Monday, June 30, 2008

Five Steps to Short Story Fortune and Fame

Any writer can benefit from getting a short story published. It's great for your self esteem (and occassionaly, your pocket) to see your name in print and know that somewhere, someone chose YOUR piece to publish out of a great big submissions pile. And the benefits don't stop there. If you're interested in publishing a novel someday, getting short stories published can up your credibility. Even if short fiction isn't your final goal, publishing short stories can keep your writing skills in shape, hone your craft, and get you noticed.

So - how does one go about writing a short story for publication? I won't call myself an expert, because I'm not widely published (yet!), but my current tact is to study the themes of published short stories and try to apply what I've learned to my own writing. Here are my observations, boiled down to five easy-to-follow steps.

1.) Set the setting.

Each published short story I've read takes place in a specific place and time, be it Prehistoric Africa, a Southern U.S. farm in the early 20th century, or present-day Boston. The setting is established early on, clearly and succinctly. Know your setting from the start, and know it well.

2.) Introduce characters.

You can't have too many characters in a short story without making things confusing, so each character needs to be unique and powerful. You could create an old man with one eye who loves the opera, perhaps, or a young woman searching for fame in a big city as a yodeler.

3.) Make something happen.

It should be a new event in the life of your characters, or an old event that happens in a new way. For example, a stranger approaches the house in the middle of the night. A big producer comes to a small town and decides to buy a young man's play. The 8:05 train fails to show up at the station on schedule. This initial, unusual event acts as the catalyst for the story.

4.) Follow the characters' reactions to the story's conclusion.

The way the characters deal with the new event will determine the direction of the story. Does the man who loses his job get depressed or start a new life? Does the passenger who misses her flight find love or lose it? At this point, there are usually a series of mini-climaxes leading up to the conclusion, in which the action of the story is resolved. Or, potentially, the reader is left to furnish his or her own resolution.

5.) Give the story a flavor.

None of the above items need to be incredibly bizarre to make a good story. You can write about a Midwestern housewife coming across a bird with a broken wing on her way to the supermarket, or a tax attorney losing papers for an important account. Adding your own special twists on language, voice, theme, etc., will make the story engaging, and make it yours.

I know it's not necessarily as easy as all that, but it's a start. Give it a try and see if you can whip something up. Then grab a Writer's Market book at the library or search online for short fiction publishers and send it out. It won't do any harm, and you might end up with success before you know it!

Friday, June 27, 2008 Social Bookmarking as Promotion Tool

Okay, so I'm pretty sure I'm one of the last people on the internet to discover the site The tastiness of the name has caught my eye many times in the past, but I've always been too intimidated to give it a look. To me it was some scary internet phenomenon meant only for internet uber-masters, something akin to rss feeds (still trying to figure out how those work.) The mysterious url format threw me off. How would I even access it? Did I need to have a special widget to run it? Would I have to locate and install drivers off a mirror site in China? Would it hurt?

Anyways, turns out it really is just a plain old url, and it's not scary or difficult at all. So just in case you're like me and you're new to the site, here's what you need to know.

To get started, you create a profile, and then add a bunch of bookmarks for your favorite websites. You can add a button to your toolbar to simplify the process. Once you bookmark a site, you enter a description and a bunch of tags. The tags will help you in the future when you've collected links to many sites and want to search for only the ones about, say, Tolkien. Or hot dogs. Except you can't use spaces, so the tag would have to be hot.dogs or hot-dogs.

So how does this link back to promoting your writing? Well, the more times people bookmark your site, the higher it ranks on the Popular list (similar to Digg), and the more likely it is that people will find their way there. Also, you can create a network of fellow users, and share your sites with them. And here's one more thing to try: go to the Popular page, and take a look at the tags there. I'm not saying that you should add a bunch of unrelated tags to your sites, but if you see something there that applies to you, by all means use it. For example, this blog is intended to help people with writing/getting published, so I could tag it as "howto" and make it easier for people to find their way here. It's all about connecting people to the information they want as expeditiously as possible.

Thanks to this article on The Dough Roller for getting me to try out!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Second Meeting of the Writeous Writers

Okay, it's about time I posted about the second meeting of my new writer's group, Writeous Writers. Once again, I met with amazing women, ate some amazing food, and learned some amazing things.

Suzy, who is new to the group since last month, is working on a non-fiction book about making workers more productive. I think she's got a great shot at it, because she already has regular speaking engagements presenting material similar to what she plans to put in the book, which will form an important part of her marketing plan. She gave us some great information about formatting non-fiction submissions for publication: note that the process can be very different from submitting fiction, so make sure that you have the right information. Dee brought in a short story (yay for rounding out our genre count!), and we worked more on novel manuscripts by Michille and myself. I was glad to hear that my critiquers approved of the brief poems I've included in my manuscript. I love the way that Tolkien incorporates poetry and song into his works, but I know that those forms can be very hit or miss, so I guess I'll just have to wait and see with those.

Next month we're going to have a quick session about websites before we get into the critiquing. Remember, a website is a great way to promote your work, and Weebly is a great way to set up your website!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Concept Art

Here's another view of Elish by Dino. This one has more of an anime flavor to it. I like what he's done with the hat; the inhabitants of Gre, aka Grelings, are quite fond of unusual hats. Also drawn using the super nifty Copic Markers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Concept Art for The Hidden Land of Gre

Thanks to emerging artist and industrial designer Konstantinos Tsiopanos, aka Dino, for agreeing to work on some concept art for The Hidden Land of Gre! I have to say, it makes a huge difference seeing some of my concepts come to life like this. It makes the character seem even more real to me than she did before (this is Elish, by the way.) I do have some small skill with a pen myself, but Dino is simply amazing. And he even used his brand new Copic Markers to draw this, which makes it even more special.

Check out more of his work at KDT Design.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Critique Groups, Writer's Groups

Thanks to Michille from my writer's group for the following links to writer's group sites:

Activities for Writer's Groups

Pen to Paper Writer's Group

The 6' Ferrets Writer's Group

Also, I recently came across the site Writer's Digest, another great source of information for writers. Check out the article "101 Best Websites for Writers," which includes links to agent blogs, sites about writing and creativity, writer's community sites, etc. I'm particularly interested in finding a good community/forum for writers, mostly because my boyfriend always raves about his experiences in the Eastern US Weather Forums (he's a huge weather nut.) So I'm looking into Critique Groups for Writers, which I'm going to submit some of my short stories to, if I ever get them written! More on that site once I've had a chance to go through it thoroughly.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Writer's Market and Writing More

More on Novel & Short Story Writer's Market: I received the book a few days ago, and it's a great resource. It has articles on writing and getting published, tips and tricks, and lots of information on markets for short stories and novels (as the name would imply). I especially liked the symbols in the literary magazine section: they indicated at a glance whether the journal mostly accepts new or established writers, whether the journal pays, and where it's located (US or other), among other things. At first it made me wonder if creating my own literary journal spreadsheet from internet searches was a waste of time, but not all journals are included in the Writer's Market. According to the publication, the included magazines are highly likely to be seeking submissions. To top it off, the entries displayed many EDITOR NAMES. It always made sense to me that an editor would consider a submission addressed to him or her before one addressed simply to "Editor," but I wasn't sure how this information could be found. (Bribery? Top-secret spy missions? Sad puppy-dog eyes?) Still, I'd suggest calling the magazine before submission and asking something like "Is so-and-so still the fiction editor?"

I can't say, however, that having this book has necessarily increased my confidence in my chances of publishing success. I'm reading The Granta Book of the American Short Story in conjunction with the Writer's Market, and it's made me feel somewhat overwhelmed. I'm still working on my novel, up to 31,000 words now, and luckily I haven't had any major writer's block (yet). But I've always been somewhat daunted by the short story. I know that I can manipulate the individual elements with moderate skill, at least upon occasion. I can turn a pretty phrase, build an interesting plot, and even write convincing dialogue. The one thing I'm lacking is that mysterious closure, the ribbon that ties it up into a complete package worthy of consideration for public enlightenment and entertainment. I think what I need is more practice, and more critiques. More on that soon.

Monday, June 2, 2008

How Thick Is Your Skin?

I received a complimentary copy of the magazine the Writer at the GLVWG writing conference in March. Recently, while tidying my office, I rediscovered the magazine and decided to give it a read. It has some great information, such as articles on writing technique by published authors and tips for promoting and marketing your work. Several articles mentioned rejections and how one should have a thick skin to be in the published writer business, and it started me to thinking about my own skin, which resembles that of a baby mouse more than that of a battle-hardened rhinoceros. It makes me wonder if I’m really prepared for those inevitable letters of rejection. I guess only time will tell.

In other news, I helped to host an awesome luau party over the weekend with my family, complete with leis, reggae music, and rum drinks. I love our parties - they tend to resemble meetings of the United Nations, only with much less political rangling and much more goodwill. Here's to bringing friends from around the globe together for good food and good times!