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.
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.
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”.
Over the open window the lace drapes fluttered in the breeze like lazy waves caressing a sandy shore. Shadows waltzed across the oak floor boards finding their way up the side of a bed cradling a skeletal figure. Beatrix Button slept for days rarely stirred from her slumber while she kept company with her dreams.
On the wall, across from her bed, is a clock given to her as a wedding gift. Bea, as Beatrix was called by her friends, knew from the first moment she unwrapped the clock that it was special. Although her marriage lasted less than a few hours, the clock stayed with her all of her days.
The rich tick-tocks were healing after Frank died. He did everything he could to please Bea and when she needed her wrap from the car he was only too happy to fetch it for her. He made the mistake of only looking right and not left when he jaywalked across the road in front of the church. Their ten day cruise turned into ten hours praying for a miracle that never came.
Frank’s funeral came and went, and the days turned to months and months to years during which Beatrix spent listening to the gentle tick-tock, tick-tock. Although people found pendulum clocks a bother to wind and keep tuned, she found this one soothing. She guessed it might have been made sometime in the 19th century, but never bothered to find out just as she never discovered who gave her the clock.
Life for Bea was a series of joys wrapped in tragedy. She weathered each storm with the clock as her constant companion. It never wavered in keeping her on schedule to arrive at every celebration of life precisely on time. She said goodbye to her family one at a time as they each moved on to the next plan of existence. Until it was just her left to putter in her garden or dust the empty rooms that surrounded her.
Beatrix Button did not stir when her visitor came gliding across the floor as if riding on the shadows themselves. Impossibly tall with less substance than Beatrix herself, the figure leaned over her and whispered something only Beatrix could hear. Her eyes opened a tiny slit recognizing the stranger from her dreams. Like a ghost she raised her hand and touched the edge of the stranger’s cloak.
The visitor paused for a long heartbeat then stood and drifted toward the door. The clock seemed to wait by the door and it was lifted from its place on the wall the clock fell silent. Beatrix Button’s smile slipped from her lips as she sighed her last breath.