Google+ Followers

Monday, 31 August 2009

Chapters

I like chapters. When I read a novel, I like reaching the end of a chapter if it brings me to a momentous point in the story. I can put the book down at this convenient pause and look forward to the next piece of action.

However, I find the start of a new chapter daunting. It is fine if the action does continue from where it paused, but if the setting or viewpoint changes, it can dislodge me and make me feel unsettled until, inevitably, I plunge back into it as if there had been no break at all.

I think this means that new beginnings are difficult to penetrate. I have to get under the skin of the story all over again. Perhaps I treat a new chapter as a complete new story.

And do short stories have concealed chapters? When we construct a fresh paragraph, are we bringing in a change of focus or a new venue or a different direction? I don't think so. I think short fiction has to flow. There is no room for deviation or a sudden new face or an unaccustomed voice. My favourite stories take place in one shop, one cafe, one riverside or one room. There are usually only two or three characters. There is a brief time span - perhaps a day, an afternoon, an hour.

A complete story has no chapters and is not itself a chapter.

More Than Short

I have been thinking about the title of a volume of short stories I bought recently. It is entitled 'Complete Stories'.

I believe that 'complete' is a better description than merely 'short'. Anyone can see at a glance that a story is short. It is clearly not a novel. It has eight or ten or maybe twenty pages, rather than two or three hundred. But that doesn't make it an extract or a chapter of a bigger piece. It must be entire within itself. A miniature novel, if you like.

This is why shorter-length fiction is so challenging. You cannot waste words. Everything counts. You have to entertain as much as a novelist does, but in a much smaller time span. A short piece is often a simple snapshot of the main character's life, but it must still have a valuable opening, tension-building middle and satisfying ending. All in a couple of thousand words or even less.

If it reads as incomplete, then you have not succeeeded, whereas a novel can be incomplete even after fifty thousand or more words. There is still space to move the action on and bring in surprises, even new characters as long as they are not central to the plot. You can write another thirty to fifty thousand words and the lengthof the novel will be acceptable.

But short stories need to be whole within a far tinier margin. It's a massive challenge!


Sunday, 30 August 2009

Writing With Fear

I started a story yesterday with no idea where it would go. It was terrifying. It was a story for the WriteInvite website, which I mentioned in a previous post. There was half an hour to write the story as usual, but I launched in without a coherent thought in my head. I've done this before and I've said that it is better to write straight from the heart without too much thinking.

However, there are occasions when the fear overcomes me and I find I am writing totally blindly. There are no signposts in my head at all and I couldn't see them even if there were. I have no notion of the next word, let alone the next sentence.

But all I have to do is remain positive. I have to know it will work out, so that is what I believe. I don't work hard to convince myself. If I did that, I would be wasting the energy I need to use for the writing. I just tell myself, quietly and firmly, that all will be well. And it always is.

My story yesterday soon took on a shape of its own. I went along with it, stayed with it and focused closely on it for the full half-hour, submitting it with seconds to spare. I let the writing lead me and that's the best way.

I was satisfied and surprised by the finished result. It was a complete tale with a beginning, middle and end. There was ambiguity at the end, but it was still a good conclusion, leaving the reader with something to think about. The opening was intriguing and there was some nice imagery, as well as some humour, in the middle. I was happy with it.

So always accept the fear and stay in the story, letting it form without being distracted by terror!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Families Again

Sometimes momentous events oocur and family life is thrown off balance for a while. I can't write about these happenings at all. It's too current and too raw.

Writers are always being told, "You've got plenty of material there," whenever there's a family upheaval. Not so. It's not 'material'. It's real and it's taking place now.

I rarely bring family trauma into my writing, other than small issues and memories from my childhood. Anything that happens with my husband and daughters is very close to home, it is home, and therefore separate from my fictional world. And that's the way it is. It seems wrong for others to assume that my family concerns are immediate fodder for the next story

Families

Families say and do remarkable things, amusing things, emotive things and, sometimes, exasperating things too. But it is wonderful to note these things down, not just for the purpose of family records, but for your writing.

Keep a book for the purpose and take it everywhere with you. Look at your collection of anecdotes from time to time and you will be amazed at how inspirational they are. I have a daughter who backpacked around eastern Europe with her boyfriend, having adventures; another who comes out with incredibly sweet and funny pronouncements -"A fossil is a memory of an animal who has died." And yet another who asks constantly, "What if...?" Her 'what ifs?' are always far-fetched and convoluted, a great starting point for a story.

These are just a few examples of many lovely family moments/stories which can be a starting-point for fantastic fiction.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Stretching And Shrinking

It is good fun to increase the size of a story. I have changed a 1000-word story to a 1400-word one today and really enjoyed having the freedom to add some fresh details. It is definitely bigger and better now. It was rejected by one magazine, requesting 1000-word submissions, but I spotted the potential for enlarging it to suit another publication.

It was easy to insert a little extra dialogue here and there and all of those 400 words gave the piece more sparkle. After all, I was already very familiar with my characters - they were like old friends - so it was a way of reacquainting with them and extending previous conversations.

It is also enjoyable to shrink a story. I love winkling out the unnecessary words, or even sentences, and tidying the whole thing up. It feels neat and polished. It is also satisfying to check the word count and discover that you have reached the desired total.

Occasionally, I have increased a rejected story, had it turned down again, decreased it for a new market, had another rejection, then re-increased it for a third try!

Never be afarid of stretching or shrinking your fiction. It is a living, breathing, flexible creation. It is not set in stone.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Growing Your Own Tree

Fairy tales are a good place to start if you need plot ideas. I should think most of the basic plots for short stories are contained within the works of the Brothers Grimm.

I have just begun to read The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns. This is adapted from a Grimm tale and makes a wonderful, absorbing story. She has taken the characters and plot from the original and made it her own. However, the setting is different. The atmosphere and tension and pace are her own creation too. It is menacing and macabre. I love it.

There is nothing wrong with using a plot that has already worked well for another writer. I noticed a winning story in a magazine competition, which was very similar to one of my own, a previous winner in the same publication. But I didn't mind. I was flattered. The new story was still the author's work, his style, his choice of vocabulary. He had been inspired by mine, rather than merely copying it. Without doubt, I had been inspired in a similar way when I wrote my story. In fact, I remember well the novel which planted the first seeds.

We all grow our own ideas from ground cultivated by others. But, as long as we choose to use our own voice, the new work of fiction we create will be fresh and unique.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Jumbles

My current story is jumbled. I know what the theme and plot are. At least, I'm fairly sure of those. However, the action is messy and there is confusion in my mind. Therefore, the reader will be puzzled too.

However twisty you want your story to be, ultimately there has to be no lack of clarity. You can leave the reader wanting more, but you cannot leave them with uncertainty. You can lead them down different paths, but they can't be blind alleys. There has to be a main road (your theme) and all the tangent paths leading away from it (your plot) must also allow you back again, however much of a loop they take you on first.

Rollercoasters are a mixture of fun and fear. They throw you around at an amazing pace, but you enjoy them only beacause you know you will be brought safely back down to earth at the end. However many times you get on, you always want to be sure you will climb off feeling delighted with the experience, not left up there, dangling and abandoned.

Stories are the same. Don't leave the reader in a state of neglect and bewilderment.

Tales Of The Unexpected

Out of the blue, an idea can come. And it's very exciting, so keep hold of it and don't lose it! If a plot is floundering or a character is feeling flat, wait for inspiration while you work on other stories. It will come when it's ready. But don't wait around doing nothing. Keep on writing.

This morning, I suddenly realised how to increase the tension in a story. It came to me while I was reading a story that worked well from the tension point of view. As soon as possible, I wrote it down. It doesn't matter that it's not perfect. I can work on the finer points later. The important thing is that it's written down. Had I been out of the house, I would have scribbled a note or used my dictaphone. It involved a character not being where she was expected and then reappearing in an odd place. Doesn't sound much, but makes all the difference in the story.

In fact, I've just given myself another idea, so I'll end there.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Revelation Through Dialogue

In real life, talking to people can be helpful and character-revealing. It is through conversation that we communicate our thoughts and feelings. In fiction it is an incredibly useful device. It breaks up the narrative and adds interest and colour to the story.

For example: 'Marjorie was a kind and charitable woman. She was always helpful to others on the days the mobile library came. Elsie, in particular, relied on her.'

This is handy to know, but dull. Try a piece of dialogue instead.

"Thank you my dear, as always. My legs have got worse recently. Right shaky they are. I couldn't manage without you." said Elsie, relieved that Marjorie was there to help her back down the steep steps of the library van.
"Any time, dear. I'll always wait here to give you a hand. I'm never in a rush, so take your time choosing your books. I look out for the van every week and dash over the road to make sure I'm available"

I prefer the dialogue option, because it shows rather than tells the reader what the character is like. As in real life, it is the best way to communicate.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Conflict

Never forget to think about your plots when you are busy doing other things. I have been watching a film and something made me realise how I could add to the plot of a current story.

There were two sisters in the film as well as in my story. They fell out with each other in a fairly spectacular fashion and it really livened the pace of the film. I felt that my sisters needed to do the same, instead of ambling through the story in a pedestrian way. I'd written them into a rut.

A good row is helpful for allowing home truths and past grievances to emerge. These can round out the plot and heighten the tension. Stories need progression and any sort of conflict leads to an advancement of some kind. The pace speeds up too. Dialogue becomes quickfire. Don't forget to let the characters interrupt each other, as this is always the case in reality. There is less listening and more revelation.

So enjoy a good row!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Jumping In

Do you launch into a story, writing it as you go, without a clear idea of what will happen? I do this and I can't do it any other way. I can't plan it. I make notes as ideas occur, but I have already begun writing the story. The notes don't come first. I like to jump right in at the deep end.

The advantage to this is that you start with the action, instead of writing reams of gradual build-up from the shallow end, dipping your toes in tentatively and running away from the big waves. Crashing into the depths at the start is what the reader wants. It is tedious to wade around on the edge of a story. Especially when it's a short story and you know it will soon be over.

The disadvantage is that it's harder to weave a careful plot and tie in all the loose ends. You write and write and then suddenly realise that you don't know where all this action is going or why it exists in the first place. The story needs rooting. So you have to put your head up above those waves and maybe swim to the shore for a while to regroup your thoughts.

But making plans makes my writing wooden, so I'll continue to jump in.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

What's The Weather Like?

Weather is a dull subject when people make it the centrepiece of a conversation. Everyone has heard a forecast. Each of these differs. So the discussion is pointless and no one really listens. They just choose whichever option they hear first.

The weather will do whatever it decides. We all know the range of possibilities in the UK. It may well rain or at least drizzle. There could be an overcast sky. Ther's an outside chance of sun and a likelihood of wind. Frosts maybe in winter and high humidity in the summer. It's not like Jamaica, where you have a hot sunny day until three o'clock. Then there's a tropical storm with lashings of rain to clean the air. Then back to sun, which disappears abruptly at nine in the evening. It's vague here. Which means conversations about it are trifling.

So don't waffle about weather in your writing. But use it to add mood and atmosphere. Have depressing skies or shafts of illuminating sunlight or biting winds or blankets of snow to create an apt setting. It can help to paint your picture.

But don't have inches and inches of dialogue about weather, unless absolutely crucial to the plot or characters.


Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Warming Things Up

Life can leave a nasty taste sometimes. World events are sad. Closer to home too, tragedies occur. Friends and families give you shocks, let you down. The answer to this is to write it out.

There is nothing to be gained by giving in to that sense of hopelessness. It wears you down even more. You are going to feel worse than ever. Once you reach the point where you can do nothing to ameliorate the situation, then use it. Pull every bit out. Get hold of the disappointment and wring everything out of it that you can. Emotions such as anger, hatred, rage, despair are going to fuel your writing and inject it with an extra ingredient - passion.

So heat your words with the flames from your soul.


Monday, 17 August 2009

Doubts

Do you ever have doubts about your writing? I can finish a story, perhaps one that I have been working on for ages, and then feel that it is awful. I can see the good parts as merely mediocre and the poorer aspects as complete rubbish. So what happens then?

This is what I do and it works well for me. I put it away for a while and I don't look at it at all. I work on new things - that is vital. Never stop. Don't let doubts about one piece of work poison your creative juices. Then, when I'm ready, I look at it objectively, as though someone else had written it. I revive it. Nothing is ever lost or wasted. I breathe new life into it.

To do this, I cut out bits, maybe removing a character that isn't doing his or her job. I alter the order of events perhaps or change the pace. Speeding up the action can help. I delete a scene or two that isn't helping the plot to progress. I check for long stagnant patches and improve their flow. Often, I add background history to flesh out a character who may appear a little thin.

It's like snipping ragged ends off long-neglected hair. Or tidying up a room after the school holidays. You find hidden crisp packets, ancient mugs, piles of watched DVDs out of their cases. You pick it all up, sort it all into the right places, clean it and air it ready for the new term. It's much the same with writing. And tidying can be satisfying, so don't despair. Once you have launched into the mess and begun detangling it, you will start to enjoy the process very much.


Sunday, 16 August 2009

No Bleating!

People moan. It's almost a hobby for some. They must like the sound of their whining voices, bleating about their writer's block or their lack of time to write or interruptions to their writing time. It's a lot of wasted breath spouting rubbish.

As I've said before, I don't really believe in writer's block. It's an excuse for not letting your mind work. Lack of time? Who ever has enough time for everything? You have to make it. It's not handed to you. Find the part or parts of the day when you can spare time and make sure you actually use it.

Interruptions? Tell people you are busy writing for the next half-an-hour or two hours. Don't respond to any attempts to disturb you, unless it's an emergency. Promise your undivided attention later, when you've finished. Clearly, you have to complete your work-hours or, if looking after dependents, you have to enlist further help before settling down to write. That isn't always easy and occasionally impossible to arrange. But always use your free time from work and the time when dependents are asleep/occupied elsewhere. Use it to write, not to moan. You may not be able to snatch great quantities of time. And it may involve perching a pad of paper on your lap or a corner of the kitchen table. It may mean ignoring the dirty dishes for a while. But do it anyway.

If it invades your sleep-time and you feel weary, so what? You'll just have to be tired for a bit until you can catch up again. Obviously, don't make yourself ill and exhausted, but make what sacrifices you can in order to give yourself the writing time you deserve.

Free time is best spent writing, not moaning.

What Do You Know?

Write what you know is the advice we are given. I'm not sure we should adhere rigidly to this. It is true that we can write with confidence about the things we are familiar with, but it can also feel restricting. Of course we can do research. Then we know about something new and can apply that knowledge to our writing. But what about a shot in the dark?

I wrote a story in a setting that I was unfamiliar with. I'd probably seen a film set there, read a book or two in that location. But it wasn't somewhere I knew. I allowed my imagination to fill in the gaps and created my own setting. Unique, if not completely accurate. But so what? I didn't ever state where it was supposed to be. It's my place. Things took place there that I don't have first-hand experience of either, but the story won a competition. So the characters, plot and setting must have worked well, despite my fumbling in the dark.

So I remain a bit confused about the notion of wriitng what you know. It worries me that writers restrict their minds when planning a new story. If I develop a suddden interest in the Australian outback, even though I have no knowledge of it, I might plough into a story set there. My ideas will come from the smattering of information I possess, plus a tiny bit of research. I still won't know the Outback will I? But my story could still work well.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Be Yourself - It Suits You Better

This advice was given to me once. It was personal advice and nothing to do with writing. I may not have always adhered to its wisdom, but I have remembered it and always will.

It can certainly be applied to writing. Don't try to write in the style of any other author. You won't be paying them a tribute. You will be copying them. You will be ignoring your own voice. Don't. Listen to it. There is no one else like you.

I loathe it when people learn for the first time that I write. Invariably they say excitedly that perhaps I shall be the next Jilly Cooper or JK Rowling or Maeve Binchy. No, I shan't. I don't want to be other people. If I did, there wouldn't be much point in being me, would there?

I admire the authors I have mentioned, and many more, but I can only be myself. That means my work will be liked by some, but not by all. Plenty of famous authors are not universally admired, but that doesn't matter. They have succeeded in becoming writers. That's what counts. But the success would not have come if they had written using the voice of someone else.

When you talk to people, use your own voice. Don't put on a different accent or adopt a vocbulary you wouldn't normally use. I used to accuse my father of having a 'telephone voice'. He always spoke beautifully, but he used a special aristocratic accent on the telephone! It infuriated me, because there was no need! And it didn't suit him at all.

Friday, 14 August 2009

A Splash Of Original Colour

Colour is key to a story. Always add it in. Think how much it flavours your life and let it enliven your stories too.

Don't settle for yellow. What about fresh custard, bitter lemon, morning sun, golden sunset, sun-dried chicks, ripe banana, rain-soaked buttercup, grinning daffodil, saffron-infused rice...

I won't start on reds.

It's so much more vivid to visualise these wonderful images, but don't over-use them. It can get a bit cliched and then loses its appeal.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

What's In A Name?

I love names. I love unusual names. They add something extra and indefinable to a character. They can suggest all kinds of qualities or faults or social status. Even though you might think a name is just a couple of words, a story can be really enhanced if the name is apt.

Rodney Smythe-Harrington is unlikely to be a tinker, but wouldn't he be interesting if that were his occupation? Just as intriguing would be Dave Potts marrying royalty. These stories would be much better than if the situations were reversed for the two characters. Stories should carry an element of the unexpected to keep them fresh and the pages eagerly turned by the reader.

Names should be thought about and enjoyed when the ideal one occurs to you. I have heard some writers moan about choosing names, as though it were a chore. For me, it is one of my favourite aspects of writing. Once I have the name, the character can be visualised. My lovely spiv, Johnny Carpenter. My amazing pub singer in lurex, Clint Hotpants. My suave and sinister Professor Savage. Their names make them all real.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

What's In A Theme?

Theme is vital to stories. It is the link that runs through the entire piece. It is the point of interest. It is what the story is about. If your little girl is invited to a fairy-themed party, you know she has to go complete with shiny dress, wings, wand and sequinned shoes. The theme won't work unless all the little girls turn up dressed in a similar way. Then you have a fairy party. It is incomplete and unsatisfactory if half the guests forget and arrive in tartan frocks or frayed jeans.

With stories, it is just the same. If your theme is passion, then there must be strong feelings and full hearts. If the theme is jealousy, then green-eyed monsters must be lurking. If the theme is the search for happiness, then there must be a lot of looking, maybe some losing and then some finding.

Notice that the theme can be summarised in just a few words. If you have to ponder for ages when asked about the theme of your latest story, then it isn't going to work. You must have a hook that it all hangs on.

My favourite story, mentioned in a recent post, The Necklace by Maupassant, has the theme of pride coming before a fall. Others might say it is about deception being a tangled web. Or it is about dishonesty. Whichever theme you choose, all of these examples have the same thing in common. They are brief.

Try asking yourself what your rejected stories are about. If you struggle to find the reply or need several sentences to explain it, then you know why thoses stories have not yet been successful. Try inspecting them in detail to winkle out the underlying theme or themes. Perhaps you have too many threads in there? Try teasing some out and tidying the story up until a predominant theme emerges.

Do not confuse theme with plot. More of that in a later post.

Keeping Up The Pace

Pacing is so important to a story. If you give it all away on the first page, your story will have less impetus. It will fall flat and wither before the last page. On the other hand, if you wait too long before bringing out the big guns, the reader may have died of boredom before the bullet reaches him.

So give it time to build. There must be a gradual increase in tension. There must be a climax. Always bear in mind, however, that this is a short story. You don't have all that much time for building. You must keep it progressing all the way through from the first paragraph to the last. No stagnant chunks. No wasted words. No dialogue that doesn't actually say anything about the characters. But, at the same time, it mustn't be rushed either.

This is something that comes with practice. Try looking back often at what you have written. Have you given the game away too soon? Keep that bit for later and add more story first. Or have you written too much waffle? Cut it out and introduce some action instead. If nothing is happening, the reader is yawning. It doesn't have to be world-changing action. There don't have to be cannons firing or stallions charging. But there does have to be some sort of progress. Even if it's just an outing to the launderette or a changed state of mind, eg: from tranquil to uncertain or from contented to daunted.

Bear in mind the type of story that makes you switch off and avoid that by clever pacing. Throwing in a bit of unexpected action works well. Surprise your reader and keep him guessing!








Sunday, 9 August 2009

Troubled Times

Writing is the perfect treatment for unhappy times. If you are worried or tense about the unavoidable bleak patches in your life, then writing saves you a lot of hand-wringing and pacing about.

When you write, you inhabit another world. As I said in my last post, you are 'there'. You can take on a fictitious set of troubles. There's no better way to unburden yourself of your own real ones.

So, instead of banging your head against walls, trying to untangle your own dilemmas, you can take pleasure in sorting out someone elses's. Who knows? When you return to the real world, you may feel refreshed enough to see a solution to yours too.


Writing Is Work

Writing is work. People who don't write might think it's easy for us. In fact, some might consider writing not to be real work at all. 'I could do that,' they think. Don't be angry with them and try to defend your work. Just ask them to have a go and offer to give them a critique free of charge.

They could discover hidden talents, which would be very exciting. On the other hand, they may realise that it is much more of a challenge than they thought possible.

The chances are that those who bluster the most about how eay it must be to write, will never take you up on the opportunity.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

From The Heart

Don't sit there forcing ideas to come. All the possibilities are there within you. They will come if you let them. Let your mind relax and write the first thing that comes to mind. It may seem shapeless and even nonsensical at first, but it will take on its own life as you continue, and therefore a pattern that, blurry initially, becomes sharper and well-defined. As long as you don't give up!

Once I won a competition with a story that grew as I wrote it. I lived it. I was there. That's what made the difference. I was in that picture within my mind. Hence I cared about my two main characters. Since it came from the heart, the warmth shone through and brightened the picture that, certainly at the start, was confusing for me. I didn't know what would happen. But, because I continued with confidence, still in harmony with the setting and characters, still 'there', it fell into a neat shape. The pacing was good because I didn't pause to chew my pen or stare out of the window. I stayed in the minute world I had allowed my mind to create.

It all began with a girl in a high rise flat with a runny nose. Not very exciting as it stands. But the key to unlocking the potential of a mundane scene is to let it develop naturally, wholeheartedly. Stay with it and refuse to let it go. This child went on a 'journey' in that flat. The reader saw her thoughts, which I 'showed' rather than 'told'. It was, as with many short stories, a little scrap of time, an infinitesimal fraction of her life, but poignant. She progressed. She moved from one point in her life to another. And she did it because I let my mind propel the action.

Let it grow and be proud of its unique quality. My child in the flat has stayed with me ever since.


Friday, 7 August 2009

Stop!

It's all right to walk away from your writing. Sometimes it's just not going to happen and it's fine to shut down your computer or close your pad.

Do something unrelated and don't do it with a furrowed brow. Try loud music or a long walk. Enjoy yourself. Remember, your writing will be there waiting for your return. That might be in five minutes, five hours or even five days. But it will be there.

It's not like someone is goose-stepping around you with a stopwatch. You are the boss, the manager, the under-manager, the shop-floor worker, the tea-maker, the dinner-lady/man, the cleaner, the secretary and the owner of the whole shooting match.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Coffee Breaks

Coffee breaks are necessary, but you have to make the most of them. Don't swig it while you write. Sit back and enjoy every sip.

This is important because you need to feel that you have stopped, not simply refuelled. All workers need a rest and a chance to think - especially crucial for a writer. During pauses, you can regather your tangled ideas and sort them out, ready to move on afterwards. Give your poor brain a five-minute pause.

Remember to do it at the appropriate moment, not when you're in mid-flow. Savour the satisfaction of relaxing at just the right point. However, leave it at a place where you can easily continue, not at a finished and polished place. It is hard to pick up without one little loose thread to seize.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Luxury Of Time

No amount of time is ever too short. Don't think that just because you have only ten spare minutes you can't write. Not true. I have poured out valuable words in a scrap of time, perhaps aided by the slight sense of pressure.

In fact, if you have hours ahead of you, it can be daunting. The expectation is high. You feel you must produce thousands of words and therefore immediately put yourself under the cosh. Writing shouldn't be like that. When you have hours, you can relax while you warm up and then enjoy the excitement and tension that slowly builds as your story takes shape. So, love the long time you have, but respect it. It is a luxury.

I have mentioned before that we all have our own framework of time in which we can write before we break off for a while. However, just because the time available is less than our perfect quantity doesn't mean it shouldn't be used. After all, something might crop up later in the day to prevent any further writing taking place. Then you will be relieved you used that gratuitous few minutes to advance your story/do some research/edit. It's never wasted.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Finding A Voice

You may think that standing out is not easy. Why should your story demand the editor or judge's attention? It looks at first glance like all the others. Ostentatious fonts and embellishments are frowned upon, so it's actually good to look like the mainstream, but how can yours claim the spotlight?

When you try to join in a conversation with people who seem to be quicker or better than you are at saying interesting things at exactly the right moment, it can be hugely frustrating. They thrust themselves forward, while you struggle to make yourself heard. Then your confidence fades and you settle for the sidelines.

But the great thing about wrting is that you don't have to jostle. All the manuscripts look the same and all are silent until the reader reads them. Yours will br treated equally along with all the others. So all those blustering people who might trample on you in real life can't do so when it comes to the written word.

Writing gives you the same voice as all the rest. So all you must do is make the writing the highest standard you can. Enjoy doing that, safe in the knowledge that, while you do it, no one can shout you down and snatch your words away. The stage is yours.

Maupassant's Necklace

The Necklace by Maupassant is a story I keep reading. It seems perfect as an example of the art of short story writing.

It is concise, sparing in its use of language and well-paced. I feel gripped by it from the outset and the ending takes my breath away every time. There are two main characters, plus a third important one. They are sketched clearly and I have a complete picture of them in my head. Yet there is little time spent on descriptions. It is all about showing. There is little telling.

It has the classic structure of a well-constructed story. One of the main characters has a dilemma. Her husband helps her to solve it. A third party is briefly, but crucially, involved in the solution. A disaster occurs, leading to a downward spiral for the couple's life together. The horror lasts ten years. Then comes the shocking conclusion.

I aim to keep reading it until I learn how to write a page-turner like this. Stunning.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Enrichment

Enrichment is a lovely word. I feel it epitomises the extra luxury you can give your writing.

Look at what you write. Don't settle for dull words unless they suit the mood. Take a good sentence and make it better. Paint it. Sculpt it. Add warmth and colour.

Enrich your language with the magical vocabulary you have at your disposal. I don't mean use three or four adjectives in a row. I don't mean pepper every sentence with superfluous adverbs.
I mean that you should lavish your work with the best words you know, carefully chosen for their beauty and fit.

Just like the perfect dress.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Why Was Mine Not Chosen?

If you don't achieve a placing in a competition, then don't waste time feeling disappointed. Start looking carefully at the winning stories. Read them, study them, think about them hard.

Why were they chosen? I'm not saying you have to like them. It is very subjective for us all, writers and judges alike. That is clear from the fact that you can have a story rejected by several publications/competitions, but snapped up by the next one you try. What one person loves, another might loathe.

But, like them or not, you have to accept that the winning stories must be very publishable. They have been chosen. They are outstanding. They are better than everyone else's entries, including yours. Another judge on another occasion might have included yours, but this time you didn't score as high as the selected few who were placed. So it is vital that you study their work and find out why.

Look at the opening, the portrayal of the main characters, the way the plot has been woven, the use of language, the dialogue, the 'show don't tell' factor, the ending. What was the theme? Can it be summarised in a few words? That is often the key to a good story. If you have to wonder what it was all about, then it doesn't work as well.

Now look at the story you entered. How does it measure up? Then work on any improvements. Some will be immediately apparent. Do your rewrite. Then send it off somewhere else as soon as you can.