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Writing Tidbits (and an early New Year’s Resolution) November 18, 2008

Posted by LHK in Atlanta, writing craft.
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Regarding NaNoWriMo, I think it’s all or nothing for me. As in, I throw all of my writing energy and time into it, to the detriment of all of my other projects, or I work on the other projects and let NaNo languish. I’ve chosen the latter.

***

Saturday was the monthly meeting of Atlanta Writers Club. I wasn’t able to stay for all three presentations, but I did catch the first two. First up, Doug Crandell returned to AWC to do a one-hour workshop on the craft of the short story. I appreciated that he hammered home the point that, yes, short stories must have plots — literary fiction included. He usually starts his story with a character, or even with just a single character trait. Then he discovers who or what is the character’s opposing force. The story grows from there. He said he used to write a lot of stories with guns in them; everybody laughed at this, but I’m sure it was uncomfortably true for some of us. Myself included.

Here’s my problematic method of crafting a short story:

1. Find character. Done. Oftentimes, this comes down to “insert an already-created character” (one of my own, I mean. Don’t mistake me for a fanfiction writer).
2. Come up with nebulous idea of the philosophical conflict guiding the story.
3. Recognize that there need to be actual events and settings to prop up said philosophical conflict.
4. Start writing anyway.
5. Write 4000 words based on the character and the philosophical concept.
6. Delete 2000 of the 4000 words.
7. Reach the place where the end of the story should naturally be. From here, there are two options:
8a. Quit writing story and never come back to it.
8b. Throw in a random murder, a suicide, a car accident, an armed robbery, or a dead relative who’s been messing with the protagonist’s mind.

I don’t really aspire to have my name all over the lit journal world or to be in Best American Short Stories (it surprises me to be able to state this sincerely; I tend to be the ambitious type, but I seem to have mellowed a bit lately, or at least channeled all outlying ambition into my YA novels). I’d just like to be able to write a short story that actually is a story, rather than a collection of haphazardly-arranged scenes. And while I figured out long ago that novels with true plot and structure don’t just burst from head to page (unless you’re William Faulkner on his As I Lay Dying bourbon bender, or — and I say this begrudgingly — Stephenie Meyer and her vampire dream), I’ve churned out a lot of literary crap under the delusion that short stories can emerge fully-formed in a single sitting.

So here’s an early New Year’s Resolution: I’m going to unearth all the short story writing advice I’ve internalized over years of how-to-write books and workshops and a whole boatload of fantastic short stories themselves. (One of my favorite online destinations for short fiction is StorySouth, by the way.) I’m going to try to write a short fiction piece with the goal of creating something that is unmistakably a story.

***

Joshua Corin, author of a rather hilarious sounding novel called Nuclear Winter Wonderland, spoke next. He covered the differences and similarities among playwriting, screenwriting, and novel-writing. (Quick primer: in playwriting, dialogue is the focus; in screenwriting, images are the focus; in novel-writing, narrative voice is the focus.) And he’d probably agree with my plan to have a plan for my next short story. At one point, he said, “Even if you don’t know where you are, know where you’re going.” Yes. Also, he stated that just because you have an idea for a novel, story, screenplay, or play, it doesn’t mean it’s time to sit down and start drafting it out. I agree — my ideas need a lot of time to attach themselves to character details and bits of dialogue and description before they’re ready to be put to paper. I feel uncomfortable sitting down to start on something unless I have one or two of those gotta-fit-these-in lines or phrases lying in wait in my head.

I left the meeting feeling inspired to go home and write… something. I wasn’t sure what. I’ve got plenty on my to-do list.

Plus, you know what’s nice? I am actually acquainted with a handful of people at Atlanta Writers Club, so during monthly meetings I actually manage to chat with people rather than just sit with my arms crossed and silently grump about how no one ever talks to me. With every passing year I grow just a little teeny tiny bit beyond the personality I cultivated so well in high school.

***

If you’re even slightly a fan of children’s or YA literature, you should check out the Winter Blog Blast Tour that’s being hosted by Chasing Ray and other fine kidlit-related websites.

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