Writing Tip — Short Stories

womenw-1483484_1280I’ve always loved short stories. I discovered the short stories of Damon Runyon and Sherlock Holmes as a teenager. As a new mom, I could squeeze in a complete story before dropping off into an exhausted sleep.

Although most of my writing ideas take shape as novels, I’ve learned a very important technique from reading short stories: write tight.

Write Tight

New novelists have a tendency to take all the room of a book and fill it up with a lot of unnecessary words.

If I look at each chapter as a short story with a goal that must be reached within a specific word count, I trim the long passages of description, get rid of tiresome explanations, and punch up the dialogue.

Description, especially, is the area where I have benefited from reading short stories. No matter what I am describing, person, place, or thing, a succinct , vivid description in one sentence will stick with readers longer than a detailed paragraph. And within a novel, I can revisit those descriptions, dropping reminders of a person’s eye color or the night’s humidity, echoing the first description. If I rein in my word count, it give me more space for plot and characters development.

I also love how many short stories have a kicker ending, a twist that makes the whole experience wonderfully satisfying. I don’t know if you can do that kind of a twist in a novel but I’d like to figure out how.

Bonus Benefits

When I am getting restless in my reading material and want to find a new author to rave about it, I read anthologies. I can sample many different writers in a short period of time, and if their short stories intrigue me, I can check out their novels. If a short story doesn’t hold me interest or lets me down, I have only wasted one night, instead of weeks with a novel that disappoints.

Another benefit is that short story writing allows aspiring novelists to get material published and before readers while waiting for their novel to be discovered. I thoroughly enjoyed writing a crime fiction short story because of the challenge it presented.

Which do you prefer to read, short stories or novels? Which do yo like to write?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

chocolatew-2202080_1280How would you explain where it came from? This prompt was inspired by a real-life mystery my friend author and editor Sharyn Kopf faced. She posted on Facebook, asking friends for an explanation.

Here’s mine: “A spy hid a thumb drive in the candy bar. Realizing she was being watched, she slipped the candy bar into Sharyn’s pocket. Now agents from all the major world powers are seeking the candy bar.”

What is your idea? Please share in the comments below.

Writing Tip — Flash Fiction

bookw-2250364_1280If you like writing short fiction, need a break from your novel, or just want a challenge, flash fiction may be the right form for you. I had read about these stories of less than 1,000 words as scrolled through writing advice blogs, but I didn’t consider writing one until I picked up some copies of Splickety magazine at a conference.

I still haven’t written a flash fiction piece, but now that I’ve written a short story in just over 3,000 words, flash fiction isn’t as daunting as I first thought.

For good advice on how make flash fiction powerful, check out this post from Almost An Author.

Writing Tip — Short Stories

keyboardw-498396_1280At a recent meeting of my writers’ group, author Sandra Merville Hart led a workshop on writing short stories. I found it helpful when I was writing one for an anthology our groups it compiling.

Much of her advice came from Creative Writing: Forms and Techniques by Lavonne Mueller and Jerry D. Reynolds.

1. Beginning: Present the problem of the story. Plunge readers immediately into the first incident.

2. Middle: Create suspense. Include events both favorable and unfavorable to  your main character.

3. Ending: Solve problem raised in the beginning. It can be a positive or negative resolution.

Some other advice Sandra gave was:

4. POV: Only have one point of view in a short story.

5.  No subplots: Focus on the problem presented a the beginning and nothing else.

When I wrote my short story, remembering to stick to the problem was very helpful. I enjoy developing characters and exploring their personalities could have sidetracked me from the plot. When  I was floundering in coming up with a reasonable ending, I finally realized I didn’t know what the single problem of the story was. Once I settled on one problem and its resolution, I could fill out the middle with favorable and unfavorable incidents that led to the ending.

Sticking to the point can also be applied to blog posts. Since I have only 250 to 500 words, my post should have just one point. If I find myself wandering away from that point, I can use my tangent as the point of a separate post.

What have you learned about writing short stories? Do you recommend any books or posts with tips on how to write them?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompt

figure-skaterw-266512_1280With the Olympics in full swing, I thought a prompt about them would be fun. Can you think of a new sport for the Winter Olympics?

I was thinking of Ice Diving. It’s just like diving at the Summer Olympics, but instead of landing in a pool of water, the divers have to enter the water through a hole in a sheet of ice. Or Ice Polo. Wearing heavy wet suits, two teams follow the regular rules of water polo with the added challenge of playing around chunks of ice.

Please share your ideas in the comments below!

Scripture Saturdays — Lent

fastw-78493_1280If you are thinking of giving up something for Lent, I recommend giving up worry.

This will be the third year I have tried to give up worrying for Lent.  I worry about everything.  And I do mean everything.  If I’m depressed I can always find a dark cloud in the biggest silver lining.  The first year I gave up worry was the most rewarding Lent I have ever had, spiritually, mentally, even physically. Last year, I had much more trouble giving it up. That’s why I want to try again this year.

If you are like me, and worrying is so much a part of your life that you think it is normal, here are some actions I took to help me give it up.

Pray every day.  I couldn’t give up worrying without God.  I pray when I walk, so every day, I would review my vow, thank God for the worries I gave up the day before, look at what I was currently worrying about, and rededicate my efforts to give them up.  I needed to check in with the Coach before plunging into the day’s “game”.

Become objective.  I worry so naturally I had to step out of myself mentally so I could observe my symptoms of worrying.  If I had racing, repetitive thoughts, or a sick stomach, or shortness of breath, I knew those were signs of worry.  I would look at my thoughts, sort out the worries, and kick them out.  As I became more aware of my symptoms, I could catch the worries sooner.

Take it day by day.  If you tell God on Ash Wednesday that you will not worry again until Easter, you will fail.  Don’t look further ahead than one day.  Pray and then work through the day to run the worries out of your head.  Even if you have to do it fifty or a hundred, or five hundred times a day at first, you have not failed.  Every day you work at it, you are fulfilling your vow.

If feel moved to give up worry for Lent, let me know how you are doing.

Writing Tip — Writer’s Block

laptopw-3087585_1280Recently, as part of an anthology my writing groups is putting together, I had to write a short story of at least 2,000 words. I decided to make it crime fiction. The characters came to easily, but the plot … I had a problem with the plot.

Over the past few years, the only original writing I’ve done were blog posts and a few poems. Most of my fiction writing time has been consumed with editing my YA novel. Working out a logical plot for my short story was nothing less than painful, and I mean that literally. My stomach hurt of a week as I puzzled over the plot. It was almost impossible for me to focus on anything else.

When I finally found a resolution, I learned a few things about breaking my writer’s block for the plot.

  1. Beginning + End = Middle

I started writing my short story without an ending in mind, and that is a big problem for me. I had concocted an intriguing beginning, but once I wrote that down, I had no clue where I was heading. I must have a goal to work for. Whether it is a story or just a chapter, before I sit down to write, I need to know how I will begin and end. Without an ending, I stalled.

2. Find a Deeper Meaning

Once I put down the bare bones of my story, I found it empty. Just solving the crime wasn’t enough. I needed some deeper, more universal truth, something that went beyond the conventions of crime fiction.

3. Know Your Characters Like Your Best Friends

I am a character writer. I start a story because I discover characters I can’t wait to throw into dramatic situations.

For my short story, I was working with characters I had only known a few days, instead of years. This made me uncomfortable. But the longer I worked with them, gaining an understanding of their personalities, the more plot ideas sprang up. Through exploring my characters, I unearthed the deeper meaning my story needed.

What do you do to break writer’s block?

Writing Tip — Imagery

chalkboardw-2495162_1280The lesson I learned from P.G. Wodehouse is that a vivid description, especially a humorous one, not only makes the subject come alive but also makes it memorable.

Mr. Wodehouse was a master at creating with imagery that crystallizes a character or a situation. Here are some of my favorites:

He “looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!’”

“Jeeves and the Impending Doom”

To describe someone completely taken by surprise, he wrote “Aunt Agatha, whose demeanour was now rather like that of one who, picking daisies on the railway, has just caught the down-express in the small of the back.”

“Aunt Agatha Takes the Count”

Describing an angry school teacher who thinks a guest is about to tell her students an inappropriate story, he writes that the teacher cut off her guest, “rising like an iceberg.”

“Bertie Changes His Mind”

“As a rule, you see, I’m not lugged into Family Rows. On the occasions when Aunt is calling Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps …”

The Inimitable Jeeves

“The Duke of Dunstable had one-way pockets. He would walk ten miles in the snow to chisel a starving orphan out of tuppence.”

“In moments of excitement she had that extraordinary habit of squeaking like a basketful of puppies”

“He resembled a frog that had been looking on the dark side since it was a slip of tadpole/”

compiled in Plum Sauce by Richard Usborne

I especially like the one comparing feuding aunts to mastodons. All these images are funny and memorable, and half the fun of reading Wodehouse is finding nuggets like these.

In My Own Writing

My novel is crime fiction and not humorous, but I gave my main character a sense of humor, so some of his descriptions can be funny. Because he lives in the West Virginia mountains and loves nature, he describes people in terms of animals, “like a toad ready to pop” or someone is “grinning like a grizzly.”

Even when humor isn’t appropriate for a scene or story, I still try to follow Mr. Wodehouse’s style, summing up a person in a brief but vivid way, what my writer friend Michelle L. Lavigne calls “a handle”.

In a short story I wrote recently, I needed a way for my teenage main character to describe two people he had seen for the first time. He call one man in his twenties “Mr. Smooth” because of his slicked hair, clean-shaven, pretty face, and fashionable clothes. He calls a well-dressed woman “Fashion Model”.

What are your favorite kinds of imagery? How do you use them in your writing?


Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

framew-3106116_1280Here is my acrostic poem or the holiday on Wednesday:


Cute little guy flying

Up and down and all around

Piercing hearts with his arrows

In an effort to bring mortals love. Or is it to

Drive them crazy?


If you write a Valentine acrostic, please share in the comments below.

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