regard for life or death.
We have competed for the same human feeding grounds, and I beat her to them nearly every time. At every village and hobble where humans gathered I was there feeding from the initial offgassing pouring off humans as they rise to face each day. It’s what we survive on. Greta Grimmward was always a step behind me. Always just a little too late, a little too distracted.
She warned me many times that she would catch up to me. “You’ll find a knife in your back one day. You’ll see.” I always waved her off like a speck of dust on my shirt sleeve. Then yesterday happened. I think I’m more mad at myself for letting my guard down rather than the fact that Greta managed to get an enchanted knife in my back.
Rubbing against the door frame proved futile in my attempt to remove the knife. It seemed to vanish whenever I tried to rub it off. Any attempts to reach to that one spot that, to all humanoid shaped creatures, impossible. Dancing in circles only made me howl at the sky. Like a scratch in the center of the back. Insanely impossible to reach.
“Why, hello Horatio. Having some trouble?”
This concludes Part 1 of Greta Gimmward. Tune in next time when the story continues with Heratio Horrocrux.
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In a writer’s life there is failure. It’s real. It happens. Take yesterday for example. During the month of April I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge where each day of the month (except Sundays) we have a post dedicated to the letters in the alphabet. Yesterday was the Letter – E. Did you see my post from yesterday (which I actually posted today)?
Error-404 was all I could manage. It was a very bad day in my neighborhood. I ran myself into a sh*t storm of stress. If things had gone better I might have actually gotten my Error-404 posted before this morning. Well, I didn’t. So…failure happened.
Today I am up and getting some attention paid to the Letter F. Failure Happens. If you haven’t experienced very much of it in your writing so far then either you are an amazing writer (NICE!!) or you haven’t stuck your neck out far enough. If you fall into the latter category, then you should know what failure feels like. Not so warm and fuzzy.
If it is OK with you I would like to re-name failure. Let’s make it, Challenge, Lesson, or anything besides failure. When that reject letter comes in the mail, or you miss a post you were determined to get done, or you can’t get a single word onto a page, then accept what happened, learn from it, and more on.
Someone once told me to be like a horse when I am faced with a challenge. Horses are amazingly smart creatures. They don’t get hung up on things that didn’t work out. If a horse is munching along, eating their grass, then bumps into an obstacle, they see what’s in they way, fix it, then go around and keep eating grass.
When faced with any obstacle in any aspect of life, be the horse. See what happened, make adjustments, move past the problem, and keep eating grass.
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You have decided to write a short story. Congratulations! Short stories can be great fun to write. They will also make you go bald from pulling your hair out. I’m here today to help you keep a full head of hair while diving into your story.
It is Short
The first thing to keep in mind when writing a short story is pretty obvious, but I will say it anyway. Short stories are…well…short. They can range anywhere from 1,500 words to 30,000. More than that and it falls into the realm of a novella. Personally, I prefer stories that are less than 20,000. I like to read shorts in one sitting, and anything longer seems a little too long for me.
It’s a Mini-Novel
Second thing to keep in mind is that a short story is almost a mini-novel. I want to emphasis the word almost. It is a mis-conception to think that a short story is written just like a novel because there are a lot of things a novel has that a short story doesn’t.
A novel is more likely to have many characters, places, and multiple story lines. A short story usually has only a few characters, they may visit only a few places, and the threads through the story are limited to one or two. Of course, there is an exception to every rule, butin general this is how a short story plays out.
It is like a novel in that it has a beginning, middle and end. There are protagonists, antagonists, an inciting incident, a challenge to overcome, and a solution to the problem. All of these are squeezed into a compact story rather than an epic novel adventure.
Give it a Plot
When writing a short story the plot needs to be tight and concise. In short stories, every scene, paragraph, and sentence needs to be spot on with the plot. If you find yourself
meandering between the North and South Poles then you might consider a novel instead.
In a short story the hook needs to come early. I would say that if it happens past the first page or two (depending on the story’s length) then you have waited too long. Basically, you want the story to reach out and grab the reader right out from the start. Keep the pace high and tight. You don’t want to lose your reader in long descriptions and arduous scenes. They will get bored and move on.
Drafting Your Story
Everyone has their own way of getting words from their imagination to paper. My version of writing may not fit your’s, but that’s the beauty of writing. You can test different methods and find the one that fits you. My method is a little sloppy, but it works for me. It’s a little like testing to see if spaghetti cooked; I slap it up on the wall to see what sticks.
My mind skips around like a leaf blowing up the street. Sometimes it goes in a straight line, and sometimes it gets caught up in a dust devil. So goes my writing method. I usually don’t have a plan, goal, or idea when I start. I just crank out words that pop into my head and write them. Within about five or ten minutes of pure nonsense a plot forms and the story takes off.
Sometimes I start with finding the main character’s name. I love odd or tongue-twister names. I wrote one story where I found the name Mrs. Quackenbush (this is a real name) and wrote a story around her.
The Hair Pulling
Once you have the bare bones of a draft you can move on to editing, revising, and hair pulling. During this phase you should be trimming the fat. Again, scenes need to be tight and concise. Make every word count.
The most important lesson I learned about writing short stories is to stay calm and don’t fiddle. Frustrations will get you down and kill your creativity. If you get your story pounded out, without editing or second guessing as you write the draft, you will have an easier time in the editing phase.
In the draft you have where the story will start, where it will grow and thrive, then where it will conclude. The editing phase should only be about tweaking what you already have. Don’t fiddle too much. Like the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Lastly, remember writing is something we enjoy doing. If you get too bogged down then write something far out and goofy. Write about how Ford Parker learned to drive, or Kenny Penny’s school days. There is always the story about Harry Baldz and his furry friend Woody.
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Today I am combining two blogging challenges into one post. Not only is the A to Z Blogging Challenge just getting started, but I also have the Insecure Writers Support Group that I do on the first Wednesday of the month. Today is A to Z’s letter ‘C’ and ISWG’s monthly post.
As writers we are hit with challenges every time we sit down to write. For me, the challenge comes with writing a multi-scene short story. I tend to get stuck at nearly every new scene which means my writing will slow to a crawl.
When writing a novel it can take me several months to get from one scene to the next. When I write a short story, the problem is the same if I want more than one thing to happen. Unfortunately, my story could take months to write which leads to losing the momentum to writing it.
Did you read yesterday’s story, Beatrix Button’s Clock? I was quite pleased that it only took a couple of hours to write. There is essentially only one scene so I could get it out quickly. I did attempt to add a couple of scenes and every time I did I was bogged down.
If I could use a wish to get through more scenes I would wish for my mind to open up. I would love to have words pour out of my imagination and land on the page and the scenes to grow effortlessly. (For those of you who are writers, there’s no need to comment about how NO scene flows effortlessly. I get it. I know it. But I can dream, right?)
Challenges to write plague all writers whether it is a short story, a novel, poetry, or a letter to Beatrix Button. To rephrase a popular quote by Joshua J. Marine, “Challenges are what makes writing interesting and overcoming them are what makes the story meaningful”.
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~~~~ AND ~~~~
If you browse around the internet today you will find a plethora of information about short stories. As a matter of fact, if you do a simple Google search, “About Short Stories”, you will end up with about 2,050,000,000 results. Yikes! Reading all that will keep you busy for several lifetimes.
To help you with your research on the subject of short stories, I have listed a number of resources to help you learn whatever you want to learn about short stories. Of course, this is a VERY short list compared to the above search results, but these are some that have a nice bit of information.
- The online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is a one stop shop for nearly everything. The write up on short stories is quite detailed from a simple definition through a thorough look at the history of them.
- The Writing Cooperative is a great resource for writing. I especially enjoyed their article on 5 Reasons Why Short Stories Are Far From Dead. As the title states, this is a piece about how the short story is thriving today.
- As the Editor of Writing from the Peak (Pikes Peak Writers blog) I would be remiss not to mention one or two articles from their blog. The first is, “What is a Short Story”. Obviously this is a post about the nuts and bolts of a short story. Another good post is, “Here and Gone in a Flash“. The latter of the two is an introduction to writing flash fiction which is a short story in less than 1,000 words.
- Writer’s Digest is bursting with information on writing short stories. I did a search on their website, “short stories” and the results were over twenty articles on the subject. A couple that caught my eye: Short Training for Your Long Game: How Writing Short Stories Can Help You Hone Your Novel-Writing Skills, and a podcast, The Writer’s Digest Podcast, Episode 3: Writing and Publishing Short Stories and Essays — Interview with Windy Lynn Harris
- READERS–I haven’t forgotten you! Are you looking for some great reads? I can suggest one anthology that I recently finished, “False Faces: Twenty Stories About the Masks We Wear” . This is a new release from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. But, if you would rather find your own, I hopped over to Goodreads to see what they had for their Best Anthologies. They listed 781 books. I’ll leave it to you to sort through that list.
So there you have it. Remember, there are about 2,049,999,992 more results you can browse through.
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And the Letter – A –
A to Z Blogging Challenge Theme Reveal
During the month of April I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I joined in on the fun last year and wrote all about the Isle of Man and The Manx. Today, I am revealing my theme for the month. But first, a little about what this is.
The premise is to start blogging beginning April First with a blog topic themed on something with the letter A, then on April second another topic with the letter B as the theme, and so on until the finish on April thirtieth with the theme based on the letter Z. We skip every Sunday so we can all take a quick break and get ready for the next week.
My theme for this year will be little different from last year. I will take you A to Z with short stories. Recently, I became interested in writing short stories and have done a lot of research into the methods of writing them along with entering contests and making submissions. There is more to a short story than a quick read. My posts will cover everything from A, “All about a Short Story”, to Z, “Zebras Tell No Lies”, a short, short story.
During April you can expect to find a mix of stories along with posts on the research I have done. Readers will find the stories themselves to be the best part, so I will focus on those more than anything else.
Hang on to your virtual seats! It’s going to be a busy month.
If you are a blogger, and are interested in joining us, just click on the link below for more information.