Tagged with "stories"
Plot or Free Flow?
Category: Writing
Tags: writing plotting short stories novels

Something I’ve been giving some thought to recently is whether you should plot out your writing – whether it be short stories or novels – or whether you should just start and see where you end up.

When I first started writing, I had plenty of ideas. I would start and then get stuck and eventually abort. I still have files and files of half (or quarter) written stories. To help myself with this I set myself the challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. I can’t say that I wrote 365 finished pieces, but I certainly got much better at being able to reach an end. I’ve heard some people say that even if you don’t know how the story is going to go, you should at least have an ending in mind; something you’re working towards.

For flash fiction it’s probably not even possible to plot out your story. But how about for longer pieces? Barbara Dynes in Masterclasses in Creative Writing says “[t]he amount of obstacles and complications you add to your initial idea depends on the length and tone of your story.” (p.11) This is her suggestion for a 2,000 word story: Problem, Obstacle 1, Obstacle 2, Obstacle 3, Crisis, Climax (pg.11). I’ve tried plotting out stories like this, but don’t find they flow particularly well when I write them. This may just be because 2,000 words is not a good length for me, or maybe it’s because plotting doesn’t work for me.

I’ve recently finished the first draft of my first novel. I didn’t plot anything. I knew the beginning and I had a rough idea of the ending and I wrote a couple of pages per day until it was finished. It will take a lot of editing, but is that any different to a plotter’s first draft? The 90-day novel, written by Alan Watt, is based around there being a story structure for the novel, which “can be applied to any story, from the most ‘traditionally structured’ to the most esoteric piece of writing” (pg. 285).

I know every writer needs to find his or her own way, but my question is: have you changed the way you write in the time that you’ve been writing? How? And why?

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?
Category: Writing
Tags: short stories readers writers

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?

The first question is easy to answer – in my case anyway – so I’ll start there.

  • Satisfaction comes more swiftly by writing a few hundred or a few thousand words than it does by completing a full-length novel.
  • Competitions give a chance to validate your work. Merely getting placed on a longlist can boost the spirit. No less the ego. As a writer lacking self-confidence, that gives me further motivation.
  • Writing 2000 words and winning one competition might earn you as much as writing a novel. It’s only a suspicion. I don’t know. Often we writers say we don’t write for money but it is kind of nice.

There are downsides. If the chances of success are there, the odds are high. And is it as satisfying to finish thirty or so short stories as it is to complete a full-length novel?

Although I write short fiction almost exclusively, 98% of my reading is novels, not short stories. I find the experience of full emotional engagement and immersion in the story, over several days or weeks, more satisfying. On the other hand, the high standard of writing required in a short story is hard to keep consistent in the longer form. Perhaps why I hesitate to go there myself.

So, who reads short stories?

  • Writers are more likely to read them than your average reader. Personally, before entering a competition I check out former winners if they’re published on the site. A quick scroll determines the style of writing – literary or perhaps a mixture. Often I flash through to the end in an effort to gauge how conclusive they are. If you call that reading.
  • Short story anthologies, apart from the most prestigious perhaps, are mostly read by friends and family members of the authors. Free downloads are added to the statistics but there is no proof on how many stories are actually read.
  • The general public is more likely to buy a collection of stories if written by a celebrity (Tom Hanks comes to mind) or by a best-selling author – personally, I love Joanne Harris’s “Jigs & Reels”

The latter are the kind of books that build the sales figures and, as a recent Guardian article suggests, “create the myth” that the short story is having a renaissance. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom.  

In France a company called Short Édition is trying to engage the public, both adult and younger readers, by offering free short stories in paper format in over 100 dispensers throughout France, mostly in railway stations. You can choose between a 1, 3 or 5 minute-long story.

This brilliant idea has caught on elsewhere. Francis Ford Coppola, a short story fan himself, has installed a dispenser in his Café Zoetrope in San Francisco. Other places in the States have followed suit, hoping that the novelty of reading fiction from a piece of paper will inspire children, and keep them – at least for a few minutes – from their digital screens.

Like any character in a good story, I’ve had a eureka moment. Writing this has inspired me to read more short stories and I’ve just ordered another collection

Getting organised Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers filing system short stories

Do you ever feel fazed by the sheer volume of writing on your computer? If you’re like me and never delete anything (even if tempted to do so at times following rejection), you have several different versions of the same story and it can be hard to work out which is the current one. Word shows you when the most recent alterations were made to a document, but that doesn’t always help.

I have been writing short stories in earnest for a little over six years now. A quick trawl through my fiction files a few months ago revealed that I had over 300 documents – some of them duplicates several times over. I was becoming thoroughly confused and even submitted the wrong version of a story to a competition on one occasion.

To impose some method on this madness, I decided to reorganise the lot. This took some time and I may not have come up with the best solutions, but it’s a lot better than my previous system (or non-system).

Now I have folders labelled:

Stories Monday Muse – I have a lot of these and the nature of MM means that they nearly all need working on in some form before submission. So when I decide to do that I move the story to the next folder…

Stories in Progress – those I’m working on, whether for competitions or for my own entertainment.

Stories Submitted – when a story goes off to a competition, I move it to this folder, so I know exactly which version I sent off.

Stories Published – those that have been published in anthologies or placed in competitions and can’t be submitted anywhere else.

Stories Finished – the final version of stories that I won’t work on anymore.

I also have an Excel spreadsheet for short story competition entries (although I don’t enter that many these days). This lists:

  • The organisation organising the comp
  • Hyperlink to the competition rules on their website
  • Word count
  • Closing date
  • Cost
  • Story/ies I plan to submit with a hyperlink to the version on my computer that I’m working on
  • Date submitted
  • Result

I try to update the spreadsheet regularly with details of future competitions. At the moment, it goes up to September. I also colour code each line: yellow = story submitted, awaiting result; green = some success (longlisting upwards); red = didn’t get anywhere (rather more of those).

All this probably sounds a bit anal and it’s not infallible. Sometimes, for example, I forget to move a story into the relevant folder. But at least I feel I am getting on top of the mess that was my previous filing system.

How do you organise your work?


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