Creating Short Fiction

Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction

By: Damon Knight

Where to begin?  Despite my obvious lack of posts on the subject, here, I do fancy myself somewhat of a writer.  And, I also fancy myself somewhat of a learner as well.  Learning, I think, plays a huge part in our lives, no matter what it is that we choose to do.  So, obviously, those two things being true, I try and read to learn about the craft of writing.

One of the things that I struggle with, in writing, is the short fiction.  While I usually have no shortage of ability to write, I have a problem with length.  Writing the short fiction is terribly hard for me.  I invariably end up with something that is the right length, but the story is so far from finished that it begs to be longer.  So, how, then, to create a short fiction that is complete in itself.  And, now, you know why I picked up this book to read.

The title of the book sells itself short.  In truth, it should have just been called “Creating Fiction”.  Many, if not all, of the things that Knight talks about in the book apply just as well to long-form fiction as they do to the short-form that it’s aimed at.  He begins by talking about the ways you can go about developing your talent as a writer, and then moves into the fiction itself.  Development of ideas, structure of a story, and then into the finishing, editing, and publishing of stories to round it all off.

For a book of only 200 pages, it’s surprising the amount of information that Knight managed to fit into it.  If you’re an aspiring writer, I’d suggest you pick this book up and give it a read.  Maybe a couple of reads.

Commence NaNoWriMo!

Goodness!  Did you look at the date today?  November is RIGHT THERE!  And, with November, another NaNoWriMo!

Are you participating this year?  After barely making it a week in 2008, winning in 2009, and then failing in 2010, I’m looking to continue the pattern with a win in 2011.  I’m changing it up a little bit this year, however.  Instead of one long work, I’m setting the goal of 10 shorts with a combined total of 50,000 words or more.  With an average of 5,000 words each, I’m hoping it might make it a bit easier to accomplish the 50,000 word goal.  It sure makes it sound easier.  I only have to do 10, 5,000 word short stories!

I think, technically, the purists will hang me for not sticking to the letter of the law and doing one long work, but if you think about it, 10 shorts is more than enough for a collection, and a collection is one long work.  Sorta.  I see it as bending the rules rather than breaking them.  Besides, the goal is to write.  And, if that’s how I get it done, then so be it.

So?  Spill it!  What are you planning to write for NaNoWriMo?

5 Minutes Alone

Writing is as much a habit as it is anything else.  You’ve got to sit down at your computer, or with your pad and pen, and write if you want to get any writing done.  Don’t do that, and you’ll end up with nothing completed, and most of your best ideas forgotten into the ether.  But, if you’ve ever participated in something like NaNoWriMo, where you have to consistently sit down and write for an hour or more a day, you know that it can also be a chore to sit that long and churn out text.

The majority of that feeling is coming from the fact that you don’t normally do it.  Then you decide to torture yourself a little and do it for 30 days straight.  Ouch, right?  Well, there’s a fix to that.  You have to develop the habit of writing.  I’m as guilty of not doing this as anyone else out there.  Sitting down for an hour or two at a time is just hard to do.  Especially when you have to carve that time out of some other activity that you’ve been doing for some time.  That other activity is a stronger habit, and is easier to do, so it wins.

Here’s how I think you can break that problem’s back.  5 minutes alone.  We can all carve 5 minutes out of our schedule.  Find 5 minutes, and do nothing but write for those 5 minutes.  You can do more, if you find yourself so inclined, but you must do 5 minutes.  Do that for a month, maybe two.  You’ll find that, by the end, those 5 minutes are pretty easy to come by.  And you’ll also find that you’ve got a heck of a lot of text to work with as a result.

Each month, increase the required time by 5 minutes.  By the end of a year, you’ll be doing an hour straight.  Probably more.  In short, you’ll have developed a habit.

p.s. extra bonus points for naming the band who’s song title I borrowed for this post.

p.p.s. bonus points are worth nothing.

p.p.s. Just in case you can’t figure it out: here

Who Decides?

Who decides which manuscripts should be published?  From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up.  It’s a double gated system.  The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published.  But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.

It used to be so much harder to go the self published route.  Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer.  But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult.  The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book.  Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world.  Shelf space is cheaper now.  Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books.  As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered.  Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.

I, personally, am still on the fence.  I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has.  But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route.  Gates mean exclusivity.  If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people.  But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went?  Not really.

I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog.  It went like this:

Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.

As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork.  My hackles went up.  And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments.  And, it turns out, they weren’t.  A majority of the comments are positive.  There’s a few that took up the other side though.  And it’s those I agree with most.  Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not?  Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?

Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do.  Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs.  But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list.  The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does.  Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors.  I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible.  These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store.  These were bestsellers.  Classics by some peoples standards.  I didn’t even finish one of them.  I thought they were that bad.  If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.

If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?

If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it.  That’s first.  Just write it.  Then, take it and get an editor to look it over.  Get some beta readers to read it through.  Edit it.  Send it to an editor again.  Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not.  Send it to an agent, or not.  But, send it somewhere.

I said I was on the fence earlier in this post.  But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day.  Who decides whether a book is any good or not?  In the end, it’s the readers.  And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.


Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert, who you may know as the author of Eat, Pray, Love, has a wonderful talk being featured on the TEDtalks website about nurturing creativity.

It’s an incredibly interesting take on things.  Although there are some who have such goliath followerships that we fail to ever really see them fail (King and Patterson come to mind), there are many of us who will (or already have) had failings.  It’s just important to remember that, if you are doing what you are truly meant to do, we must overlook those failings and go on with our work.

Scrivener for Windows Beta Available

Literature and Latte, the folks who’ve been giving us Scrivener for Mac for the last who knows how many years (I’m a PC, so I haven’t paid any attention) released their beta version of Scrivener for Windows today.  It’s basically Scrivener 1.0 for Mac ported over for Windows.  I’m downloading it now.

If you’d like to give it a try, you can check out the info on the Scrivener for Windows page, or you can go directly to the download link.

They’ve also released the trial version of the newest Scrivener for Mac 2.0.  All of this is scheduled particularly for the beginning of Nanowrimo next week.  This year, I’m using Scrivener for Windows for NanoWrimo!  (As long as it isn’t horribly buggy, that is.)

Stephen King Fortune Interview

Stephen King (one of my favorites) recently did an interview with Fortune Magazine.  Here’s some video of it:

Some interesting insights. A couple of things I caught: He has a set schedule where he writes each and every day. He writes for at least 3 hours a day.

And the best quote from the interview: “If you drop a book into the toilet, you can fish it out and dry it off and read it. If you drop your Kindle in the toilet, you’re done.”

Just Write

There’s always a ton of writing advice floating around the internet, and there is certainly no shortage of books on writing.  I touched on that a little the other day in talking about a post by John Scalzi. One thing that they almost always have in common is the advice that you “just have to write”.  Always be writing.

In all honesty, I should be the last one spouting this advice about.  I’m one of those people who hasn’t made it a priority to find make the time to write. That’s the core difference I think.  If  you think of it as “finding” the time to write, you won’t.  If you, instead, think of it as making the time to write, you have a much better chance of actually doing some writing.  What you write, I think, doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you wrote.  If, at the very least, you use a daily writing prompt of some sort to push you to write, that is a start.  It’s something.

Does it work?  Sure it does.  Looking back at my experience during NaNoWriMo last year, I can say for sure that it does work.  I won.  I wrote over 50,000 words in the month of November 2009.  Since then, when I didn’t have that extra little bit of external push?  I don’t have an official count, but my guess would be something around 10,000 words.  In eleven months.  Why?  Because I haven’t made the effort to write something everyday like I did during NaNo.

As November creeps closer this year, I’m beginning to prepare for NaNo again.   Things are busier this year, and I have a number of ready made excuses for not hitting that 50,000 mark.  But, I’m going to do it.  And then, I’m going to try and finish the year off strong.  Maybe not with a 50k a month writing habit, but maybe something like 10,000 words a month.  That’s less than 350 words a day.  I know that on a slower day in November I easily wrote 1000 words.  I can do it.

If you’re serious about becoming a writer, you’ve got to write regularly.  Make the commitment to it.  Do something like NaNo.  November is a busy month, so if it won’t work for you, try it in January or February.  Bust your word processors balls and write 50,000 words in a month.  I think you’ll be surprised where you make time to write.

Scalzi on Finding Time to Write

One of my biggest issues with writing is finding the motivation and time.  By which I mean finding the motivation to make the time instead of sitting down in front of the TV or reading.  Of course, most of the advice that you’ll find from established writers is that if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write.  John Scalzi, a writer whose writing I admire, had some choice words for people like me today.

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

There’s plenty more in his post.  A bit of a tongue lashing reality check for aspiring writers everywhere.  A deserved one in most cases.  And goes back to one all important fact.  If you aren’t making time for something that you “want” to do, do you really want to do it?

It must be the day for this sort of advice too.  Tobias Buckell did a nice video on writing tools in which he says something along the same lines.

Fun, Quick Contest

If you’re looking for a fun way to spend 100 words, Janet Reid has a fun weekly contest going on.  You can enter for about another 30 hours or so, so hurry up. She explains it better than I do, so you should go over and read the instructions.

Here’s my entry:

My name is Simpson.  Some would call me the leader of the Bacon Resistance.  I’m not sure why the name stuck, but it did.  It’s all Fenske’s fault.  We were supposed to have a one-on-one at IHOP, but he had to go and invite Reed as well.  I’ve never liked Reed.  He’s got that squinty pinched face look and always wears glasses that don’t fit well.  It would fit if he could be classified as a geek or nerd, but he’s a damn auto mechanic.  It was the breakfast that started it all.  And I ordered bacon.

The difficult part is in the word count limit.  How do you properly tell a story in 100 words?  There are some wonderful entries there as well, so make sure you read them as well!