Today I read my story The Bottle of Salvation Containing the Nectar of Ruin thinking it was maybe ready for submission. It’s been beta read and a part of it critiqued in a group. It’s very close but there’s still a copy & paste error and some other things that don’t feel right.
I’ve mentioned before how I like to read a published work by someone else in a similar vein and then read my own in-progress work. It helps to see if there are any glaring, or jarring parts.
I also read aloud. If you aren’t reading your close-to-finished work aloud you probably aren’t as close as you think. IMHO.
I guess one more edit, and another read, and then maybe it will be ready.
Today I returned to my story, Melina Unbound. Made some progress with Melina’s voice. She still isn’t the bitter, angry young girl she’s supposed to be but it’s better. I find I have to keep going over her words (she has no dialogue but it’s first-person so all the words are hers) and find new ones that don’t just relate what’s happening but also tell about her and her emotions. The first thing was to use contractions. Then there had to be more than a description of the food but what she thinks of it as she describes it.
The first draft was third-person and I’m still finding her and replacing with I. I’m also trying to figure out where the section breaks should be. There are jumps in time that need to be set off by a break, and there are more significant breaks where something fundamental in the story has changed. Something like a combination of paragraph breaks, scene breaks, and then story shifts represented by what? An extra break that becomes scroll art in the final copy?
I can worry about that later. I just need to finish this revision.
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?
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.