How to Draft Short Stories

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Short stories are my stock-in-trade. While I’ve written (and am writing) novels, short form fiction is really what I’ve had the most success with. I also get the most feedback and questions about them when speaking with other writers. It’s always interesting to me when people think they are “too difficult”, since for me, writing a novel is the greater challenge!

If you’re thinking about writing a short story, I’d encourage you to do so. I’m a big proponent of literary magazines and anthologies, and building a body of publication through them. While it’s good to hunker down for months-years and knock out a novel, a great short story can potentially earn its keep in a week’s worth of work.

Here’s a few tips on my personal system for short story writing:

Story Beats

I’m a plotter.

It seems a bit crazy to outline a short story, but I do it anyway.

It’s not a traditional outline though. It’s just “story beats”. It’s a simple bulleted list in my notebook that I use to “pre-write” the story before I actually grind out the first draft. Will it change? YUP. Does it keep me on track and help write the story faster? YUP.

One of the main criticisms I see in short fiction is “the story goes nowhere”, or “it feels like a vignette”. It can be tough to pack an arc and character transformation into a 5-10K word story. Having those story beats laid down ahead of time let’s you look at the skeleton from a zoomed out perspective to see if you’re accomplishing that goal, before you get into the details of laying “meat on the bones” so to speak.

Self-Editing

Please, PLEASE. For the love of God, do NOT hire an editor to go over your short story. Shorts are a perfect way to accomplish two things.

  1. Brush up on your editing & proofreading skills – Give each pass a day in-between. You’ll find the problems. Fix them. Let the Editor at the lit mag or the anthology point out the rest. It’s what they are paid to do.
  2. Build a stable of Beta Readers – Quality beta readers are indispensable to an author. You need to treat the ones who give great feedback like gold. Short stories are a low-commitment way to find beta readers. It should take a few hours at most to read a short story and critique it. And once you’ve identified the beta readers who give great feedback, you know who to ask first when you need a larger project (ie: novel) read and reviewed.

I personally do three editing passes on my short stories (waiting 1-2 days in between each pass to keep my eyes fresh) before I show them around to people. Those folks will inevitably catch new things, and I fix those before I begin to submit around.

Learn When to Quit and Submit

I debated including this, but I think it’s really important.

Saying “this story is done” is one of the single toughest things for a writer to do. Knowing “when to say when” is tough because an endless draft protects us from the dreaded rejection letter.

Short stories generally carry less blood, sweat, and tears in them than novels. So sending them off for submission (and rejection!) can help you learn about what I like to call my personal “quality threshold”. While thickening your skin, rejections and acceptances will help you know whether you sent out a story that was up-to-snuff, or needs another revision. While we’ll never be the best judges of our own work, it can at least help us to know when it’s time to not do another revision. Unlike a novel, if you’re on your tenth re-write of a short, it’s probably best to scrap the whole thing and just write another story.

Conclusion

I hope these tips are helpful, and if you’re thinking about writing some short stories, do it! There are many benefits to them, and they really help you to find your voice as a writer, while also giving room to experiment with different styles that you may not want to commit to for a book-length project.

 

 

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Happy New Year 2019

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Just wanted to drop a quick note to all my readers here, new and old, and say have a safe and happy start to 2019.

I’ve had a bunch of new people follow this blog and comment on it, and it is consistently one of my favorite internet outlets, because the quality of discussion and discourse here is so much higher.

I’ll be taking a short break (like many do) over the next week or so, and be back next year with plenty of new posts about writing, a bit of film photography (got a new camera for Christmas!) and some site updates.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

-BLD

“O Unholy Night in Deathlehem” Now Available

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Hey everyone,

Hope you had a great holiday of your choosing.

A quick note that O Unholy Night in Deathlehem is now available from Grinning Skull Press. You can purchase the ebook here for Kindle on Amazon. Print editions will be available soon as well.

This is an excellent Christmas horror anthology and features my short story “Manufacturer’s Defect” among a bunch of tales by some great writers.

Plus, all proceeds go to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation so these seasonal scares are for a good cause.

So grab yourself a copy, support a good cause, and keep those holiday feelings going before you take down the decorations and pop open the champagne to ring in 2019!

The Aesthetic of Your Journey, Creative

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Holidays are all about tradition, and I plan to start a new one by making a cynical humorous annual post about overused words.

This list is based on my own opinion, and unlike the generalized lists that creep out on the internet this time of year, it is mostly targeted at “creatives”.

So without further ado, our first overused word.

 

“Creative”

adjective
  1. having the quality or power of creating.
  2. resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.; imaginative:creative writing.
  3. originative; productive (usually followed by of).

Folks, it’s an adjective. Not a noun.

The number of times in 2018 I have heard people refer to one another and themselves as “creatives” is maddening.

I’ve been writing for a long time, and hanging out with writers and other artsy types for nearly as long. So I know we like to play with words, “expand the lexicon”, and sound all flowery and pretentious on occasion. What’s the point in being an artist if you can’t get pretentious and drink expensive coffee once in a while. Right?

While that’s all well and good, I feel like writers have a responsibility to uphold the “correct” traditional use of language (grammar and syntax) whilst the internet attempts to dismantle it on an hourly basis. I’m looking at you Twitter!

OK, traditionalist diatribe over.

The real reason this word is such a thorn in my paw is that it has been insidiously co-opted. The next time you’re reading a site or listening to a podcast where someone calls you a “creative”, their compliment is usually followed by an offer of some sort. Like when everyone became an “entrepreneur” back in 2015.

If you’re a creative, you might like my ONLINE COURSE/BOOK/SERVICE.  

Yuck. Get your marketing out of my art. Let me be a CREATIVE!

 

“Aesthetic”

adjective
  1. relating to the philosophy of aestheticsconcerned with notions such as the beautiful and the ugly.
  2. relating to the science of aesthetics; concerned with the study of the mind and emotions in relation tothe sense of beauty.
  3. having sense of the beautiful; characterized by a love of beauty.

Another adjective being turned into a noun. Sorta like when “Google” became a verb.

“It has an aesthetic.”  /   “My brand’s aesthetic.”  /  “Your aesthetic is beautiful.”

Not as brutally irritating as “Creative” but nonetheless, “aesthetic” is so overused at this point it is starting to lose its original meaning.

Plus, there are so many other less fun-to-say words you can use instead. “Look”, “style”, “feel”. These don’t have the SAT-word quality of “aesthetic”, but they are still valid.

 

“Journey”

noun, plural jour·neys.
  1. traveling from one place to another, usually taking rather long time; trip:six-day journey across the desert.
  2. distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling:desert journey.
  3. period of travel:week’s journey.

Hoo boy, this one…

So nothing grammatically incorrect about this one, and everybody loves that old axiom about “it’s the journey, not the destination…” Thanks Emerson.

In 2018 we are apparently ALL on a journey. You’re not just dabbling in a hobby. If you buy that beginner’s watercolor set at A.C. Moore, you’ve taken the first step on a grandiose adventure of personal evolution.

I felt pretentious just typing that last sentence.

If there is one thing I implore you to do in 2019, stop referring to making art as a “journey”. Besides the inherent self-important tone of it, it implies this kind of fluffy, overly positive, unicorns-in-the-meadow connotation to what art really is. Work.

Creating art is challenging, difficult, time consuming, and at times, painful. I’m sure I’m coming off as a real jerk when I say this, but I think overuse of the word “journey” (I’m looking at you, Youtube!) gives people the misimpression that these processes are a loose and breezy thing you can just pick up and put down while still getting better at.

Is it technically wrong? No. But I just feel like it’s simultaneously misleading and pretentious. Just my opinion. This is an opinion piece, remember?

In Conclusion

That’s my overly sarcastic list of Overly Used Words 2018. Are there any words or phrases all you “creatives” out there have grown to hate this year? Let me know down in the comments!

Merry Holidays and Happy 2019!