The Secret to Successful Short Stories

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I spent much of my time in grad school trying to please a certain teacher and understand the secret formula for a short story.

Up until that time, I’d only written novels (or novellas), longer pieces of work in which I developed the characters and followed a plot. These felt full and complete.

Writing one small selection vexed me.

So I read and read and researched and attempted one time after another to create a successful short piece.

I suppose there is no formula and  no one right answer, which is what I was looking for – the correct answer.

Of the things written in grad school, the one instructor I attempted to satisfy deemed them mostly unworthy.

It wasn’t until near the end of graduation that an instructor said “half of that story was the best he’d ever read.”

He didn’t tell me which half.

However, almost all those stories have been pulled out, dusted off, and accepted with few edits. Hence – dear teachers – they were good! I had learned something; I had accomplished something.  (I must be doing something right, over 30 published in the last few years!)

There may not be one right answer, and there’s no secret, nor is there a hidden formula. Short stories need to get to a point, need to have conflict, need to show a budding of growth – perhaps.

 

 

Weathering the Storms

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Is there anything worse than a bad review?  Probably, but we don’t think so when we get one.

But ask yourself why you’re upset.

1. Is there some truth to the review? No – then forget it! Yes – then what is it?

One woman relayed that her one star review mentioned grammar and punctuation errors. She said, “I know there are some, but there’s not that many!”

It seems she knew she put out work that was not of a superior quality; she can’t be upset when someone calls her on it.

2. Is it someone who just wishes to malign you? Accept that there are going to be haters. Everyone has them. Remember this quote: “Well behaved women rarely make history.” If someone dislikes you – you might just be doing something right.

3. Someone told me – it’s only the writer who reads all the bad reviews. I think that’s supposed to make us feel better. But it’s true. When you look at reviews, do you search out every bad review there is? or do you read maybe the top five or ten of all the reviews?

I, personally, read a few of each. A few of the five star, a few of the three star, and a few of the one star – critical readers can tell if someone has an ax to grind or if they have real concerns.

Motivation Vs Inspiration

inspiratin.jpgI hear a number of writer’s ask about how to get inspired or keep inspiration. I think they’re confusing inspiration with motivation.

We are inspired by the things around us, an odd phrase, a beautiful scene, a great idea. The motivation comes to write it down. You must keep motivated long after the inspiration abates.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where dedication comes in.

With dedication to the craft, even when motivation and/or inspiration fail you – you will not fail.

Inspiration is just the beginning! Stay dedicated. Motivation will follow.

What Do the Flowers Mean?

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Sometimes a flower is just a flower, but sometimes the flower is a tell tale sign, a foreshadowing of what is to come. That’s for the writer to decide.

However, I think the writer must stay consistent. If you’re using flowers in the story and use a lily to insinuate death or disaster, then you can’t just throw a carnation in later without thinking what that might mean.

Good stories have that layering that critical readers can spot and will enjoy. However, I think, too much can kill a story. As I said, if you’re using flowers as symbols stick with that. If you add flowers, the alignment of the stars, the colors of the curtains, and grandma’s foretelling – that might be too much. It’s like hitting the reader over the head with the symbolism and it’ll detract from the storytelling.

Go to Sleep

sleeping-babyIf you’ve reached a point in your story where you’re stuck, or perhaps some small thing is niggling at you, tell yourself what it is before you go to sleep.

There’s a number of things I’ve done in order to enhance or forward my writing – and the above is one of the things. Margaret Atwood recommends the same.

But I’ve gone further. I was writing a poem and I knew one line wasn’t quite right. I kept going over it and over it and could not seem to find the right words in the right order to bring the poem together. As I went to bed that night – I told myself to dream about it.

At 4am, I woke up with the line! I scribbled it in the notebook (which sits next to my bed) and turned over to go back to sleep.

Not only do I tell myself the problem I’m dealing with in my writing before I go to sleep, but I also think about different story lines for my characters. This keeps me juiced, so to speak, with inspiration. The next morning, I’m ready to hop out of bed and write.

Sometimes, of course, this backfires and I want to write then and there – which I do. But most of it can and does wait for that dreaded blank page the next morning.

Fiction = Lies / Writers = Liars?

gaiman.jpgNeil Gaiman says lies are what fiction is made of. Well, yes, but….

He says, we make up people and places and put them in circumstances which aren’t true. Yes, well, but…

But we tell some sort of universal truth with these lies and that’s what makes it good fiction.

Gaiman is all about honesty, so I’m surprised he calls what we do lies. I don’t consider fiction lies. But I can see how people think it is. But then, do we call writers liars? I would hope not.

There’s a difference, isn’t there?  I, personally, keep my life honest. I appreciate honesty from everyone in my circle and will not continue to be around people who are known to have lied.

Plato believed fiction was dangerous to society. He wrote in “dialogues” to teach philosophy or what he believed philosophical truths.

He was fictionalizing these dialogues. And if fictions, like philosophy, seek truth and honesty, aren’t they important?plato.jpg

Gaiman says the magic of fiction is the big, important truth.

I guess, if the fiction doesn’t tell us a truth, it has been a waste of our time, of our words, and is, therefore, a lie.