Story Forge – Nope

Back in October when I was prepping for NaStoWriMo, I thought I had a method for taking story ideas and turning them into full stories. I was going to call it my Story Forge and share that process. I did find a method. It worked for maybe two stories.

In the course of writing fifteen story drafts, I found nearly as many ways to work ideas into something readable. Some are still little more than vague ideas after writing three or four thousand words of description, plot, and action. I still need to find the real story in those.

The story forge has become more like a story reveal. If there is any commonality in the process, it is this: story emerges as you write. You may think you have it all worked out but when you put characters on a page and have them interact with things something else develops. The story is revealed through the writing and revision process.

Fifteen stories is not a lot of experience. Still, it has shown nothing but diverse methods of finding a story contained within an idea. The only conclusion I can draw so far is that a story will reveal itself through writing and revision.

Short Stories Fast

Writing 50,000 words of short stories in a month is my personal challenge. I wanted a way to jump start my short writing and this challenge is certainly doing that. My writing tends to be long with many plot threads and an epic scope. Writing short requires focus on a few characters, a single plot, and one or two locations.

Writing short requires depth. Not that an epic shouldn’t be deep, but a short story demands a depth that is apparent and felt in just a few words. Also, specific to genre, the short story does not give much space for world building. I am finding that challenge to be the most enjoyable. Defining the character’s situation within a secondary world or alternate first world in no more than a paragraph or two worth of words is delicious. It can only help in my longer works to be more concise and focused.

Writing this many stories (I’m up to five so far) in a short period of time has also revealed my tendencies and repetitive faults. This may be the most valuable part of the exercise. Rather than learning over the course of a year or two that I always start a short story the same way I see it right away, and I can correct it before any of the stories goes out into the world.

This #NaStoWriMo may be the way I spend next November too.

How is your #NaNoWriMo #NaStoWriMo going?

NaStoWriMo Prep

Here’s an update on my progress through #NaNoWriMo 2018 as a month of short story writing.

It’s late October and I’ve generated enough story ideas for my #NaStoWriMo. So far I have eight really strong ideas and another seven that can probably be worked into strong ideas. During the remainder of the month I will work these ideas into story sketches with plots, characters, and scenes.

I’m developing something of a story forge. The forge is the binding, bending, and rending of ideas, characters, and plots into complete stories. If this story forge works I’ll share it but for now it is a work in progress itself. Still, when November 1st arrives I should be able to start writing the flesh of these stories that were once just bare ideas.

Who’s joining me for 50,000 words of short stories during November? #NaStoWriMo

Finding the Genre Story’s Form

This shiny new idea that just popped into your head; that wormed its way out onto a page of notes – is it a novel? A novella? A novelette? Short story? Serial? How do you know what form fits the story?

I face this question more often and I suspect – or I hope – it is a sign of my progress in the craft. Ideas come from everywhere. They also arrive on a spectrum of completeness. I recently had an idea for an entire serial. I had all of the major elements from beginning to end in the length of time it took me to walk up nine flights of stairs. I’ve had another idea floating through my notebooks for nearly three years. So far it just a title with no story.

A million ideas but how many are stories, novels, or something else? I have learned to think through the following to find my story’s form. This is just my process and my thoughts on how stories work best. There are no absolutes in writing fiction, and I could change my thinking as I journey deeper into the craft.

First, is there a story? Is there some sort of conflict with at least two characters? They don’t have to be people but they do have to act as entities readers recognize as people. Without these two basic elements I think it is difficult to develop a story. You might have a setting or a contemplation but it won’t be a story.

If there’s conflict and characters in the idea—or I can see a way to those elements—is there a plot? A plot in the strict sense of three or five or seven parts is not always required. A plot could be something as simple as a character reaching a realization—an epiphany—that will change the course of their lives. This works well for short stories. In a very short story often the change or the epiphany is the point of the story.

Characters, some sort of a plot; now what? Setting. Where and when does the story happen? It rarely works to have characters acting in a place not firmly planted in the reader’s mind.

So I have all the elements, what story form should it be expressed in? In my experience this comes down to quantities. How many characters are needed to tell the story? One or two characters, one plot, one or two settings, try it as a short story or novelette at the longest.

In non-genre fiction you can write a complete novel with just a couple of characters, a restrictive setting, and a narrow, or even no plot. For genre writers this is more difficult. It’s not impossible but takes skill. Genre readers have expectations for the longer forms of genre stories. There have to be certain elements within the story to satisfy those expectations. Only the shorter forms seem to allow genre writers to work outside those expectations. Again, there are no absolutes, this is just how it works for me.

Have several characters and a couple of plots, and maybe several settings? Try a novella or novelette. Have a sweeping set of plots and subplots and a large cast of characters? Then try a novel, novel series, or even a serial.

Finally, what about the ideas that don’t make it as stories in any form? Keep them. They may fit inside another story later, or they may need just one more idea to flower into a story. And if it’s a strong idea but no story suggests itself, maybe try it as a poem. Let no good idea go to waste.

Picking Up the Workshopped Novella

A couple of months have passed since putting my novella Privilege and Longing through the Writing the Novella Workshop. The workshop experience was great, the feedback invaluable, and a camaraderie was created that has so far lasted beyond the workshop. But now comes the work. It is time to review the feedback and incorporate the best of it into the story.

Others have already edited or re-written the works they presented. I may be the last to do so. Partly, this was due to getting caught up in a shiny new project. Partly it was due to completing some short stories for submission. But the truth is, it is not easy to sit down to re-work something that has been so thoroughly analyzed.

I loved the feedback. Most of it was positive and does need to be incorporated to make my story stronger. But how do I know which suggestions work and which ones might be good ideas but don’t contribute to making the story stronger? It will take a lot of digging, trying things on the page, re-reading, and thinking. That’s the work that gets stories completed.

So the next few weeks I will be re-opening the innards of the story and performing surgery. Hopefully the patient will fully recover.

NaStoWriMo 2018

I mentioned a few months ago that I was going to use this year’s NaNoWriMo to write 50,000 words of short stories. Others have tried different versions of a story writing month but this is my plan for 2018.

In September and October I’m dreaming up ideas then giving each idea a star rating with three stars meaning it has everything it needs to be a story. In October I will settle on ten to twelve three-star story ideas and flesh out who’s in them, what the main conflicts are, andfigure out the motivations and settings.

In November I will write each of the there-star stories until I reach 50,000 words.

I want to do this for a few reasons. First, I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times and succeeded all three times. Last year, even while traveling and in the first week attending the World Fantasy Convention, I reached the goal early. When I am committed to a month of writing, hitting 50,000 words is not really a challenge any more. That is not a brag. By working through previous years I have developed a writing discipline that lets me produce fairly quickly. Editing is another story, but I can get a draft down much faster than when I first tried NaNoWriMo.

Second, I need to write more short stories. I have enough novel ideas for the next ten years. What I need are short stories. This is partly because I feel the form fits certain story ideas I want to write. It is also because there is truth in the fail often principle.

I know none of the stories written during November will be ready to submit. That’s not the point. I will have at least eight or ten stories to edit and give me nearly a year’s worth of submissions if I edit one a month.

NaNoWriMo is great for social writing, motivation, and feeling accomplished. Even if you don’t make 50,000 words its worthwhile. You get something written and that’s really the point. So I’ll be using the community of NaNoWriMo to support my short story writing. If you wish to join me, use #NaStoWriMo on Twitter and we’ll provide our own sub-support group.

Note: #NaStoWriMo is not affiliated with NaNoWriMo in any way.