Entering a Local Short Story Contest

 

Every year, our local library holds a Short Story Contest. I’ve entered for the last three years, and have yet to place.

I’m considering entering again this year, just for the practice.

But I don’t write short stories. I never have.

I write novels, so writing a short story, for me, is a bit of a challenge. I’m also a “panster” which makes it even more challenging. Without an “outline,” it makes it much harder to wrap up a story in 2500 words or less.

I write women’s fiction, and women’s fiction differs from most other genres. Without completely sounding like I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ll try to explain what I mean: women’s fiction isn’t necessarily trying to “solve a problem,” as in conquering the neighboring tribe, or saving the planet from the comet headed straight for it. Women’s fiction tends to be about “relationships.” It isn’t as cut and dry as some other genres, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that at all. I just don’t can’t write those other genres without sounding like a 4th grader wrote it (no offense to the 4th graders out there).

Women’s fiction is different in that it’s character-driven. There’s still a problem to solve, sometimes many, but it’s painted with a much broader brush, at least the way I write. My characters are flawed and their flaws are what drive the plot.

So, back to the short story.

First, condensing a story to 2500 words is daunting for me. That means that I need to come up with a premise that can basically be solved in one and a half chapters! What?! That’s when things usually just get going in a women’s fiction novel, not resolved!

Thinking of something that fits into that box is really, really hard for me.

I’ve tried using writing prompts, but have yet to find one that inspires me. I’ve tried different genres, but I really can’t write fantasy or SciFi…I just can’t.

But, like most writers, I like to bang my head against the wall, otherwise I wouldn’t be a writer. (Writers will understand that). I’ll keep trying. I’ve started 3 short stories so far that have fallen flat. I still have until July 31st to submit my entry. It isn’t impossible, just improbable, and I can work with those odds.

What about you? Have you ever tried to write something different than you’re used to? What got you over the hump?

Explaining Being a Writer to Friends and Family

 

I should start by saying that I have not yet published a novel. I’ve published poetry and articles, but I haven’t hit the mother lode yet.

Explaining being a writer to friends and family can be frustrating and humorous.

First and foremost, unless they are writers themselves, they don’t understand the process, the time commitment, or the frustration that comes with wanting to be a published novelist.

Every time I talk to my mother she asks me “Are you going to get this one published?” as if I just need to walk down to the local bookstore and hand them my book. I would love to tell her, “Yes! It’s going on shelves next week!” But when I try to explain that it’s completed, and that it really isn’t “finished” just yet, I hear silence on the other end of the phone. She doesn’t get it. It isn’t her fault, she just isn’t a writer and doesn’t understand that writing is a process.

Truth of the matter is, aside from the initial completion of a novel, most of my non-writer friends and family could care less. Some of them ask about it from time to time, but then glaze over when I bring up editing, or second drafts, or the nature of the business. They don’t really want to know.

Even my own husband has only read one of my early novels. In fact, when I was teasing him about not being interested in what I was writing, he insisted that he was interested, and that he’d read my book. That was 3 manuscripts ago! If it was me, I would want to know what my partner was writing about: am I in it? Is the psycho man-hater character modeled after me? What sort of personal stuff did you put in there? But not him. I guess I should consider myself lucky on that note. I could write a whole book about him and he’d never know it until it was on the shelf of Barnes and Noble. Hmmmm…maybe…nah, I wouldn’t do that. But the point is that I could, and he’d never know.

The truth is that writing can be a lonely business. People won’t understand what you do. They won’t understand the effort you put in to character development, and structure, and plot. They won’t understand what’s taking so long to get your book published. They won’t understand that just finishing a first draft is an accomplishment in itself, even if it never gets published. And writing a second or third novel is even more impressive.

So if it seems like you don’t have the support of family and friends when you’re writing, don’t give up. Those same family and friends will be there when your book goes on the shelf. They might even buy a copy…maybe. They may even open it up and read it just to see if they’re in it.

Don’t worry about finding an answer when they ask if you’re book is published yet. Just tell them it’s in the works. Because it is…the moment that first word is written, your great novel is in the works.

More writing and less explaining!

Besides, the writing community gets it.

Do you have a creative way that you explain writing to your friends and family? I’d love to hear it.

Head-Hopping is Making My Head Spin!

 

There are hundreds of rules when writing a novel that a writer has to follow to get through the slush pile. Rules that I would venture to say most readers have never heard of (unless they are writers themselves).

Head-hopping seems to be the LATEST ‘NO-NO’ on a really long list of Taboos that writers MUST follow. But even a lot of editor’s CAN’T AGREE on when it occurs, especially in Third Person Omniscient POV, which is the POV I generally use. So how am I supposed to avoid it when I can’t even get a straight answer?

Head-hopping is my biggest pet-peeve and is probably why I will never be published. Head-hopping is when the writer suddenly changes the character point of view. There are obvious instances, but it’s the subtle changes that trip me up. I just don’t see it.

As a reader, it doesn’t bother me, or at least it didn’t until I heard about it.

I read a book and if I like it, then fabulous! And chances are, I have probably run across lots of head-hopping and never even noticed.

Take apart any work of fiction and you’re going to find it: Stephen King, Hemingway, Nora Roberts…the list goes on. They’ve all been guilty of head-hopping and survived the critics. The caveat I’ve heard is “that they’ve done it well, and the reader doesn’t even notice.” Huh?

But it’s supposed to be a cardinal rule! A giant mistake! It will get your manuscript tossed in the trash can at the first instance (or so I’ve read).

Here’s the way I look at it (and I’m probably wrong, so don’t listen to me – I’m not published):

Head-hopping is a guideline…A GUIDELINE. There are lots of editors and bloggers that will tell you that it’s a cardinal sin and will ruin your career before it’s even started. And they may be right. I mean, they’re the gatekeepers, right? They make the rules and as writers we have to follow them. But like I said before, even THEY can’t completely agree on it!

I understand that they are just doing their job, following their protocol. I’ve just gotten so frustrated with the publishing process lately. As soon as I think, “okay, I’ve got this,” I find out something else that I’m totally missing. Getting published seems further and further away every time I go deeper into that rabbit hole.

Back to the drawing board.

Head-Hopping…Ugh!

What’s your two cents on head-hopping? And if you aren’t a writer, have you ever noticed it when reading?

Writing Without Fear

 

My latest WIP has been a bit of a challenge. I’m a panster, not an outliner which can be both freeing and completely stifling.

I usually start with an idea for a character, or characters, and then build a story and plot around them. I know, it’s backwards, but it’s the way my brain works.

I’ve started my current WIP three different times.

First, the plot wasn’t strong enough, so I set it aside. But the characters kept talking to me, and telling me they had a story to tell.

So I picked it up again. I tried changing the plot and making it more appealing, and it seemed to be working for a while. But it was still missing something and I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I set it down again.

The third time I picked it up I realized that the story was focused around the wrong character. I was trying to make a supporting character the protagonist. One of the side characters had a much better story to tell and made a much better protagonist: the kind you want to root for even when you know they’re going to fail miserably.

So I started over…again.

I also decided to write with a different approach. No editing. No rereading. Just keep writing. I know that means there will be a LOT more editing at the end, but it’s been kind of fun writing without fear.

I’m also writing completely prepared to cut out scenes, even chapters if necessary. Many times, as writers (or at least it’s this way with me), we’re reluctant to take out scenes, especially the ones that we really love. We don’t want to let go of them. But this time I KNOW there is going to be changes, and I’m good with that. Sometimes as I’m writing a particular scene, I may have an idea that it may not make it to the final cut. I’ve even found myself thinking “that doesn’t fit there” or “that chapter really sucked.” But I just keep writing.

This WIP has turned into a sort of writing exercise in free writing. Who knows if it will work? I’m not sure what I’m going to gain from it, but I’m not afraid even if the whole thing needs to be scrapped. As long as I finish it, then I will have reached my first goal.

Writing without fear may turn into editing without fear.

What do you do when a WIP isn’t working? Do you scrap it or do you try to re-work it? Are you a panster or an outliner?

If I wrote the same way my husband plays video games…OUT LOUD

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There’s an evening ritual in our house. After we’ve had dinner, and everyone’s done with homework, we usually go our separate ways to relax.

For me, that’s writing; for my daughter, that means drawing; for my son and husband that usually means video games. While my daughter hums along to whatever she’s listening to in her earbuds, my son is usually chatting with friends while they play minecraft. My husband has recently started playing OverWatch…and he’s very vocal when he is being shot at, or things aren’t going his way. And we mock him, because his noise cancelling headphones make it easy for us to do so.

So it got me thinking: what if I wrote the same way he plays Overwatch?! OUT LOUD! Could you imagine?

It would go something like this: “What?! How did that that guy just die? Who shot at him?! Where did he come from?! I can’t believe that! Come on, that was a cheap shot! Am I the only one in this mission?! Why can’t I hit anything?!”

The funny part is that as writers, we do ask our characters questions. We do get mad at them sometimes. We even get frustrated when they don’t turn out like we want them to. But I’ve never known a writer that does that OUT LOUD! And never with as much vigor as my husband playing Overwatch.

You can see that it might bring a whole knew dynamic to my writing. Especially considering that I write women’s fiction.

It might sound more like: “Why won’t she just kiss him already?! What does she want from him?! How come they can’t just be friends?! Don’t walk out on her again! She knows better than to do that! How could she not see that? It was so obvious!”

Then again, maybe I should “write out loud.” It certainly would draw some great looks from my family…well, except for my husband, because he wouldn’t be able to hear me…you know, because of the headphones and all.

How about you…do you write out loud?

End of NaNoWriMo

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It’s almost the end of November which also means that you should be reaching your 50,000 words if you participated this year. If you have, Congrats! Most people will never even start a novel their entire lives, so kudos for reaching such an amazing goal. #gonanowrimo

I wish I could say that I reached it with you, but unless I’m going to be able to write approximately 35,000 words in the next few days, then I won’t quite make it this year. But I’m okay with that. #nanowrimofail

I had a lot on my plate with month which encroached on my creative time.

Writers participate in NaNoWriMo for a lot of different reasons. Some start a novel from scratch, some use it to finish a current WIP, but whatever your purpose, it’s a great launching pad.

I used it to find out that the manuscript I was working on was meandering and really going nowhere. I’m a “Panster” and not an “Outliner,” so it’s a risk I always take when I start a new story. #panstersunite

The problem with my current WIP?

I was being way too nice to my characters. I needed to rough them up.

My premise is good and my characters have good bones, but those bones need to be broken, put in a sling and broken again to make an amazing story. Characters need to fight for something, whether it’s a moral dilemma, a physical challenge or a person who is standing in the way of their goal. That’s what keeps readers reading.

So I did the unthinkable, something they tell you not to do…I started editing. Instead of having a side character as a handsome love interest, he became the main character’s nemesis, brash and insulting to her respectability. The story now has so much more depth and is, quite frankly, more fun to write.

Maybe now the ideas will start to flow, and I can take all the baggage from my messy November and channel it into my WIP.

Did you reach your 50,000 words?

What To Do with That Unfinished Manuscript?

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If you’re a writer who’s been at your craft for a while, chances are you have several manuscripts that are unfinished. To date, I have several Manuscripts in some sort of “process.”

By that I mean, several are completed, as in they have a beginning, middle and ending. But they’ve never been professionally edited (can’t afford it), so they sit waiting “to be discovered.”

But then there are those “other manuscripts.” I have at least 4 of them that are around 7000 words, but they ran out of steam, each for different reasons. And you probably have some of those too.

Before you consider the paper shredder or having a bonfire, try something else.

Idea #1 – set it aside for a few months – Reread it, and maybe the flaw will come jumping out at you. Maybe you’ll realize that Robert couldn’t possibly be the murderer, because you forgot that Sheila murdered him in Chapter 3.

Idea #2 – Pull it apart – Maybe you have one really strong character and the rest are boring and uninspired. Maybe it was a mistake to place Amara the Elf in the same story as Arabella the English House Maid? Hey, it could happen. Maybe Amara is just in the wrong story?

Idea #3 – Research. Reasearch. Research – Maybe you haven’t done enough research on the topic you’ve chosen to write about? Maybe you don’t know as much about ancient basket weaving as you thought you did?

Idea #4 – Setting  – Change the setting. Maybe your lovers shouldn’t meet in the middle of a Western bar fight? Or maybe they should, but maybe they shouldn’t be lovers at all. Maybe they should be long lost siblings?

Idea #5 – Conflict – Maybe there’s too much? Maybe there’s not enough? Maybe the conflict is passive? Maybe you’re being too nice to your main character. Maybe she needs to fall off a cliff, get hit by a car, get thrown in jail, or all three at the same time?

Idea #6 – Dig deeper – Maybe your story isn’t working because you don’t care enough about your main character? Maybe you don’t know her as well as you thought you did. Maybe you need to work on her back story a little more. Maybe you need to find her Achilles heel and kick her in it…hard. Make her bleed (figuratively or literally depending on your genre) for something, or for someone. If you don’t feel her pain, your audience won’t either.

Idea #6 – Last resort – Shred it – It’s extreme and it’s painful, but maybe it needs to be done (though I don’t recommend it). Maybe the story isn’t working, because there is no story there? Maybe it really is just an “idea?” Maybe you just have the bones of a story, but there’s no meat on them. It’s hard to admit, but it happens.

 

Whatever the case may be, I would only resort to Idea #6 if you have a strong constitution. I don’t think I could ever destroy my work, not matter how cheesy it is. There’s an audience for it somewhere. Maybe you could include it in your biography when you’re rich and famous? Or maybe an MFA program would want it for a “What NOT to Do…” course?

I’m not a professional, and I’m not a published novelist (yet). This post was for me as much as it was for others. Maybe we could learn together. Feel free to share any hints that have helped you get back on track with your dormant manuscripts.