Monthly Archives: May 2014

6 Reasons to Write a Short Story

Calling all novelists – here’s how penning short stories might help you as a writer.

Writers In The Storm Blog

Happy Friday to all our friends here at WITS! We’re doing some extra special posts this week as an advance thank you for helping us migrate to our new site next week. All will be unveiled on Monday!

Today our pal, Julie Glover, is here. *Jenny jumps up and down* Here’s an example of why she’s one of our favorite peeps. When we told her y’all love nice meaty posts, Julie responded with:

“I hope I delivered. I’m even hoping it’s bacon. All posts should be like bacon.”

Enjoy!

*  *  *  *  *  *

My Sister's Demon, paranormal fiction by Julie Glover, @julie_glover

As a novel reader, I always believed I was meant to write full-length books. Yet I find myself entering the self-published market with a collection of short stories instead.

I wrote the first one on a lark—merely a story premise I wanted to get out of my system. But I liked the result…

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You’re a god of writing. Or are you?

Talented writers? Are they born or developed? Some people might say, if you have to go on a course to learn to write, you’re never going to be any good.

Questions are often raised as to whether writers needs to do a creative writing course in order to learn the basics of good writing. The view many people take is that, where creativity’s concerned, you’re either good or you’re not, and if you fit into the latter category, no course is going to give you a talent you weren’t born with.

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Yes, we all came out of the womb knowing how to do this. It was very painful for our mothers.

This is pretty unfair. Some might even go as far as to say it’s downright snobbery. Obviously, there are many writers who are naturally talented. They seem to know without thinking, what constitutes a good plot, what image will be most powerful, how to create natural dialogue that delivers most impact to the reader. Writers like these have a natural capacity to write from an early age, and they develop their skills through sheer hard work. As a result, they have little truck with writing courses. Who can blame them? They did it all themselves, so you should too. However, the way I see it is, these writers also have a natural confidence that drives them, and not all of us are that lucky.

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Do not interrupt. Genius at work. Any noise will cause his head to implode.

When I started to write, (after years of procrastination, and gazing at books I loved, thinking ‘I can never write like that’. I was right – I couldn’t, so instead I learned to write like myself) my prose-style was initially so full of holes, an elephant could have fallen through. My inclination was to over-explain everything, and I also found that my love-affair with language created an over-elaborate and flowery effect that was off-putting for the reader. This didn’t mean I was a bad writer – what I had in common with more accomplished writers was a love of books, a love of words, and a compulsion to write, that gave me a great starting point – but I clearly had a lot to learn.

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Popular writing mistakes.

Joining a writing course made me realise that there is a type of ‘science’ to good writing (a science, however, that does not have a ‘one rule fits all’ formula. Writers all have their own styles that these ‘scientific’ theories should not inhibit, but should instead, work alongside). Some people are aware of this ‘science’ instinctively, but many are like me – they need to learn how it works.. Once I learned what constituted good writing, I could apply this knowledge, and my writing improved significantly (though even now, beyond the course, I’m still learning and improving, and happy to do so.)

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Weirdly, staring at all these scientific numbers and symbols isn’t helping to get my novel moving along.

But of course, be warned. Doing a course by itself will not make you a good writer. You’re not going to improve if you’re not ready to change. You have to be prepared to take on the advice of others, you have to be ready to work hard, and you have to be open to adapting your writing. There’s a phrase that purports writers as the ‘god(s) of (their) own work’. This basically means that, whatever anyone else says, you are CREATOR, and so any final decision-making regarding your story is up to you. What it doesn’t mean is: ignore what everyone says, and don’t change a thing.

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Don’t you DARE tell me what to do with my story!

Being a GOD OF WRITING means a writer should take any constructive criticism and use it wisely. The critiquer isn’t always right, but then neither are you. You should think about what you were initially trying to achieve in your writing and how the constructive criticism fits within that framework, then change your writing based around your own view and theirs. Sometimes your initial idea is not going to work, and you might just have to give up on it. Your story might turn into something else entirely (this happens to me on a regular basis). It doesn’t matter – creativity has no boundaries. So what if your story isn’t how you intended, as long as it works in the end? Remember, your reader’s enjoyment is far more important than your initial idea or your ego.

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THIS ISN’T HOW MY STORY WAS MEANT TO GO!!!!!! *head explodes*

Okay, back to some sanity.  In the next blog post, I will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the creative writing course, and the one I enrolled on in particular.

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Writing Reality: Using Synaesthetic Imagery

Great article about using the concept of synaesthesia in writing. It’s something I’d never considered, but now I’ve been introduced to it, I wonder how it managed to pass me by as a writer. It’s a very effective way of getting across complex images. Fantastic.

celenagaia

There’s nothing I love more than to watch for the signs in life. Subtext, subtweet, crossed-wires, imagery, symbolism. In particular, the metaphor can create a beautiful path of words, drawing comparison between one image and another, so that the audience might walk to find themselves at a new truth, a fresh abstract landscape, rather than the tired old concrete definition of some reality.

Synaesthesia – “the transfer of information from one sensory modality to another”, or mingling of the senses – is often used to enhance imagery in writing. We find examples of this every day – “a bitter wind,” “a blue sound”, “a black funk.” As sense-imagery can be a vital part of drawing the audience into a scene, allowing them to experience what the narrative POV does (directly or by proxy), it stands to reason that the use of synaesthesia – the mingling of senses, or connecting…

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I’m Not Hungry Thanks

What do you do when someone asks you to critique their work and you’re really not impressed?  Do you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  Or do you lie?

As you’re a writer, it’s likely, at some point, that you’ve been approached by another writer to critique their work, probably because they know that it’s not quite right and need a second opinion.  If you’re familiar with them and their writing style – it’s a relatively easy task.  You’ve developed a relationship because you admire each other’s work, you’ve a mutual trust, and an understanding of what to expect.  The whole thing is straightforward – you can be honest, direct, and not tie yourself in knots as to whether you’ll upset them or not. However, it’s an entirely different matter if it’s someone you don’t know that well, but particularly, if it’s the work of someone who’s inexperienced.  Especially if there’s a lot that needs improving.  I don’t know about you, but for me, critiquing the work of someone I’m only vaguely familiar with sets off those anxious little voices in my head (yes, I have voices).  They call out:

You can’t tell them the truth.  

You’ll hurt their feelings.  

And then they’ll be upset.  

And you know who’ll be to blame!

YOU! 

When you’re in this situation (surely I can’t be the only one?), the first thing you should do is turn down the volume on those voices. (You’d never do anything if you took any stock of what they have to say).  The next thing is to consider the critique from the writer’s perspective (especially if they’re a novice).

It’s true that, after a few years of writing, I welcome (fair) constructive criticism, but when I started out, passing my work over for someone else to read made me want to:

  1. throw up;
  2. hide under a blanket;
  3. run away

I knew I was over-reacting. My rational side thought, get a grip woman – it’s only a piece of fiction.  I wasn’t confessing to a life as a prostitute in the window of an Amsterdam brothel (that’s another story)

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She wished she’d got some net curtains. She was sick of every Tom, Dick and Harry looking in when they walked past.

or kidnapping a busload of grannies in Torremolenos and keeping them hostage (best not go there).

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She knew she shouldn’t have left that open invite on Facebook.

Yet, despite this, as a new writer, I felt exposed and vulnerable, consumed by a very real and powerful fear.  My writing felt so personal, and I’d invested so much in it, that the possibility of any negative comments felt like a personal assault on me.  I’d set my creative bar so high, that if I lost my balance, I was scared the fall would be fatal.

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This circus trick course wasn’t all it was made out to be.

It’s this I try to remember when I feedback on someone else’s work: the huge impact we have on someone’s confidence when we tell them our thoughts about their creative abilities. As a reviewer, I’m not simply commenting on a story, but something that is personal to them.  The other thing I try to remember is the lessons I learned from others when I received critiques on my stories:

  • Show consideration for their feelings, and don’t be too blunt.
  • Even if it’s very flawed, it’s really important to make a big deal about the good aspects (pointing out things such as interesting story idea, strong voice, easy narrative style, good characterisation, natural dialogue, striking imagery, etc).
  • Only then, when you’ve buffered them to the hilt, do you describe the weaknesses (in my case, the usual suspects: not moving the story forward, too much irrelevant detail, unnecessary description, explaining too much, being too obvious, overuse of adjectives, cliched characters and cliched writing, too much telling, not enough showing.  I could go on).
  • It’s good to have two positives to every negative.
  • Don’t list TOO many negatives – especially if it’s a new writer.  You can always leave a few out.  The future of the Earth doesn’t depend on it.  It’s likely they’re going to send the story to you again, so you can always point out other issues then – once the writing is stronger.

Hearing the faults in a story isn’t pleasant reading for any writer, but if the positives are emphasised strongly enough, the negatives won’t make you want to scurry away, to hide for eternity, covered in cobwebs and cat wee, never to write again.  Instead, you’ll realise, your writing may not be perfect, but what you have instead is something solid to work with.

So, as a critiquer, what you should be serving to the writer, whatever their experience, is the classic shit sandwich.

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Tell me what the pros of writing are again?

Those two positives I mentioned earlier?  Those are the bread.  And the negative? Yep, that’s the shit filling.  You’ve got that, right?  The bread is a shock absorber to soften the blow.  You’re distracting them with something cosy and comforting to chew on (Mmmm! Thick white Warburtons bread)

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Mmmm, Warburtons. My favourite. What did you say that brown stuff was? Marmite?

before they realise what the smell is and the bad taste in their mouth.  (Do you need some water?)

It’s easy to see many negatives in a lot of new writing, and yes, you should tell the truth, but don’t be overly harsh.  Over-emphasising the positives is not being deceitful.  What you’re actually doing is giving a new writer the honesty they deserve, whilst simultaneously building up their creative confidence and self-esteem. It’s the persistence and practise that’s applied to writing – after an initial boost of confidence – that helps with improvement; the ability to apply the good, and to identify (and remove) the bad.

So, if we return to the shit sandwich analogy (yes, we must)…  Over time, if writers act on feedback, they learn to eliminate the shit from their sandwich until it’s nothing more than an occasional skid mark on the bread.

And maybe one day, if we’re lucky, there’ll be no mark left at all.

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Not that I’ll be eating that bread after I know what’s been on it.

 

 

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Sally-Anne Wilkinson’s New Short Story – The Birdhouse

My latest story on the Storgy website, with the stunning photography of Tomek Dzido as inspiration.

THE BIRDHOUSE

by

Sally-Anne Wilkinson

Stepping from the bus onto the estate, I smell bacon frying.  It’s years since I left, but nothing’s changed: the houses, clean and neat, overlook characterless gardens, and the street itself is airless; stagnant with marriage, kids, invisibility.   The bus drives away, and I’m abandoned with my rucksack, heavy on my back.

I look at the house.  Karen’s car is parked in the shared driveway.  She offered to pick me up from the station, but I said no.

‘Suit yourself.’

I see a bike, flung carelessly, to the right of Karen’s car, and I laugh, a small, indiscernible sound.

‘Seems to me, Charlie, you think the world owes you a favour.’

‘What -?’

‘Your bike. On the drive.’

‘Dad – I wasn’t…’

‘Money Charlie.  Hard-earned cash.  Bike’s aren’t free, you know?’

‘I -‘

‘You can’t look after anything – ’

‘Dad – I…

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All The Best Intentions…

Probably one of my most annoying traits is the inability to think before I speak.  I thought I’d managed to maintain some vestige of control over it where my writing is concerned. Until recently, when I discovered that, obviously I hadn’t… 

A while back, I asked a couple of writerly friends to critique a short story for me – Colin –  that I’d been wrestling with for ages.  You know what it’s like?  Sometimes writing is as easy as stuffing the contents of a can of Pringles in your face (or maybe two cans, right?), but at other times, the ideas in your head are frozen, like a type of stage fright, steadfastly refusing to make an appearance on paper.

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If only writing was always as easy as binge-eating.

Oh, come on – who am I kidding?  It’s not stage fright.  It’s constipation.  Pure and simple.  Rock-hard pebbles you have to push out with grim determination, that hurt like hell.  I’m afraid to say, I think I might even have that same pained, scrunched-up expression when I’m struggling with writing that I do when I’m trying to…  Er… possibly time for a subject change here.

I get this a lot (writing that doesn’t flow, not constipation.  I swear.  Please believe me), and usually when it happens I write the story regardless, ignoring the diabolical flow, hoping that eventually, it will all form a cohesive whole.  Though in this particular case, there was no ‘whole’ when the words were finally committed to paper: Colin was the writing equivalent of a drunk in a bar – jerky and incoherent.

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It’s best not to let your writing loose on people when it’s jerky and incoherent.

Anyway, I digress.  Back to my writing buds.

I knew them well – having done a few modules of a writing course with them – and understood that I could rely on them to be kind, but more importantly, able to pick out what worked and what didn’t about my, by now, hated short story.  In the past, I’d turn to them whenever I needed an honest opinion, and I knew they wouldn’t let me down.

Now let’s establish something here – something you may already know: one of the most important rules when receiving feedback is that you accept it without comment.  Even if you don’t particularly agree with the critiquer’s opinion.  I mean, as you’ve asked their advice, you have to accept it.   And, there’s a couple of reasons why.

Firstly, if you start trying to justify writing that needs improvement, you start to look like nothing less than an arse.  Yes, that’s right – an arse.

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Being an arse wouldn’t be so bad if only it meant being pert and shapely. I knew I’d get the short straw.

More importantly, remember the critiquing process is not just about you.  it’s hard for someone to give honest feedback, especially when they know a writer has put their heart and soul into a piece of writing.  And my two friends – let’s call them Ethel and Gertrude here, for the sake of argument – have given me lots of useful guidance in the past, helping to improve my writing no end.  The reason they’ve continued to help, is because I’ve accepted it without comment – simply thanking them, going on my way, and using the parts of their advice that I felt was relevant to alter my work.  Even if, at times, I’ve needed to have a little cry after.

So the rule for receiving feedback is:

Don’t comment.

I’ll repeat that again.  Do not comment.

Yes, I’ll say it louder in case you didn’t hear me.  DO NOT COMMENT.

women with her mouth taped up

Sometimes, when you can’t keep your mouth shut, only tape will do.

You know this rule now.  I know this rule.

In the past, I’ve followed it to the letter.  Even when I’ve really wanted to say something in my own (writing’s) defence.

But, unfortunately, not the time when I got the feedback to Colin.

Instead of my usual ‘thankyou, you’re so great – your advice has been a great help’, I took the list of adjustments – which I FULLY AGREED WITH – and decided to explain my thought processes for the writing as it stood.  I don’t know what got into me – I wasn’t arguing with their advice.  What I was trying to do was show my intention in writing it that way.  I don’t know, maybe I was embarrassed – I was used to having more creative success in recent times, and though I’d asked for their help (and needed it), there’s an element of pride being bruised when you’re told your writing needs so much improvement.  Anyway, all that happened was I ended up looking like an arse.  Did I tell you that you look like an arse if you respond back to criticism?  Here’s another reminder:

fat-thong-topless

Yes, I’m an arse for all the world to see.

But what was worse, Ethel was mortified.  (Gertrude was quiet on the matter, but God only knows what she thought.  Sometimes silence is more frightening than confrontation).  She apologised in great detail, thinking she’d hurt my feelings, and said she hadn’t meant to step over the line in her critique.

She hadn’t.  It was me.  I was an arse.

But I suppose there was a positive in the whole situation – it made me understand that the critiquing process is a two way thing: it’s not just about you trusting your reader, but also, about them trusting you.  Just as you need to feel safe in your creative relationship before you pass over your writing, they need to feel safe giving you advice, and understand that you’re not going to argue or nit-pick about the points they make.

So, basically, my point is, when you write, and when you ask someone to give you a truthful analysis of good and bad points, then take their advice, say thank you, and shut up.  That way, they might want to help you again.

I was fortunate because Ethel and I had already established a good relationship, so she understood this was nothing more than a blip.  But, in future, I’ll make sure I treat her with much more care.

That is all.

 

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