Uncategorized, Writing Tips

How To Write Amazing Short Fiction: 10 Steps for Success

photo of man holding paper
Photo by Mikechie Esparagoza on Pexels.com

Hello! Quick “about me.” I haven’t blogged in over a year, but you can feel free to look at my archives at your leisure, where you’ll find my hilarious and uncomfortably ambitious travel writings. In my defense, I was twenty-one. Since then, I’ve finished up law school, lined up a couple short stories for publication, and embarked on my very own business venture (more on that later). I’ve learned a lot lately, and I want to share it with anyone else who’s starting out and may want some guidance.

  1. Get a notebook. Dust off your spiral-bound notebooks, legal pads, and composition books. Or make notes on your phone. Write down every idea you have throughout the day, no matter how half-baked it seems. It goes without saying: if you have a day job, try to be discreet 😉 The idea may be useless, or it may be the kernel of truth that grows into your next masterpiece. Cram the wheat with the chaff into that notebook, and sort it out later!
  2. Write in the morning, or before bed, when your subconscious mind is more active. From Toni Morrison to Hemingway, countless great writers swear by their early morning sessions, and there’s good reason for it. You can be creatively engaged at any time of day, but from my experience, the best stuff often comes in the morning, with no effort. As you sleep, your subconscious mind creates connections between seemingly unrelated things, and that’s where you get intuitive and emotionally resonant fiction.
  3. Don’t give up. Not all writers are able to create quality, consistent output. Unless you need the income from your writing, don’t sweat it. Trust your instincts and plough forward. Your next breakthrough is right around the corner.
  4. Nail down tone and voice. You simply can’t successfully launch a story without having tone and voice figured out. This is probably the most difficult part of the process, and potentially the most satisfying. There is no easy way out, but you can start by drilling down into your character’s life experience and personality, which is especially helpful if you’re doing first-person. Pretend that you’re answering security questions for your character. What was the make and model of her first car? Start there and get more personal. This may seem silly, but do it anyway. And if you’re stuck, look to novels, movies, or songs for inspiration.
  5. Character sketch. This goes hand-in-hand with Step 4. Come up with some backstories, the better if they’re long, and a little melodramatic won’t hurt. Think about the character’s weaknesses and predict breaking points. While your backstories may not appear in your finished product at all, writing them out will help you distill the character’s most important experiences. Of course, you may choose to not have any flashbacks in your story, as I have done before, but knowing a character’s past will inform the actions they take in your narrative.
  6. Outline Plot. I suck at outlining. As you can probably guess, I do character-driven pieces, and yes, I shoot from the hip and entertain wild delusions of literary grandeur. I take this pretty far sometimes. I once wrote a story that began and ended with the narrator driving to school in the morning. Was I proud of myself? Kind of. Could the story have been better if I took an outline seriously? Most definitely. Are you more of a Kafka or a Stephen King? Doesn’t matter. There’s probably something you can do to make your outlining process more thorough and thoughtful. I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what not to do, which is: not outlining.
  7. Edit early and edit often. Some writers will disagree with this. They will suggest getting down your all thoughts before you go into critique mode. But here’s the thing. The sooner you catch obvious mistakes, the less likely it is they’ll end up in your final copy. At the same time, try to be conservative. If you really don’t like it, delete it. But if you’re not sure, highlight it and decide another time.
  8. Keep it short. For a newbie writer trying to get published for the first time, this is probably the single best piece of advice I can give. The word limit for many submissions and contests is 5,000. Under 3,000 is gold.
  9. Read it out loud. You can probably get away with not reading narration out loud, but why? Read the whole thing out loud several times, especially dialogue. Pretend it’s a movie script and you’re an actor trying out for the part. If the phrasing is awkward, just change it.
  10. Get feedback. If you’re excited about the project, chances are you’ll have lively conversations about it with friends, family, and coworkers. Exploit that. Sort of. And if you’re looking for some more spice in your editing life, post it on Critique Circle where strangers can roast it with zero repercussions. If this makes you scared because you’re a snowflake INFP writer, I totally get it, but don’t let that stop you. Respect the feedback and think about the feedback. It will make you better. Know in the end that it’s your story and no one else’s. For now 😉

 

Uncategorized

The Second Novel Slump

“You got a ways to go
There’s so much to know
Got a ways to go
Too much to know”

~The Feelies, “Too Much”

My first novel, for all intents and purposes, was “The Eastward Exodus,” a raw, ambitious, contemporary work about a neurotic high school girl who wants to go to NYU and be a playwright. Forget that jive about the apocalypse I did once; the family saga dripping with melodrama; and the political thriller I wrote in high school, titled, earnestly, “Dark Horse.” If “Dark Horse” is even deserving of analogy, it was something like the savage, mutant love child of 1984 and that good ole Robert Redford flick The Candidate. No offense to savage, mutant love children.

My second novel (for all intents and purposes) is presently marinading in my mind, as it should be, for a very long time.

I’d be lying if I said that that makes me happy. It really doesn’t. I hardly know who I am when I’m not fleeing from social interaction, holed up someplace writing a book. I suppose that’s one reason why I’m blogging again. I can’t just keep silent until I have something spectacularly relevant to share with the world, as tasteful and prudent as that may seem.

I’d also be lying if I said that this trip I’m taking to New York isn’t sort of an attempt to jumpstart my second novel. The beginning of the novel is the most important part, as probably any writer would attest to. If those stakes aren’t sizzling at the beginning, when will they be? When you get all tangled up in your own plot twists and run out of clever pop culture references at around 30k words?

The trip may do the trick, or it may not. Certainly, it will help me as a writer in some way somewhere down the road. Yet, it’s doubtful that I’ll be like, “Eureka! Now I know exactly how to start my second novel that sets out to chart the course of history from the perspective of a parasite, filtered through a story about an autistic girl, a synesthete law student, and a pack of cigarettes with a lifetime warranty.”

Yep, I don’t really see that happening. You can’t plan an epiphany like that. It’s even pretty hard to plan a trip. I feel like I’m wanting to saturate myself with stuff about New York (a crash course in American history and architecture would not be out of place), but it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever know enough to put everything in context, and, what’s more, it’s not like I actually know what’s going to happen to me there. Nor do I want to know; that’s kind of the point, not knowing.

And so, why don’t I just spill something onto a page and see what happens? The reason is that every good thing I’ve ever written was etched onto my soul long before it touched paper (as cheesy as that sounds), and so far, this isn’t. I’m certain that anything I would write at this point would be half-baked and painful to read, and I respect myself too much as a writer to even expose my laptop to such a shameful display.

Listen, you know you’ve got writer’s block when the best working title you can come up with for your second novel is: “Luridly, Leena Lights Up.” A part of me (the rational part) despises this sorry excuse for a title, which begins with a weird adverb and only goes downhill from there. And another part of me is like, “well, it’s self-aware, and it does rather nicely undercut the pretentiousness of the title of your first novel, ‘The Eastward Exodus of Julie Ashbury.'” True as that may be… it really is a piece of shit title, and until I can get my brain waves out of murky territory they must be wading in, it probably isn’t even safe for me to be writing.