Along with 33 other authors’ stories, my debut short story – The Ring of Fire – has been published and released in an online e-book format. The anthology will also be released in print format very soon. I am also proud to say my friend and CP – Leigh K Hunt – also debuts her first short story in this anthology.
If you have not already got a copy, I urge you to go to the site and get one. Not only is it an amazing compilation of short stories by very talented authors but you will also be giving towards a great cause. It is a Win-Win on all accounts.
There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, “Yes, I’ve got dreams, of course I’ve got dreams.” Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and yep, they’re still there. These are great dreams, but they never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say, “How good or how bad am I?” That’s where courage comes in. – Erma Louise Bombeck
They say Friday the 13th is a bad day in the luck department. I have decided to fight against common thought and turn it into good luck. 13 has always been a lucky number for me. This year, Friday the 13th, May 2011 is incredibly significant.
Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve. – JK Rowling
Friday the 13th, May 2011 my job description changed to:
A year ago I decided that by 2012 I would be a full-time writer with at least 1 story published. The story is busy being published in Tales for Canterbury as I write this. I also decided in January this year that one of my goal-resolutions would be to go full-time writing this year. As of 13th May, I can tick that goal off my list.
When we set goals, we are in command. Clearly understood goals bring our lives into focus just as a magnifying glass focuses a beam of light into a burning point. Without goals our efforts may be scattered and unproductive. – Ezra Taft Benson
After much thought and contemplation, I decided to put my goals on the line and go full-time writing. This was not done lightly nor was it done alone. I have the support of an incredible family and amazing friends behind me. I also have the wider support network of some amazing online writer friends.
Now I know that there are many writers out there who can’t give up the day job as of yet. I made the decision because it is something I have been working towards for 10 years now. I had also got to the point where my writing turned from being something I did in private to something I know that need to do to feel fulfilled. It is sad that of all the professional careers in the world, the creative careers of Artist, Writer, Sculptor, Musician are not taken as seriously.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain
For me, writing is a calling and a gift. It is something that succours my soul and nourishes my spirit. It is something that lifts my heart and fuels my mind. But over the years I realised that if I was serious about this calling, I needed to get serious with it in public. So I sat down a year ago and wrote up some goals. I believe in goal setting but more importantly I believe you must write down your goals and your dreams. Writing goals down cements them in our minds.
When I was offered an opportunity to submit a short story to an Anthology, I jumped at the chance. Something deep inside told me this was my chance to put my writing out there in public. This was my chance to show the world that I was serious about being a writer. It was a nail-biting time waiting to hear if I had been accepted and when the good news finally came – I literally jumped for joy. The final moment of realisation hit me when I received my contract. Here it was. My first actual publishing contract.
I believe that every person on earth is born with a purpose, a gift, a talent. Some people never find that purpose and tend to jump from thing to thing, searching all the while for something they know is missing from their life. Some people know what their purpose and their gift is but choose not to pursue it. Then there are those few who know what their purpose is and pursue it at any cost.
Not fulfilling your dreams will be a loss to the world, because the world needs everyone’s gift — yours and mine. – Barbara Sher
For me, writing is my purpose, my passion, my gift, my need, my longing and my fulfilment. In my mind, I have always identified myself as a writer. But in the real world there are bills to pay and sometimes life throws you curveballs that take you slightly off the track from your purpose. I have had my fair share of curveballs thrown my way. I have also had normal day jobs that I have worked in to pay my bills. But through this all, I have continued to write. But it has been in the last year that this writing has reached a feverish pitch. After working a 40 hour job in management in my day job, I would get home and write every day deep into the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning. The last 9 months I have survived on little more than a few hours sleep at night.
Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret – curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable. – Walt Disney
Some people in my life wondered why I persisted in working myself to the bone. How could I describe this burning need to write? How could I explain that even though the world ticked my career as something else, this did not change the fact that in my mind I identified myself as a writer? Eventually the only way I knew that people would learn to understand and accept that I am a writer is if I became a Full Time Writer.
Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream. – Peter McWilliams
This brought me to my decision 5 weeks ago to resign from my day job. Am I nervous about jumping in head first into being a Full Time Writer? No, I am not nervous. For the first time in my adult life I feel secure in my decision. I am not doing this for anyone else or to please the people in my life. I am not doing this just to pay the bills. Now there is no hesitancy for me to tick my profession in official forms. All the other day jobs I have had are just those: jobs. They were not how I defined myself. Now people will also define me by this decision. I am doing this because this is who I am. I am proud to say:
I am a Full Time Writer.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills, countless ideas and endless plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself then providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it! Boldness had genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
So you would know from a few posts this year that I am on a Short Story roll right now. I am loving turning an idea into a short story. At the moment I have so many ideas flying around in the Aether of my imagination that I am hard pressed to capture them all. So instead of turning all of them into potential full length fiction, I am turning some of them into short stories.
Above is the link to a wonderful short story competition about Magic. The contest will start from today, and run until May 31st, which should give you plenty of time to plan and get your submissions in.
Contest Part 1 – Create a magic system, using roughly the format outlined here. 2,000 words is the goal. Contest Part 2 – Use that magic system to write a 5,000 to 10,000 word short story, and submit both it and the magic system to L.M. Stull. She’ll blind them and pass them on to the judges, and we’ll pick which ones are the winners. Prizes – And the part I’m sure you’re all wondering about. We’ve got a $50 Amazon gift card for the first place winner, and a $25 card for second place.
So not only do you get a chance to practice your short story writing skills but you get to play with a new magic system that you have created. On the original contest link you will find a series of posts on magic systems and what they can consist of.
So let’s weave some story magic and tell a tale that is short, magical and entertaining. Win yourself an Amazon gift voucher.
My first short story will be published in the upcoming month in an amazing anthology of short stories called Tales for Canterbury. This is a project that I am proud and honoured to be a part of. Firstly it is a wonderful selection of stories by very talented authors. Secondly it is a project dear to my heart personally as not so long ago I called Christchurch, New Zealand home. So to be able to be part of a project that honours Christchurch and raises funds for the Red Cross is very special to me.
The book has been broken up into 3 parts:
Each part has stories that are themed around one of these three parts.
My story, Ring of Fire, is set in the Theme of HOPE.
When I was first invited to submit for this anthology I was only given these 3 key themes and told that the story needed to encapsulate either one of these three or could be a combined theme of all three. I was also told that it needed to be a fantasy-based story.
At first I pondered on these three themes for about a week or two. I realised that these three themes are core themes of the human drama we face in all cultures. I also felt a kinship with these themes as these are the themes in most of my own writings from my poetry to prose to novels. I believe in Survival, Hope and Future. But for me the greatest of these three is HOPE. For without hope it is difficult to survive and without hope it is impossible to conceive a future out of that survival. So I knew that I had chosen a theme that not only was the basis for the other two themes but something I desperately believe makes all the difference in our lives as human beings: HOPE.
Did I have a story in mind? Not immediately. But the story found me. Or rather my MC found me and told me her story. Within a few days I had the story in front of me. I was ready to compile it and submit it through to Tales for Canterbury. This story is unlike any of my other stories but the theme and premise is the same that threads its way through all my stories. The character was a challenge for me as it was a different POV than I am used to writing in. But the story weaved itself out onto the page and before long I knew I had a “quilt” of hope, survival and future in MS form.
This story is set in a dystopian world and centres on one Main Character who against odds is forced to be a Survivor. This MC is similar to my other MCs in that looking at the MC you see a vulnerable character who does not quite fit in with anyone or anything. Two terrible crises brings the inner strength of this character to the light and hope shines through a dark time. The story is told through the voice and perspective of the MC. As this character experiences danger and is thrown into a fight for survival, so you the reader will feel the same fear, doubt, flight/fight response, rallying strength and refusal to give up and in the end pure HOPE: the lifeblood that gives her strength to see a future that is brighter than what has gone before.
It is wonderful when a character is able to capture your heart. I believe this character will capture your heart as mine was captured. I believe in this story and I believe in this MC. But more than that I believe in the underlying message that threads its way through the story. It is not only the strong that survive. Sometimes it is those that seem most vulnerable that shine in sheer strength when their soul is tested by great trials. Sometimes vulnerability and innocence are just masks for a pure and noble spirit. In times of great conflict and drama, these masks fall away and the true spirit of strength shines though. Sometimes all a person/character needs is hope and a reason to fight for survival. Give them both and you have a warrior that is pure and strong in heart.
Tales for Canterbury is a short story anthology loosely themed around survival, hope and the future. All profits of this anthology will be donated to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.
The anthology will be released in April/May 2011 in electronic and paperback formats. It features stories by RJ Astruc, Philippa Ballantine, Jesse Bullington, Anna Caro, Cat Connor, Brenda Cooper, Debbie Cowens, Matt Cowens, Merrilee Faber, AJ Fitzwater, Janis Freegard, Neil Gaiman, Cassie Hart, A.M. Harte, Karen Healey, Leigh K. Hunt, Lynne Jamneck, Patty Jansen, Gwyneth Jones, Tim Jones, Kim Koning, Jay Lake, Helen Lowe, Kate Mahony, Tina Makereti, Juliet Marillier, Angel Leigh McCoy, Linda Niccol, Ripley Patton, Simon Petrie, Grant Stone, Jeff Vandermeer, Mary Victoria and Sean Williams.
This week has been an amazing week in so many ways. It started off with my birthday where I was spoilt by the special people in my life..those that I am privileged to call family and friends. But then the week got even better.
A couple of weeks ago a writer friend connected me with an editor in New Zealand who wanted to put together an anthology of short stories from different authors with the common theme of Survival, Hope and the Future. All proceeds would be donated to the Red Cross for the Christchurch 2011 earthquake appeal. After talking to the editor about what they were looking for, I was invited to submit a short story. I finished the story and submitted it on the 21st of March.
On Monday this week I had the wonderful email that told me they loved my story and with a few edits they wanted to include it in the anthology.
Today my publishing contract arrived which really brought it home to me.
I am very excited, honoured and privileged to be published in this incredible anthology. This anthology is especially dear to my heart as Christchurch was once home to me a few years ago and I have many close friends who still live in Christchurch. So to be able to be part of a project that gives back to the city of Christchurch and helps in some small way to rebuild that courageous city really fills my heart with tremendous joy.
The anthology is called Tales for Canterbury. Below are details of the blog that has been set up by the editors for this anthology as well as a list of all the authors that are contributing. I have also included a link to the pre-order site of the anthology. The anthology will be available in both E-book format and Paperback format. 100% of all proceeds are going to the Red Cross for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. There are going to be well over 2 dozen stories in this anthology by both New Zealand authors and international authors. This is an opportunity for readers everywhere to be able to support the community of Christchurch who have shown such resilience and courage in the face of a huge calamity. Instead of falling down, they have stayed strong determined to rebuild their community and their city.
I have recently been stretching my narrative abilities through the medium of Short Story. This is a medium that I find very challenging. Not since High School have I really read or written any Short Stories. Last year at the RWNZ Writers’ Conference that I attended I specifically enrolled in a talk on the Short Story and on Novellas. Then this year I started looking at writing some Short Stories for competitions. This month though I am working on three Short Stories. One is for an anthology that I have been asked to contribute to. The other two are for writing competitions. So I thought today’s post would be focused on the Art Form of Short Story Writing.
What is the difference between a Short Story and a Novel?
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas (in the 20th and 21st century sense) and novels. (Wikipedia)
A short story is more concise and tight in writing than a novel. Unlike a novel where there may be a number of incidences leading to one climax; a short story usually contains one incidence.
A novel can have multiple plot lines, different settings and a variety of characters. A short story has one plot that covers a short time period in one setting and fewer characters.
A novel is very structured in the traditional 5 point structure: Plot; Exposition, Complication, Climax, Resolution and Anti-Climax. A short story on the other hand follows a much looser structure. You have a limited space to write in so often the beginning of the story is started abruptly and often in the middle of action. The Short Story still has a Climax/Crisis/Turning Point. The ending of a Short Story is abrupt and open sometimes having a moral turn to the story. Short Stories that follow a strong moral or ethical theme are called Parables or Fables.
Now we come to the Length of a Short Story. The classic definition of a Short Story dictates that it should be read in one sitting. When talking Word Count though there are varying definitions. Often the consensus is that a short story is between 7000 and 9000 words. Once a short story gets to a count of 15 000 – 20 000, it starts becoming a Novella. Stories with less than 1000 words are called Flash Fiction.
The History of The Short Story
Short Stories find their birth in oral story telling. All the ancient cultures of this world have a base in oral story telling. Stories that were told to one another to pass down truths and teach lessons. These stories were the fodder for early imaginations. As children short stories are the first stories we come to hear, read and love. Whether we call them Fairy Tales, Bedtime Stories or Fables; these are all Short Stories. Think of ghost stories you heard sitting around camp fires or the stories your parents told you to calm you when you woke from a nightmare. In contemporary times, magazines are filled with Short Stories. Radio brought another form of media to the art of Short Stories. Short pieces are pieces of fiction to wet our imaginative taste buds.
These are the points to write a successful Short Story:
Have a very clear theme but Beware of being Preachy
Have a very strong Protagonist with clear characteristics and antagonist and a maximum of 2 other characters should secondary characters be needed
Hook your readers with a powerful first paragraph
Immediately grab the reader’s attention with an action or a conflict point
Strong POV – Choose 1 point of view to write from
Stick to one tense: Either Past Tense or Present Tense
Decide if your Narrator is going to be subjective or objective
Write tight and meaningful dialogue
Be very concise in your setting: Include just enough detail to put your reader into the story but make sure your detail only adds to the story
Set up the plot very clearly before writing
Beginning – Start with a situation of conflict
Middle – Present the problems (Rising Action) that occur from this situation
End – Solve the problem. Keep the reader’s suspense by revealing the final point as late as you can.
Create Conflict and Tension quickly
Build this Conflict/Tension to a Crisis Point/Climax
Find a Resolution by showing your character has learnt and will grow from the Conflict you threw them into
Use vivid imagery
Use your words like a man uses water in a desert: very sparingly and with clear intent
Below are authors that were successful at both the Art form of Short Stories and Novels:
Like with any medium of story telling you need to immerse yourself in Short Stories to be a successful Short Story Writer. Read Short Stories. Read some fairy tales or fables. Take note of what points the various authors use to make that Short Story a success.
What have I learnt from Short Stories?
I have found that dipping my pen back into Short Story telling is teaching me to be concise and to the point in my writing. It is teaching me the value of a gripping start to a story. It is teaching me to have a very clear POV. IT is also teaching me the essential tool of having FOCUS in a story. I have even been editing one of my full length novels with all the above points in mind. I think that the lessons from writing a short story translate perfectly into a Suspense / Thriller or Adventure story. Your words and sentences have to be short and sharp. You have to connect with the reader in a very immediate way that is very visceral in impact. This is definitely a medium of writing that I am going to continue to further hone my writing craft.
Have you written any Short Stories? What challenges did you face?
Stretch your creative muscle this week by writing a Short Story. You may just find that this Art Form teaches you essential points about writing that you have missed before now.
This week I started reading this amazing book on the craft of writing. I am already half way through and still going back and rereading many parts. This is a book that is a must for writers. It is a book that will resonate with both novice writers and professional writers. She writes from her own experiences and this comes through in the ease of reading. The pages seem to turn themselves. We writers are generous types: we always want to share what is on our minds and what inspires us. So today I am going to share a couple of tips that I am learning so far from Bird by Bird with you:
“Good writing is about telling the truth.”
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow
“…the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
“Very few writers know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”
“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later….Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper…the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
“Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still find new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me thing of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”
“Writing a first draft is very much like watching a polaroid develop. You can’t – and, in fact, you are not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”
“The evidence is in and you are the verdict. This will be true for each of your characters.”
” Nothing is as important as a likable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better.” –Ethan Canin
“Another thing: we want a sense than an important character , like a narrator, is reliable. We want to believe that a character is not playing games or being coy or manipulative, but is telling the truth to the best of his or her ability. (Unless a major characteristic of his or hers is coyness or manipulation or lying.).”
“Just don;t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t. Stay open to them. It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple.”
“Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better and better day by day, something is bound to happen.”
“Worry about the characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are, and be involved in their lives, and keep asking yourself, Now what happens? The development of relationship creates plot.”
“Life is not a submarine. There are no plans. Find out what each character cares most about in the world because then you will have discovered what’s at stake.”
“There must be movement.”
“Let your human beings follow the music they hear, and let it take them where it will.
“So aim but not too hard, and when you finally see the climax forming in front of you, then you can race toward it.”
“She said that sometimes she uses a formula when writing a short story, which goes ABDCE, for Action, Background, Development, Climax and Ending You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw us in, make us want to know more. Background is where you let us see and know who these people are, how they’ve come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people, so that we learn what they care most about. The plot – the dram, the actions, the tension -will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some real way. And then there is the ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean.” – Alice Adams
All of these lessons and tips are like gold veins through the murky clay of a writer’s craft. There are so many more tips and tools that I have read but I will leave that for my next post next week.
Until then remember to just ” take it bird by bird…”.