Fiction, Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Friday Fictioneers: 7/14/17

To participate in this week’s Friday Fictioneers, visit Rochelle’s site. The picture prompt below is the property of  Janet Webb.

 

BETRAYED BY TECHNOLOGY

He’d done it. He smiled at the perfect job. He’d left her lying across the bed with the pill bottle in her hand. And she hadn’t even suspected that he’d doctored her drink.

She did love to drink, and that had made it so easy. He smiled again as he leaned back in his easy chair savoring his success. Leaving the lone candle burning was an artistic touch. And his fake alibi was so tight, he’d never be suspected.

Now, to call Bernard and report his success. Reaching into his pocket, he froze. Where the hell was his cell phone?

 

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Fiction, Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized, WP Daily Post Prompts

Daily Post Prompt: Jangle

The jangling of the bells gradually seeped into Garret’s unconsciousness and began to nudge him into a little clarity.  He listened for several moments before trying to open his eyes. When he finally lifted the heavy lids, the light seemed blinding and pain shot through is head at the entrance of that light. He immediately shut his eyelids again and groaned.

Unfortunately, the groan itself caused more pain in his head. He was lying flat on hard ground, and he tried to lift his right arm to touch his head and see if he could determine what was wrong. He did manage to get his arm up, but it felt so heavy, he didn’t bother to take it all the way to his head.

The jangling sound was coming closer, and he wondered why the sound itself didn’t cause him more pain. Maybe because it was very low-toned and rhythmic. It reminded him of something, but he couldn’t think what.  In fact, he felt as if he couldn’t think much of anything.  That scared him, but before he could delve into that problem, a gentle voice spoke to him, and a soft hand touched his shoulder.

“Mister, are you alive?”  The voice sounded young, but masculine. He opened his eyes again and, in spite of the pain, managed to roll his eyes to the side enough to see a young boy — perhaps twelve or thirteen — kneeling beside him on the ground. He spoke again. “Oh, you are alive. Thank goodness. Can you move?”

Garret put all his strength into slowly moving his head toward the boy and forcing out the words. “A little.”

The boy heaved a sigh of relief. “You’re not far from my house. I’m on my way home with our cows now, and I will tell my father. He will come for you and help you.”

Garrett gave a small nod of his head, but stopped immediately. Too much pain. So he croaked out his thanks and closed his eyelids again. The young boy patted him on the shoulder and rose, calling to his cows.  As he did so, the jangling sound, which had been intermittent during the conversation with the boy, now began its rhythmic music again as the herd evidently obeyed the boy’s command.

During the wait for the boy’s father, Garrett slipped in and out of consciousness, but his periods of lucidity were longer now and more clear. The pain had dulled a little, and when he heard an engine approaching, he took heart and even lifted his head slightly to look that direction. Pain seared him, but he took courage when he saw the old truck.

The farmer had his young boy with him, as well as another grown man. They stooped down and the second man spoke. “I was a medic in the army, sir, and I’m going to try to check you before we try to get you up.”

“Thanks,” Garrett managed to whisper. The young man began to feel Garrett’s arms and legs and press on his abdomen, checking for broken bones or internal injuries. As he worked he reported that he was fairly sure Garrett had a concussion, and that one leg was broken and a shoulder dislocated. But with the help of some splinting materials he had brought along, he felt it was safe to get Garret up and into the truck. They had already phoned the doctor before leaving the house, and he’d promised to come out to the farm when he was finished with hospital rounds.

During the transfer to the truck, Garrett lost consciousness again, but when he was finally lying flat and had a cold cloth on his head, he came to. “Can you tell us your name, Son,” the farmer asked, as he sat beside Garrett in the truck bed for the trip.

Garrett opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He couldn’t find a name — no name at all. He couldn’t find any identity in his conscious mind. He turned fear-filled eyes to the farmer.  “No sir,” Garrett said.  “I don’t know my name … I don’t know who I am ….”



Daily Post Prompt: Jangle

 

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Fiction, Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized

‘After the Storm’ – Friday Fictioneers 6/16/17

Photo Prompt:  Copyright Dale Rogerson

 

AFTER THE STORM

“Ouch! Hey, watch where you’re stepping!”

“Sorry. I was taking pictures of the moon breaking through.”

“What’s the big deal? The moon’s out every night.”

“Not bursting through the center of heavy storm clouds. Aren’t you glad that vicious storm’s over?”

“That storm destroyed my home and killed my dog. The moon won’t change any of that. Now move!”

He shoved past, and she froze, remembering how, years before, Hurricane Katrina had robbed her of her home, her husband, and her son.

Suddenly, she looked up and refocused her camera. It was important to remember that storms didn’t last forever.


To participate with your own 100-word story, visit Friday Fictioneers host at this link.

 

 

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Fiction, Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Friday Fictioneers 6/9/17: ‘The Gardener’

It’s been a while since I’ve had opportunity to participate in Friday Fictioneers, but this week’s photo just pulled this little tale right out of me. If you’d like to join in the fun, visit Rochelle at the link above.

This week’s photo is courtesy of Sarah Potter. There was no link for Sarah on the host site. Sorry. But her photo is below, and my story follows that.

summer house

Photo © Sarah Potter


THE GARDENER

There it was: the jar labeled plant food. Just as I’d left it when they’d handcuffed me and carted me off. It looked innocuous amidst the heinous overgrowth of Hilda’s desk-top garden. Everyone knew plants were her life, and a jar of food drew no attention at all.

The police finally released me; no trace of evidence I had poisoned her. The doctor identified the fatal stuff with some multi-syllabled word, but nothing pointed to my having any of it.

Now … to mix a drink for these damned plants with the rest of that powder.

 

 

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About Writing, Creative Writing Class, novels, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

Releasing the Creative Writer in You – Lesson 9

 

For previous lessons, click on “Creative Writing Class” in the navigation bar above.

releasing-the-creative-writer-in-you-coverLESSON 9: INTRODUCTIONS – FIRST LINES, FIRST PARAGRAPHS, FIRST PAGES

 

Without a doubt, the first and primary job of your introduction to your story is to GRAB the reader’s attention and interest – and HOLD them securely. People sometimes consider attention and interest to be the same things. They are not. You must get the reader’s attention first. He has to pay enough attention to what your words are saying to read through more than the first few sentences. From that point on, you must have him interested enough to keep turning pages.

Once you have written a story, always go back to the first chapter and ask yourself, “Is there anything in this first chapter that is holding up the presentation of the really important characters or their action?” If so, delete it and get right into the “story” part of the story. If there is necessary information in the material you deleted, work it into the story later – perhaps through dialogue or even a character’s meditation.

Try your best to avoid prologues. In general, readers do not like prologues because they feel the material in that section of the book is keeping them from actually getting into the story itself. Occasionally, a prologue may be necessary, but the all-important operative words here are “occasionally” and “necessary.” In almost every novel, any material presented in the prologue can be worked into the first chapter of the book through dialogue and/or character meditation as the chapter flows along.

There are almost unlimited possibilities for great introductions – as many possibilities as there are writers. But most of them will fall into 4 main categories.

Intros beginning with ACTION.

This type of intro is almost always sure to get attention, and assuming the reader has picked up the book because he already has some degree of interest in the subject it covers, this plan is successful most of the time. However, be aware that if you begin action that is part of the main plot of the story, you may have to work your reader back to a place of beginning somewhere along the way, and you don’t want too much use of flashbacks, since they don’t move the story forward. Plan carefully so that most of the time you can avoid the need for flashbacks or the need to stop and give backstory information.

Intros beginning with DIALOGUE.

This type of intro is almost always a winner, as long as you can make clear who is speaking – and as long as the conversation is an important element in the story as a whole.

Intros beginning with SETTING.

These introductions are the hardest to use successfully because many readers are anxious to get to characters and action. However, settings that provide really strong appeal to the senses or emotions can work very well. Settings that immediately start building suspense or romance are often successful as well.

Intros beginning with a CHARACTER SKETCH.

Beginning with a strong character and presenting him/her in terms that immediately capture the senses and/or emotions will usually work well – mainly in character-driven stories, of course.

MAN TYPING HUGE PAGE - w. textAnd remember: always double-check your first chapter after the story is complete. That’s the time when you’ll know for sure whether you have the very best beginning possible.
More than once, I’ve changed my first chapter — particularly the first three paragraphs — in order to get the reader right into the important issues of the story, rather than just stuffing him with information.

I remember well the day I realized that the third chapter of my novel Quenton’s Honor should actually be Chapter 1 instead. I was sitting, thinking about offering Chapter 1 for a free reading on a couple different Internet sites. I caught myself thinking that I wished I could offer Chapter 3 instead because that’s where the real action of the story starts. Suddenly, I had this “light bulb” moment and realized “DUH!  If that’s where the action starts, then that should be Chapter 1 instead of Chapter 3.”

And so — I made it Chapter 1. However, it was not nearly as easy to do it as it was to decide. I was working with a change in location throughout the story — from St. Louis, USA, to Karachi, Pakistan. As I went back and forth with the plot, I had to keep reminding myself and making allowances for the time change — particularly since a good deal of the conversation in some chapters took place on computers between two people who were located literally a half a world away from each other.

Beginning the book with Chapter 3 — and allowing for all the time differences — put me in the position of actually losing 12 days of activity in the story that were important to the plot —  but not attention-grabbing enough to start the story with. So I had to find a way to let the reader know about everything that happened in those 12 days. I finally decided to use a very short flashback. As I mentioned above, it’s important not to use flashbacks often or for any long sections of the story. They don’t move the story forward, and that’s what readers want to do — keep going forward to the climax and conclusion. But once in a while a short flashback can come in handy, and if it means a much more  compelling beginning chapter, then it’s worth the risk of using it later in the story.


This lesson will be the final lesson in this series. I will try to post a few more later in the year. Also, when I get the online creative writing course set up — so that students can read the lessons and do an assignment which they turn in via e-mail — I’ll be letting my readers know about the details. It’s been fun sharing with you the same kinds of things I share with my students in the college classes. I hope they’ve been beneficial. Whatever you do, keep writing and keep having fun doing it!


* Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Pavloff Conner

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Fiction, Inspiration, novels, Short Stories, Uncategorized, WP Daily Post Prompts, Writing

Daily Post Prompt: ‘As the Plot Unravels’ – a short story

`

MAN AT DESK b & w“I don’t know what to do,” Neville groaned, rubbing his hands roughly over his face. Then he pushed his laptop out of the way and leaned both elbows onto the coffeehouse table, propping his chin in his hands.

“What’s wrong?” Clarence, the waiter bussing the table next to Neville’s, turned to question him

Neville looked up, startled. “Oh … blast … I didn’t realize I had said that out loud. Sorry,” he added looking sheepishly around the room to see if other customers had heard. He was relieved to see that Elixir of Life Coffeehouse was having one of its quieter days.

“No problem,” Clarence answered and walked over to Neville’s table. “Can I get you a refill?”

“Yeah, that would be great,” Neville answered, handing the boy his cup. “It’s been a rough writing day.”

The young man returned in record time with Neville’s refill and stayed to talk a moment. “Do you have what they call writer’s block?”

“No.” Neville shook his head and continued. “No, Clarence. This isn’t writer’s block. In fact, I almost wish I did have that dreaded condition. My problem isn’t that I can’t get the story to move along. This story is moving along at an incredible pace. The problem is that it’s writing itself, and my original plot is unraveling as fast as I can put my fingers to the keys.”

“You mean you’re not in control of your own story?” Clarence looked at Neville as if he had lost his mind — just a little. And that made Neville laugh.

“Don’t worry, my boy,” he said. “I’ve not gone bonkers yet. And … thanks for making me laugh. It helps. But to answer your question, no, I’m not in control of my own story.”

“Well, how does that happen?” Clarence asked, really into this new information he was being exposed to.

“Well it’s not too unusual for a writer to get into a novel and find that one of his characters seems to gravitate in a direction other than what he had originally planned — or that the story seems to be flowing toward an ending that’s different from what he jotted down in his outline. But what’s happening in my story is different.”

“How?”

Neville shook his head and sighed. “I’m not sure how it’s happened, but every character seems to be taking on a brand new identity and making his own decisions. The guy I had pegged as the hero has suddenly become the villain, and the woman he loves is rapidly developing feelings for his best friend — which means he will probably end up killing his best friend — he’s already entertained the idea — and maybe even offing the woman as well.”

“But does it matter who ends up being the villain and the hero — I mean — as long as you have one of each, it’ll come out even, right?”

Neville chuckled. “Well, it’s not quite that easy. My publisher assigned me a contract to do a specific kind of story. One that will be a believable sequel to my last three novels. They were moneymakers, and I’d hate to mess up a record like that. I spent the money I made on them, and now I need more.” He rubbed his face agitatedly again. “Besides that, I’d be breaking my contract if I didn’t give them what I guaranteed.”

“MmMmm, you do have a problem,” Clarence said, so engulfed in the conversation now that he just sat right down at the table beside Neville.  They both sat in silence for a moment, and then Clarence asked, “Well, why don’t you just delete all that part that changed and go back to your first chapter and start over on the story you intended to write. That would take care of it wouldn’t it?”

“Well, that’s the other problem. I’ve totally lost track of the story I intended to write … and besides ….” He paused and glanced off to the side, lost in thought for a long moment. Clarence waited, figuring Neville was trying to work out a plan.

Suddenly Neville looked back at Clarence with a smile on his face. He looked serene rather than agitated, and Clarence was a little confused. “You figure something out? How to stop this runaway story?”

“Nope,” Neville said, grinning wider. “I’m not going to stop this story, Clarence.”

“Huh?”

Neville reached over and rested his hand on Clarence’s shoulder. “Clarence, my boy, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to give this story my whole heart and soul and let it lead me wherever it wants to go.”

“But what about your contract and all?”

“Blast the contract,” Neville said, beginning to close up his laptop and slip his notes into his briefcase. “If that publisher can’t see the truth about the value of this story, then he can sue me.”

“But –”

“No more ‘but’s‘ my boy,” Neville answered, rising from his chair, laptop under his arm. “This is the best damn story I’ve ever written in my life, and I’ve just decided I’m free enough to give my creativity its own head and let it take me to my destiny.”

He slapped down his last five dollar bill as a tip for Clarence and headed out the door, whistling.


To participate visit Daily Post.

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About Writing, Creative Writing Class, Fiction, Inspiration, novels, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

‘Releasing the Creative Writer in You’ – Lesson 7

releasing-the-creative-writer-in-you-coverI’ll be posting my creative writing lessons only once a month now, on the first Saturday. Can you believe this is already the first day of April?  (NO FOOLIN’).  If you want to access the previous 6 lessons, just click on “Creative Writing Class” in the navigation bar, and it will take you to the other posts in this series.

LESSON 7: AVOIDING DRAGGY DETAILS AND CHOPPY SENTENCES

 

A.  DRAGGY DETAILS

When telling a story, you have to keep the dialogue and action moving at a good pace to hold the reader’s attention, and your details need to be specific things that make the scene more alive or more colorful.

Think about this example: If I were telling you about my date on Friday night, and I said, “We walked into the restaurant, and the waiter led us to a table at the back of the room. Then we picked up the menus and took some time looking over the possibilities. When the waiter came back with our drinks, we gave him our order,” you would think, “Well, of course, you walked to the table and sat down, and, of course, you looked at the menu and then gave the waiter your order.”

What I need to do — if I’m going to make my story interesting — is use only details that add something the average reader would not automatically put into the scene himself. So I could say something like “We had a great table, right by the window so that we could look out on the river. The spicy aromas wafting from the kitchen increased our appetites, and when the menu came, we both got so absorbed in the huge variety of entrees that it took us fifteen minutes to make a decision. But our waiter was extremely patient, and we finally decided on fruit cocktail,  Caesar salads, and Porter House steaks.”

But WHY are you putting this paragraph into the story in the first place? Ask yourself if these details are truly IMPORTANT to your story. If the answer is ‘no,’ then LEAVE THEM OUT. If the answer is yes, be sure the reader can easily make the connection.

One other alternative to that scene could be something like this scene, which emphasizes a totally different aspect of the evening, and which has a specific reason for being in the story: “The atmosphere in the restaurant seemed set for romance. From the time we sat down at the table, Roger and I both had trouble deciding on our choices for entrees because we just couldn’t seem to keep our eyes off each other. We finally managed to order, but as soon as the waiter stepped away from the table, Roger reached for my hand, and we were still holding hands when the first course arrived.” This scene is building on a relationship between characters and is simply using the meal as a setting.

Remember not to waste words telling your reader anything that he will already know. If you have a scene that is so very ordinary the reader could write it for you – if there is nothing really special, unusual, or super important to the plot in it – LEAVE IT OUT. You can refer to it having happened without describing it.

For example: If it’s important to my story to let the reader know that Roger and I went out Friday night, then I can always find a place to toss in that information. I can say to a friend, “When Roger and I went out Friday night, we tried a new restaurant.” OR “Roger and I went out again Friday night, and I can tell that our relationship is getting serious.” But I haven’t bored my reader with the details of an “ordinary” date.

Here’s another example of a scene that is too ordinary.

‘When the time came for the ceremony to begin, Abby’s father took her arm and walked her down the aisle. He turned her over to John, and as the bride and groom smiled at each other, the minister began the ceremony. Abby and John said their vows solemnly and then exchanged rings.”

Since everyone reading your book knows exactly what an “ordinary” wedding ceremony is like, they will be bored reading this. If there are several passages like that in your book, the chances are good the the reader will put it down before he’s done. So – again – if you do not have anything going on that the reader will not automatically assume anyway – just refer to it obliquely in order the let the reader know it happened.

However, if you want to make a point of how emotional the bride and groom were during the ceremony, then you may have a reason to give more details, and you can say something like this: “Abby was so excited that her knees wobbled as she took hold of her father’s arm to walk down the aisle, but he patted her hand and smiled reassuringly, as he had done all through her childhood. This moment would be her last opportunity to interact with her father as merely his child. In a few more minutes, she would be another man’s wife, and her life would never be the same. As she and John spoke their vows, they both had tears in their eyes, and their hands shook a little when they exchanged rings. But they weren’t nervous or afraid — just excited about living out this dream together.”

cartoon-writer-pink-spikey-hair-2
B. SHORT, CHOPPY SENTENCES

The best way to avoid short, choppy sentences is to make sure you use good variety. Make it a point to use some compound or complex sentences. Both of these are explained below, with examples of each.

The best writing always uses great variety in sentence structure and length. Most readers expect to feel a sort of ebb and flow in the way thoughts are expressed. It’s the way we think and the way we talk to each other. The most important thing to remember when deciding what kind of sentence to use is that emotions and/or thoughts cause actions – and actions cause thoughts and/or emotions. You never do or say anything for no reason, and neither do your characters. So you want the reader to understand the connections and relationships between thoughts, feelings, reasons, actions, etc. Tying thoughts together into some compound and complex sentences helps the reader do that. So, keep the writing interesting by using all three kinds of sentences to their best advantage.

Here are some examples of poor sentence choices and some corrections for those problems:

Very Poor Grammar:  Mary stopped at the store to get some milk, she bought lettuce and tomatoes too.  (This is a run-on sentence because it has 2 separate, complete thoughts, but only a comma between them.)

Slightly Better: Mary stopped at the store to get some milk. She bought lettuce and tomatoes too.  (This example is 2 choppy sentences.  Much better than the run-on — and they are okay once in a while — but you don’t want this pattern too often.)

Better:  Mary stopped at the store to get some milk, and she bought lettuce and tomatoes too. (Compound sentence because it connects 2 complete thoughts by using the conjunctions ‘and, but, or, nor, or yet.’ When using those conjunctions, you DO use the comma as well – before the conjunction. You just never use the comma alone to connect 2 complete thoughts.)

Best: Mary stopped at the store to get some milk, and while she was there anyway, she picked up lettuce and tomatoes too.

OR:  Since Mary had to stop at the store for some milk, she decided to get lettuce and tomatoes too.

(These last 2 sentences are Complex sentences, which use one completely independent clause (which could stand alone as a sentence) and one clause that cannot stand alone because it is dependent on the other clause to make sense. In both of these, the dependent clause tells the reader the reason Mary bought the extra food. Also, while giving that reason, the clause takes care of any other information that the reader needs, and that information doesn’t have to be put into its own short sentence.)

Remember, you want a variety. There are times when three or four short, choppy sentences can be very effective if you need a specific tone or mood in the scene, but make sure short, choppy, staccato is the feel you want your reader to have before using very many sentences like that.

Mainly, remember that you want the reader to understand the connections and relationships between thoughts, feelings, reasons, actions, etc. Tying thoughts together into some compound and complex sentences helps the reader do that.

Example:

Choppy:  Roger was afraid. He did not want to let it show. He was the first to volunteer for the rescue mission.

Much better:  Roger was afraid, but he did not want to let it show, so he made sure he was the first to volunteer for the rescue mission.

OR

Because Roger wanted to hide his fear, he made himself sign up as the first volunteer for the rescue mission.  (This example also cuts out words, and doesn’t leave out anything important. If you tell the reader Roger wants to hide his fear, then the reader knows Roger’s afraid, and you don’t have to say that.)

Question: Is there such a thing as a sentence that is too long? Yes, if you have included so much information that the reader could get confused – or if reading the sentence aloud causes the reader to run out of breath – then it may be too long. But that can be fixed as well, simply by taking one portion of the information and putting it into a separate sentence. There is no simple way to help any writer decide when he needs to go longer or shorter. But the more the writer observes real-live conversations, and the more he reads his work aloud, the better he will get at making those decisions.


* Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Pavloff Conner

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Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized

As Alike As Two Peas in a Pod?

TWIN GIRLS
Sandy and Mandy were identical twins.  Green-eyed beauties with dark brown hair, a smattering of freckles, and charming dispositions. From the day of their birth, mom had dressed them in identical outfits. When they started school, she bought them identical backpacks, and pulled their hair into identical pony tails.

She bragged to everyone about how “exactly alike” they were and insisted they do identical chores and play identical games at the same time. She sent them to Gramma’s farm together every year.

And every year, wearing blue jeans faded to exactly the same shade, with pony tails riding at exactly the same height and identical green eyes gazing into the peaceful pond at exactly the same time, they stood on the old wooden bridge and dreamed — totally separate, independent dreams.

And Mom couldn’t do anything about it

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Creative Writing Class, Fiction, Inspiration, Non-fiction, novels, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

‘Releasing the Creative Writer in You’ – Lesson 6

If  you want to access the earlier lessons, click on “Creative Writing Class” in the navigation bar, and it will take you to the earlier posts.

releasing-the-creative-writer-icover-editedLESSON # 6: BODY MOVEMENT AND DIALOGUE MAKE A STORY COME ALIVE

As you develop your plot, remember to use as much dialogue and body movement as possible to help the reader see and hear the words and actions. Simply narrating it is much less effective. Quote your characters directly, and let the reader hear a sigh or see the character lean against a door frame. Describe a smile or the sound of the laughter. Allow your character to lean forward or backward, prop his foot on a stool, rest his head against the back of a chair, or fold his arms across his chest. No real person carries on a conversation without body movement as well, and you need that kind of description to keep your reader’s attention and make your characters “real.”

Beginning writers often find themselves skipping this very important principle. They get involved in “telling” their story and just continue to narrate the events without any individual detailed action and without letting their characters carry on real conversations. That lack of material is generally why some beginning writers have problems filling out scenes and developing entire novels. But once you get into the habit of adding these two very important elements to your writing, you will find that you enjoy writing even more, and that you have less problem creating real-life, fully developed scenes for your story.

Now, of course, adding just any old movement or dialogue will not work either. The characters’ behavior and conversations have to fit the story and be totally relevant – even important – to the story itself. Keep checking to be sure that every conversation and every scene is actually moving your story forward and not just taking up space.

Remember also, that tag words (things like “he said / she asked”) need to be kept at a minimum and need to be simple, ordinary words as often as possible. Some new writers have the mistaken idea that they should reach for a variety of words or for unusual words to use with quotes. That’s exactly what you don’t want to do. Those unusual words stick out like the proverbial “sore thumb” in the middle of dialogue and interrupt it. Except in very rare instances, you’re much better off using the ordinary words like “said” or “asked.” Occasionally, in a scene where they would be perfectly applicable, you might venture out to tag words like “whispered” or “shouted.” But the number one rule is to keep those tags as inconspicuous as possible.

The next rule you want to remember is to begin a brand new paragraph each time the speaker changes in a conversation – even if the previous speaker said only one word. When you stay faithful to that rule, you end up needing far fewer tag words to begin with – particularly if you have only two speakers. Once you identify the original speaker and then identify the person who answers him, changing paragraphs for each one will keep your reader aware of who is saying what. If your conversation lasts for more than a page, you need to throw in a couple more tags here and there, just for extra clarity, but it’s amazing how easily readers will follow your conversations with no other help when you follow these two basic rules.

QUIVER FULL COVER - GOLDBelow, I’ve given you two versions of the same excerpt from my novel A Quiver Full of Arrows. The first excerpt uses very little body language and dialogue. The author narrates what is happening, but does not show the characters in action or let them speak on their own. In the second, you will see how much more color and interest is added by letting the characters speak their own words in normal conversation and by showing the reader even small unremarkable body movements.

In order to better grasp the way these writing tools are used, I’ve made the dialogue a sort of turquoise color and the body movement sections a shade of purple. I tried highlighting them, but could not get the highlights to copy and paste into this editing window. So I’ll work with what I’ve got.  And the color variation will help you see exactly what was added to get the better version.

Version # 1 – Mostly narration with only a small amount of body movement or dialogue. (Remember: dialogue is only the words within quotation marks. Any other mode of letting your reader know what a character said is narration.)

Peanut shells! Again! Handfuls of peanut shells scattered around the steps of the front porch!

How were they getting there?

Lawson Wainright walked around the small piles that were littering the sidewalk and the edge of the grass beside the steps. He stood for several more minutes, looking around the yard, turning his tall, lean body full circle . . . but there was no one in sight.

He looked up into the branches of the tree just a few yards away. He supposed it could be birds or squirrels. But he just didn’t think an animal would leave the shells looking like this. The nuts had obviously been broken open carefully. . . . .

He went to get a rake and some garbage bags to gather up the shells. While he was raking up the shells, Elmer Peabody, his 75-year-old neighbor from across the street came over. “Looks like you’re rakin’ up peanut shells again,” he said.

Lawson agreed and asked Mr. Peabody if he had seen anyone unusual in the neighborhood recently. Mr. Peabody replied that he hadn’t seen anything so far and asked if the shells were all still intact the way they had been the other times. Lawson told him that they were.

Eventually Mr. Peabody began to walk around the area himself, looking closely at the foundation of the house, where Lawson had added white latticework that ran along the front, below the porch, and met the steps on each side.

Elmer was leaning down close to the foundation right where Lawson had been raking up the shells, and all of a sudden he shouted. “By Jove! Did you know that your lattice is broken here, L.W.?”

“Broken?” Lawson asked. “Where?”

“Right here,” Mr. Peabody answered and handed Lawson a piece of the loose lattice.

Lawson couldn’t understand how it could have broken because he had put it in place last summer, and it was all secure. He finally stooped down and looked more closely.

The area under the porch was spacious and dry, and Lawson crawled in to have a better look.

“What in heaven’s name!” he shouted from under the porch.

“Did you find something?” Elmer asked.

Lawson crawled back out from under the porch and looked up at Elmer. “I found two sleeping bags and a can of peanuts under there,” he said. He was hoping Elmer might be able to help explain what was happening, but Elmer was equally stunned.

After a few seconds, Lawson laughed out loud. He told Elmer that he felt like the three bears who had come home and found someone had been sleeping in their beds. Elmer asked Lawson if he had any idea who it could be.

“I don’t have a clue,” Lawson said. But, suddenly, he remembered something.



Version # 2: A considerable amount of dialogue and body movement has been added to this version. Compare the effectiveness of Version # 2 with that of Version # 1. Which story will hold your reader’s attention better and help him relate to your characters?

Peanut shells! Again! Handfuls of peanut shells scattered around the steps of the front porch!

How were they getting there?

Lawson Wainright walked around the small piles that were littering the sidewalk and the edge of the grass beside the steps. In frustration, he ran his hands through his short brown hair, and as he did so, the sunshine caught sections of it and highlighted them with streaks of copper. He let his hand slip down to the back of his neck, massaging it a little as he shook his head back and forth slowly, still trying to reason out the solution to this strange development.

Then he stood for several more minutes, resting both hands on his hips and looking slowly around the yard, turning his tall, lean body full circle . . . but there was no one in sight. He looked up into the branches of the tree just a few yards away. He supposed it could be birds or squirrels. But after a moment, he shook his head again. No … he just didn’t think an animal would leave the shells looking like this. The nuts had obviously been broken open carefully. . . . .

He shrugged his shoulders now and let out a sigh, turning as he did so to walk around the house to the garage, where he extricated a lightweight rake from a jumbled collection of yard care equipment. He returned to the front yard, where he began to rake the small piles into one larger heap in order to scoop them into a garbage bag he had carried over along with the rake.

“Hey, L. W.” The voice of his seventy-five-year-old neighbor across the street got his attention. “Looks like you’re rakin’ up peanut shells again.”

Lawson couldn’t help chuckling and shaking his head in consternation again as he stilled his rake and looked at Mr. Elmer Peabody. “Looks like,” he called back, leaning slightly on the rake now as he gave his attention to his favorite neighbor.

“Still no idea how they’re gettin’ into your yard?” Elmer asked as he started across the street.

“Nope. You still haven’t seen anything or anyone unusual, have you?”

“Not so far.” Mr. Peabody took off his gardening hat as he crossed the yard and scratched his almost bald head. “’Course, that don’t mean nothin’,” he added. “I hardly ever look outside after dark, and early in the mornin’ I’m eatin’ my breakfast and lookin’ out my back window at the birds.” By the time he’d finished answering Lawson’s question, he was beside him, watching him finish his clean-up job. “Were the shells all neat and clean again like the other times?”

“Yeah … just exactly like the last three times.”

“Mm-mm!” Elmer Peabody grunted, shaking his head back and forth. He began to walk around the area in tight circles, finally bending over and looking along the foundation of the house, where Lawson had added white latticework that ran along the front, below the porch, and met the steps on each side. …

All of a sudden Elmer shouted, “By Jove! Did you know that your lattice is broken here, L.W.?”

“Broken?” Lawson asked, stepping over to stand beside his neighbor. “Where?”

“Right here,” Mr. Peabody said, reaching out to take hold of a loose 3-foot section of the white lattice and lift it away from the rest of the porch. He held it up for Lawson to inspect.

“Well, I’ll be!” Lawson said, taking the piece of latticework in his hands. “How on earth did that happen? I just put that up last summer, and it was all secure.” He studied the piece of wood he held in his hands. “Hmm … it looks like the nails have been worked loose and just pulled out, but nothing’s broken off.He stooped down to look more closely under the porch.

The area beneath the porch was quite spacious, and stayed fairly dry most of the year, unless they had heavy rain or snow. He could easily crawl under it himself and move around, but he hadn’t done so since he’d put up the lattice. Now he got down on his hands and knees and eased his way into the three-foot opening.

“What in Heaven’s name!” His voice came out sounding muffled from beneath the porch, and Elmer Peabody leaned a little closer to hear better as Lawson spoke again. “I don’t believe my eyes!”

“What’d you find?” Elmer asked, excitement filling his voice now. This was an adventure for him. He hadn’t had this much interesting activity in his neighborhood since Hilda Gates, next door to him, had set her kitchen on fire trying to make a big rum cake. ….

Lawson hadn’t said anything else for a minute or so, and Elmer leaned in even closer and stuck his head inside the opening.What did you find? What’s going on?”

“Sleeping bags!”

Sleeping bags?” Elmer couldn’t believe he’d heard right.

“Yeah … two of them, and a big metal can full of peanuts!” Lawson began to ease backwards out of the opening, and Elmer moved away to give him room.

“Did I hear you right? Sleeping bags?”

Lawson was still crouched down close to the ground, and he looked up at Elmer, his face a perfect picture of consternation. “Elmer, there are two rolled-up sleeping bags under my porch, and a large metal can full of peanuts in the shells.” His eyes still registered his shock, and then a quizzical look came into them, almost as if he hoped that his neighbor, somehow, would have the explanation.

When he realized that Elmer’s face was as full of surprise as his own must be, he added, grinning in spite of himself, “I feel a little like the three bears who came home and discovered that someone had been sleeping in their beds.” He laughed out loud then. In spite of the obvious seriousness of the discovery, he couldn’t help himself. “Mr. Peabody … somebody’s been sleeping under my porch!”

“And havin’ a midnight snack on top of that,” Elmer said, chuckling and scratching his head again. “By Jove! I wonder who in the world it could be.”

Lawson shook his head again and picked up the piece of lattice to replace it. “I can’t imagine – unless – ” His voice trailed off, and he sat back on his haunches, looking off into space. . . . He had just remembered a recent news story. …


With this second version, not only is the scene fully fleshed out, but the reader actually feels that he is getting to know the two people involved. As we discussed in the chapter on developing characters, we get to know real people in our lives by talking with them, seeing them in action, and learning how they treat and interact with others. That’s also the best way for readers to get to know the characters in a story. As a result, those characters seem real, and the reader connects with them enough to want to read to the end.
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* Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Pavloff Conner

NOTE:  My schedule has become a little over-loaded this month, so I’m going to have to hit the ‘pause’ button on my plan to offer a creative writing lesson every Saturday. I’ll try to post a lesson at least once a month for a while, but that may be the best I can do. I hope these have been a help and encouragement to some of you, and I’ll add more as often as I can.

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About Writing, Creative Writing Class, Fiction, Inspiration, novels, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

‘Releasing the Creative Writer in You’ Lesson 5

To access previous lessons in this series, simply click on “Creative Writing Class” in the navigation bar, and it will take you to all the lessons.

releasing-the-creative-writer-icover-editedLESSON # 5: DEVELOPING CHARACTERS

Plot-Driven Stories vs. Character-Driven Stories

(Plot, remember is basically the action – problem/conflict, attempts to resolve problem, climax, resolution)

Plot-Driven stories focus on the action. However, great-selling authors also develop their characters with care and detail. The most popular action novels generally have a large following because the readers can identify with the hero/heroine. It is hard to identify with characters that have no depth – are only one-dimensional. This problem is the biggest hazard of writing plot-driven literature. You must resist the tendency to let characters remain as one-dimensional beings who are obviously just manipulated by the author to fit the action.

Stories with no character development can entertain for the short-term but generally have no lasting quality.

Character-Driven stories give the reader someone to identify with. But those characters have to be “real, and they have to be living, changing, growing. (Unless your bent is focused on degeneration. Then they need to degenerate.) Every single character may not change significantly, but certainly your hero/herione will, and his changes will normally affect changes in other characters as well.

How Does Your Reader Get To Know Your Characters?

All great stories reveal and develop each individual character through use of three basic tools:

1. Pointedly describing the characters – physically, psychologically, emotionally. Giving your reader the details of the characters’ physical appearance or his psychological bent works well up to a point. But this tool needs to be used sparingly. It leads to just “telling” the reader about the character instead of letting the reader himself get to know that person the way he would get to know any person in real life.

2. Revealing a character’s speech, thoughts, and behavior. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a quote often used to praise photography over verbal descriptions. But the truth of it applies to writing stories even when photographs or illustrations are not used. When an author uses his words carefully enough to show the reader what a character is like, rather than explaining through narration, the reader gets a much better handle on that character. It’s when the reader can discover for himself what a character is like that he more fully connects with him.

3. Describing opinions and reactions of other characters to that character. What the other members of the cast of your story feel and say about each character – and how they react to him — reveals that character in light of relationships within the story. That aspect of characterization adds much more depth to the story as a whole.

MAN PROFILEWhat About Your Hero/Heroine?

Hero/heroine: The principal figure in an action, event, or story. This person will obviously be the central focus of your story, and it is his development – his learning, changing, experiencing epiphanies, maturing, growing, becoming better, stronger, wiser, healthier, etc. that will give the story its meaning and satisfy your reader. It is the hero – along with the help of the other characters – who is the driving force behind the action.

WOMAN SILHOUETTE, PONYTAILAll other characters need good development as well. Having a well-developed hero with no one to interact with except one-dimensional, cardboard characters will stifle the hero’s development as well.

The Hero/Herione’s Progression:


Most good stories will take that hero through about 6 main stages as the story moves along:

1. Hero is introduced: You need to know how and why he is the center of your book.

Why will this guy – instead of someone else — do the job of making this book a great read?

2. The hero has experienced – or is experiencing – a certain amount of preparation for what he will do in the story. Let the reader see that he is a certain type of person and that he has had experiences that will eventually lead him to specific action or reactions later in the story. His actions and reactions need to seem real.

This process can include some involved background – if you have a long enough story to work with – and it can be added a little at a time as the action ensues. Or it can be a well-placed couple of sentences that use exact descriptive words. In a novel, you may tell the reader a little of the character’s background, but then let the rest come out through conversations with other characters, or a situation that causes the character to remember events in his past, etc. You may even introduce a separate character who reveals some of the main character’s past that lets the reader know what caused the hero to be the person he is today. Even in a short story, try to avoid just telling the facts. Let them come to light through as much natural action and interaction between characters as possible.

3. The hero moves into his journey – his quest – his effort to reach his goal – his effort to defeat an enemy. This aspect of the story will involve a series of battles or conflicts that come against him, and he must decide whether to go forward or pull back. His nature – that you have developed well – will determine that decision. (Now your reader may still be learning about his nature, and these decisions will give that reader a clearer and clearer picture of who this guy is. But YOU should already know his character well-enough to know what he will do and WHY.


(Occasionally, authors will find themselves in the middle of a scene, and suddenly feel the character pulling to go an unexpected direction. That situation can lead to a whole new aspect for the story that makes it better. However, it can also sidetrack a good story that’s well underway. So if this happens, take a little time to re-evaluate and determine if what this character seems to WANT to do really has value. You may even pull up a new document page and allow yourself to write the alternative scene with the character acting “out of character,” but don’t delete the original plan unless you are totally convinced that plan number two is much better.)

*** Keep double checking your story to make sure that every sentence is actually moving the story forward and not just filling up space on the page.  ***

4. The hero/herione will eventually come head-to-head with the main antagonist. You must decide how soon that takes place. They may have met very early in the story, but their battle for the climax of the story will not take place until your character development and your action is ready for it.

Who is that antagonist? He will be the killer, the rival lover, the mean banker ready to foreclose, the evil totalitarian government system that is taking over a free nation, a killer storm raging across the country, destructive beings from another planet, some mysterious disease that can’t be stopped by drugs, the devil himself. Whatever mask the antagonist wears, he is the embodiment of evil as opposed to the hero who is the embodiment of good. He, too, must be well-developed prior to this climaxing battle.

Note: Modern novels have had a tendency to produce heroes who are so imperfect and fallible that they offer no “higher level” of character or lifestyle to which the reader can aspire. That is certainly acceptable, of course, but the greatest novels of all time – those that have outlasted the millions that see bookstore shelves for 3 months and then dwindle away – are those with heroes or heroines who have something above and beyond the “average” or the mundane in their make-up. And in spite of the fact that people say they want “realism” in their books and movies, the truth is that almost every human being secretly wants a role model that is just a little “bigger than life” to identify with – and wants a level of life that is just a little bit better/higher/freer/more successful/more loving than what he is experiencing now.

So while you may not want to write a book that is particularly positive in theme or that has a “happy ending,” you may still want to be sure that your hero/heroine offers the reader something “better” than ordinary to identify with and aspire to.

By the time the hero enters into the decisive battle with the main antagonist, you must have made him so believable and reliable that your reader will know what to expect in his actions and reactions.

5. The hero will win the battle with the main antagonist. This action – whether physical, spiritual, or mental, will be the end of the climax of the story.

6. The hero will be changed/transformed by the end of the story. He will be different in some way. He may have learned something, found new qualities in himself he didn’t know were there, realized he’s capable of giving/loving/creating more, etc, etc. Also, as he moves into and enjoys these changes, they transfer to the reader, and the reader benefits from them as well.

This kind of strong identification makes for memorable, lasting stories – and also builds a strong base for any sequels or series that you want to create.

Needless to say, the other characters in the story will undergo their own changes, and these will be important to your reader as well. But the process of developing the hero and moving him through his 6-step process works the same way for each character. For the most part, you need to create each character with as much care as you do your hero. The “realness” of the other characters can make or break the story as well.

DRAGON W. BOY - LARGERThese basic rules of good character development apply equally in children’s literature — whether the characters are children or animals. The principles are still the same, and the readers respond to characters pretty much the same way at all levels.

So take time to get to know your characters personally. Write out a checklist that will clarify the basics aspects of their personalities, experiences, and relationships. Even writing up a complete character sketch on each one is never a waste of time. Everything you can do to make sure those characters are “real” will give your story that much better chance to find a special place in the hearts of readers for generations to come.


* Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Pavloff Conner

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About Writing, Creative Writing Class, Fiction, Inspiration, novels, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

‘Releasing the Creative Writer in You: Lesson 4

To access previous lessons in this series, simply click on “Creative Writing Class” in the navigation bar, and it will take you to all the lessons.

releasing-the-creative-writer-icover-editedLESSON # 4: PLOTTING YOUR STORY

 

First, let’s look again at the main parts of the plot of a story:

Most authors and writing teachers agree that all stories should have an arc of somewhere between five and eight steps. That arc takes the reader from a state of rest (before the story opens) into action, then through the process of one action causing another and another, until those actions reach a climax and finally ebb into the resolution of the story. A normal arc generally includes all of the following:

A. The presentation of the conflict

B. The hero’s attempts to resolve that conflict

C. His deliberate choices to fight or give up – use force or peaceful measures – take the legal way or the illegal way, etc.

D. His ultimate success or failure (the climax of the story)

E. The resolution into a changed situation, due to the outcome of the climax.

Each writing course will label these steps a little differently, but, in the end, they represent the same 5 simple parts of a plot that we’ve mentioned here. In the chapter coming up, “Developing Characters,” you will see a similar list of steps through which every hero and heroine move as they progress from beginning to end of the story. It is not particularly important that the writer label each individual step based on one writing course or another. What is important is that the writer understand that the natural progression of action or character development is most successful if it follows the pattern we see in real life, which generally does include an arc similar to the one we’ve just described.

SWORDS
CONFLICT

Conflict is always based in the very broad primary concept of Good vs. Evil. However, that “good” and “evil” can wear many faces.

Conflict can be rooted in the relationship and/or rivalry of two individual characters, two families, two nations, two worlds. It can also be rooted in one individual character’s battle with an ideology or a system (for example, a battle to avoid or annihilate a totalitarian government). Some stories create conflict between a character and some force of nature or some element or power outside of the human realm – such as a killer storm, a deserted island, a sorcerer’s curse, etc.

However, conflict can be totally internal as well – within one character himself – possibly between the character’s realization that he needs to overcome some aspect of his nature or personality and the desire on his part to avoid working at overcoming it or letting it go. Conflict can also be internal in the sense that the character is battling an enemy coming against his own mind or body (for example, a deadly disease).

Any or all of these kinds of conflict make for great stories, but you want to be sure that the type of conflict you choose is the best carrier of the story you’re telling so that the story accomplishes exactly what you want it to accomplish.

Also bear in mind that most good stories have more than one conflict going on. The major conflict will decide the resolution of the story, but while it is played out, many of your characters can be experiencing their own minor conflicts that affect how they act and react to the major conflict and how they fit into the climax of the story.

WHERE TO START

In all fiction, the first three pages of any novel (and the first few paragraphs of any short story) are the author’s only chance to grab the reader’s attention. Once he has that attention, the action or characters must develop quickly enough and realistically enough to hold that attention and keep the pages turning.

Make sure you have your reader securely in your grasp by the end of chapter one. If he isn’t in a hurry to turn the page to chapter two, there’s a moderate chance that he will do so anyway, but most of the time, at that point, he’s usually made his decision about whether or not he’ll finish the book. (A few readers out there force themselves to finish every book they start, whether they like it or not, but you cannot count on that handful of people picking up your book.) And for the short story writer, it’s safe to say that after the first 500 words, the reader has decided whether the story is worth his time.

So how do we capture that reader and hang onto him? Isaac Newton is famous for making us aware of the laws of motion. Thanks to his efforts, most of us have been taught the basic principles of physics concerning objects at rest and how they will simply stay at rest unless and until some outside force puts pressure on them to move in one direction or another. And, of course, once an object begins moving, it will, more often than not, continue moving in the same direction unless and until pressure from another source is applied to it. That pressure could be deliberate, or it could simply be circumstantial — like a bump in the road that causes a rolling ball to jump off course and veer sideways.

SOCCAR PLAYER KICKING BALLSo what does that have to do with writing fiction? A LOT: Good plotting puts things into motion quickly and then makes sure they stay in motion, or change direction, or come to a complete stop in such a way that those actions carry the reader along at a satisfying pace. And the gifted story plotter makes sure that every one of those actions and reactions – every motion and counter-motion – has realistic motivation and cause. (And remember: ‘motion,’ as we refer to it here, can be physical, mental, or emotional. However, be careful to avoid getting  your reader bogged down in thoughts or emotions with no physical action to relieve them.)

When the writer begins his story, he needs to have some kind of action taking place in those first few pages – even if his story is mainly character driven. The reader wants to get to know the characters the way he gets to know real-life people – through talking with them, seeing them interacting with other people, and seeing what they do and how they do it. A couple centuries ago, authors got away with giving lengthy descriptions of characters early in their books, and readers put up with it. But in the 21st century, we can’t find those kinds of readers.

All rules have exceptions, of course, and if you are writing a totally character-driven story that requires your reader to be thoroughly acquainted with the thought processes of the main character, you just might be able to begin your story with a monologue of that character’s own thoughts. However, the point we made earlier bears repeating here: keep in mind that too many pages of thoughts with no accompanying actions does get boring for most people.

That being the case, even if you’re focusing on your reader getting to know and understand your main character in the first chapter (or the first page of your short story), you’ll want to let the character say and do some things that will make his nature and personality clear.

So when your reader sees the words “Chapter One,” he will generally expect to see a situation that was at rest before the story started now beginning to move in a specific direction because a character does something or a specific event takes place that starts the ball rolling. Some people like to line up long rows of dominoes and then knock them all down with just the touch of a finger on the first domino in line. Until the outside force – with a motive – does something to the first domino, they all just keep standing there, silent and boring. However, as soon as the outside force causes domino number one to fall against number two – at just the right angle – there’s no stopping the chain reaction. That’s the process of good story telling.

Now, the guy who pushes down that first domino has a motive. He wants to enjoy watching all the other dominoes fall down. In the same way, your first movement in your story –whether it’s by a character, a force of nature, or even a big machine – will have to have a motive. You may not want to disclose that motive in the first chapter, but you, as the writer, have to know what that motive is, and you have to build your story so that when the reader finally does discover the motive later on down the line, the whole story makes sense.

In the past few decades, the literary world has seen a slight shift in readers who gravitate primarily to action (plot-driven) novels. Even these readers now seem to want at least a lead character that they can relate to and develop feelings for. They want to know what makes that guy tick – what’s important to him and why – and what it is that he wants to accomplish. Because, ultimately, it’s what that main character wants to do – save a city – a country – the world – and all the battles he has to fight in order to do it – that makes the story.

So one of the most important things a good story teller can do, even in plot-driven stories – is develop three-dimensional, true-to-life characters that his readers can relate to. And if the story is intended to be character-driven, then all of the characters need to be carefully developed so that the reader feels so attuned to them that he really cares whether they manage to get what they want by the end of the story. And if the reader really cares, he isn’t going to put that book down until he reads the words “The End.”

Next week we will discuss in depth the best ways to develop well-rounded characters.


* Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Pavloff Conner

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‘Releasing the Creative Writer in You’ – Lesson 3

releasing-the-creative-writer-icover-editedYou can find Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 at these links.

LESSON # 3: WRITING FICTION

Fiction covers a wide range of genres, including short stories, novels, novellas, novelettes, scripts, screenplays, and children’s literature. Having a knack for writing well in one of those genres does not guarantee that a writer has an equal knack for the others. However, most of the time writers find that, with experience and practice, they can write successfully in several different genres at the same time. While all good writing requires some of the same characteristics, each of the different genres of fiction has certain elements that are peculiar to it alone.

SHORT STORIES

There are no hard and fast rules followed by all writers and publishers concerning what constitutes the length of different genres of literature. Each literary guide has its own specifications, but the information given in this text offers an average that takes into consideration the high and low ends of various guides. In general, short stories are considered any stories between 100 words (generally referred to as “flash fiction”) and 20,000 words. Often the stories that run between 100 and 3,000 words are referred to as “short-short” stories. Length does not matter, except for the purpose of meeting the requirements of a particular assignment. (Ex. Writing for a magazine that has a word limit, etc.)

What matters is whether you have all the elements required to satisfy the readers of the stories, and if you have developed the characters, setting, and plot thoroughly – without letting any areas of the work drag or become unnecessarily verbose. The writer must tell a complete story: an attention-grabbing beginning, the development of a problem or conflict, attempts to resolve that conflict, the climax, and a resolution/conclusion.)

In short stories, word choices are even more pressing than in longer fiction. Character development is trickier, due to less time. There are also fewer words for describing setting and characters, as well as for developing plot.

NOVELS

Novels require a larger tale – so a larger scope. You have more time to develop setting and characters, as well conflict and climax. Generally readers expect a little more than one simple conflict in a story of any significant length – simply because real life is that way.

Word choices are still extremely important because nothing drags as badly as a novel that is too wordy.

Novel length is generally considered anything between 50,000 and 300,000 words. But most publishers have a policy concerning length of each genre they publish, and authors will need to consult each individual publisher’s guidelines when considering submissions.

Novellas: When you have a story that really needs more than a short story format, but hasn’t enough plot for a full novel, novellas offer a good alternative. If you find yourself working on a short story, but realize you are up to 30,000 words, you need to consider expanding the story a little more and making it a novella. (Generally 40,000-50,000 words on average).

Novelettes: This category offers one more level in alternatives to short stories and novels. Novelettes also give the reader a story that is more involved that a short story, but that does not have enough plot to carry it the length of a full novel. Any work running between 10,000 and 30,000 words can be considered novelette length.

SCRIPTS AND SCREENPLAYS

For scripts and screenplays, dialogue will generally rule, and action must be 100% do-able. Words are at their highest premium in a story that must be acted out. The author must also consider and write in all the stage directions as well.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

In children’s literature, writers deal with all the elements common to adult short stories and novels, but children’s works require special attention to the level of language and frames of reference so that they fit exactly the age group for which the pieces are written. The ONLY way to do that successfully is to SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH CHILDREN. Children’s literature is also generally much more successful with pictures and illustrations. Therefore, the author needs to be able to provide these elements or develop a good relationship with an artist/photographer who can.


ELEMENTS REQUIRED BY ALL FICTION GENRES

So what are the elements of a good story?

1. Characters

Get to know your characters personally. Your reader may never need to know how your main character did while in first grade, whether he always cleaned his plate as a kid, whether or not he took vacations with his family, etc. But you need to know him well enough to know those things. That doesn’t mean you have to list every event in his life before he steps onto the stage of your book, but you do need to sit and think about him from every direction.

Chances are he will come from a real person you have had experience with, or – more likely – a composite of a number of real people. That is why keeping a journal and making character sketches is so important. This character had a life before he came into your book, and you need to know what it is so that he will be REAL and not just an automation you have invented to walk through the pages and say certain words.

Sometimes the characters will be there to carry out the plot (Plot-driven story)

Other times, the characters will be the main story, and their inner struggles, changes, and growth (or deterioration) are what constitutes the story. (Character-driven story).

2. Setting

You know yourself best, and you must decide if you are a person who enjoys detailed descriptions of settings or not. If you enjoy them, chances are you will write them well enough that your readers will also enjoy them. However, if you do not enjoy them, then you must work at giving your story a setting that needs a minimum of description and that has no real importance to the story itself.

The purpose of your story will also determine a lot about the degree of attention paid to the setting. If you write a story focused solely on a romance, making the characters and their personal, emotional interaction the meat of your story, you can get by with simply letting the reader know the characters live in a large American city, or a village in the English countryside, etc., with very little detail. But if you write a story set on another planet, you need to be prepared with loads of details so that your reader will not feel out of sync with the characters they want to identify with.

(You will find more details concerning setting in the upcoming chapter on that particular element.)

3. Plot (Action – either physical or mental)

The plot of a story includes the following basic 5 basics:

A. Introduction.

This can be as simple as opening the story with ordinary action shortly before the important action begins. This method is tricky because of the need to engage your reader from page one, but it can be done. Or you may open in the middle of some important action that will be explained in subsequent pages. Or you may use a prologue if you have to lay some groundwork that is not part of the main story. (However, you need to use prologues and epilogues very sparingly. Some readers skip them altogether.)

B. Development of a Problem or Conflict

This problem/conflict can be physical, mental, emotional, or all three. (More details are available in the chapter on conflict, which will be included in a later lesson.)

C. Attempts to fix the problem

D. Climax – Problem comes to a head and meets the solution head-on

E. Resolution/Conclusion/The End

For more details concerning plot, see the chapter entitled “Plotting Your Story,” coming in a future lesson.

4. Theme: The central, recurring, unifying idea of a piece of literature.

What is the Purpose of Specific Action or Dialogue in Your Story?

Your theme can generally be found in the answer to the questions of why something happened or what effect it is meant to have. As your story develops, you (and your reader) will generally find that virtually all of the action and dialogue is happening – ultimately — for the same purpose: to bring about specific outcomes – all of which work together to affect the reader the way you want him affected.

5. Body Language and Dialogue

As you develop your plot, remember to use as much dialogue and body language as possible to help the reader see and hear the words and actions. Simply narrating it is much less effective. Quote your characters directly, and let the reader hear a sigh or see the character lean against a door frame. Describe a smile or the sound of the laughter. Allow your character to lean forward or backward, rest his head against the back of a chair, or fold his arms across his chest. No real person carries on a conversation without body movement as well, and you need that kind of description to keep your reader’s attention and make your characters “real.”

(More discussion on this aspect of writing stories is covered in the material on Developing Characters and in the chapter on Dialogue and Body Language. These segments will be included in upcoming lessons.)


cartoon-writer-pink-spikey-hair-2Do you need an outline before beginning?

The short answer is ‘No.’ Sometimes stories just jump out at us when we are doing a simple writing exercise or sitting quietly and meditating. It’s fine to just sit down to the keyboard and start writing out what is flowing through our minds.

However, do not expect to write excellent stories on a regular basis without having a strong idea of what you want the story to do – how you want it to play out – and who the characters are. You will need some kind of guidelines to help you stay focused and to make sure you have a thoroughly developed plot.

If you find that a story begins coming to life in your mind, go ahead and start writing it. Write until you know you are finished with what was pressing to get onto paper. However, once that is done, you do need to try to determine where you are going – what is going to happen to your characters – what do you want the ending to be – are you wanting the story to stir up particular emotions or teach any particular lesson or moral?

Then lay out a “loose” outline. You will, no doubt, change this outline a number of times, but having something to look at now will at least help you stay with your story instead of writing two or three different stories because of running off on tangents as you write.

You can use the old tried-and-true classic outline format to do your planning, or you can simply write out a few notes or a paragraph for each scene you plan to include in your story. Many authors plan out their entire novels in such paragraphs. And some writers plan out each individual scene as well as the effects of each scene on the people who were involved in it.

One plan includes writing each scene on a note card, followed by a second card explaining the effects of that scene. The writer can then lay out the cards in front of him as he begins each new chapter and write out what he sees in his notes. Naturally, there may be a number of additions or subtractions – or some moving scenes around – putting them into a different chapter – but that’s what creative writing is all about.

(NOTE: If, while you are writing one story, you do get an idea for a totally different story, stop long enough to jot down the main idea that came to you – along with any notes about a character that you know will be a part of that story. Then put those notes away until you are finished with the story in progress. EXCEPTION: The exception to this rule is that if you find yourself pulled back to the new story again and again – or the ideas for it are coming much easier than the ideas for the first story, then, by all means, put #1 away in a drawer, and write # 2. This may be your masterpiece!)

Most of the time, characters and plot tend to take on a life of their own as you write. Do not be alarmed if you find a character wanting to do some things or say some things that you had not intended. If you are brave, let it happen. Then go back to the piece a day later and see how you feel about it. The same is true with plot. You will very likely have new ideas that come along as you write, and your story may turn in a direction you hadn’t even considered in the beginning. You may end up with an entirely different ending than you planned.

Now, there is a thin line between letting your imagination and creativity have this freedom and in being confused about what you are writing. That is one reason to have an initial loose outline. Each time you find a character changing his or her nature, you can stop and ask yourself, is this helping the story or hurting it? The same is true with plot. Often, you will have to wait a day or two and go back to the story to make that decision, but most of the time, you will not be on a strict deadline.


* Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Pavloff Conner

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Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized, WP Daily Post Prompts

Daily Post Prompt: Sound / ‘The Approaching Silence’

Ear 2
In response to today’s Daily Post Prompt (Sound), I’ve offered the first few pages of a story in progress. Just a little sci-fi to flavor your day.

THE APPROACHING SILENCE

“In other news today, Dr. Leopold Barnes, director of the U. S. Atmospheric and Meteorological Testing Center located inside the Arctic Circle, issued reports of unusual occurrences of silence in a fifty-mile radius surrounding their base. ‘For a period of eight or nine hours, there was no sound of any kind,’ said Barnes. ‘It was the strangest phenomena I’ve ever experienced,’ he added, ‘and all of my co-workers here agree. We could hear nothing, even when we spoke or pounded on a door.’ Barnes went on to say that the experience lasted only for that time period, and then things returned to normal. Scientists from the AMTC are doing further investigations, and Dr. Ruben Perez, director of the center’s headquarters in Leadville, Colorado, has declined comment until those investigations are finished.”

Ruben switched off the small TV in his office, his thoughts whirling, his adrenalin building. He walked to his desk in the next room and pulled a file from his drawer. It contained hard copy of a report that had been e-mailed to him yesterday from the British-manned testing base at the South Pole. The e-mail had been sent to seven scientists on a pre-approved list, and he’d been unable to get the words off his mind all night. “… total and absolute silence for a period of 7 hours,” it had said.

He picked up the sheet he’d printed out earlier. “Not one machine noise could be heard. We spoke to each other, but could hear nothing and, in fact, had to rely on reading lips and sign language even to do the work necessary to run some tests and figure out what was happening. So far, we just don’t know. But at the end of the 7 hours — can’t be more precise since it took several minutes to even realize that the situation existed all over the base – but at the end of that time, all sound returned and hasn’t fluctuated at all in these past 3 hours.”

That report had come in at almost midnight last night, and now this similar experience involving their own people up by the North Pole today was too much of a coincidence to be coincidence. Based on his experience – which covered the first twenty years of the new millennium – it was one for the books. He picked up the phone, punching in numbers memorized long ago. “Hello, John.” He spoke briskly, but the warmth in his voice denoted his long friendship with the listener.

“Ruben, my boy. Good to hear from you.”

“Same here, John, but I’m going to get right down to business this morning. You’ve, no doubt, been apprised of the report coming out of Barnes’ Arctic base this morning.”

“Yes, I read it this afternoon.” He paused, and Ruben waited. After the slight hesitation, John continued. “Boy, I’ve experienced some odd phenomena in my forty years of research, but this one beats the best of them in my book.”

“Right. I agree, but there’s more. Have you received any word about the e-mailed report from McGregor at the South Pole?”

“McGreggor? No, is he experiencing something similar?”

Ruben picked up the printed report again to read it to his colleague. “Well, I’m on the list of seven men who are kept updated on the work there, and let me read you my e-mail from last night.” He read the whole text and waited.

A long, low whistle sounded through the line. “Man!” Another pause as both men processed the facts they’d encountered. They couldn’t refute them, but they certainly didn’t want to believe them. Finally Ruben broke the silence.

“No thoughts on it?”

“Hmmm. Well … I have to say I’m stymied. No … more than that. … I guess I’d have to admit I’m a little troubled.”

Ruben sighed. “That’s not like you, John. You’re generally the last one to consider something alarming. What’s the difference here?”

John Cartwright sighed heavily. “I think it’s time for me to share some things that I’ve been keeping an eye on – privately – for the past few months. But, Ruben, this information has to be kept confidential until I decide how far to spread it. I’m sure I can trust you – and Soren Petroff. Does anyone else come to your mind who would be the soul of discretion in the face of some evidence that could – just possibly – be world-shaking?”

“Whoa! You mean you’ve been looking into something connected with this loss of sound for several months?”

“Let’s just say that I’ve been checking out a couple of minor – very minor – events that I’ve encountered and wondered about. Now … in the face of these two larger events … I don’t think I want to keep it to myself any longer. But I can’t begin to impress on you how vital secrecy is at this point, Ruben. I’m sure you can appreciate that fact.”

Ruben nodded, even though he knew his friend could not see him. “I do understand. I’m not arguing that point. I guess … well, I guess I’m just still in some degree of shock where all of it’s concerned. But, as far as a good man with a closed mouth is concerned, I do have a suggestion – although it’s not exactly a good man.”

“What?”

Ruben couldn’t resist a chuckle. “I’m talking about Dr. Lenora Coleman, John. She’s worked with me here in this center for three years now, and I’ve rarely worked with anyone more intelligent – or wise. She not only has what it takes in the brains department, but she seems to have a kind of sixth sense about how to use the knowledge she has to the best advantage for all parties concerned. That’s a rare quality in our work.”

“Well, if you have such high regard for her, I’m willing to let her in on the meeting. But, Ruben, it will have to take place at my home in Denver. I’m not taking any chances of being overheard by anyone else at this point. This whole situation may be one short, aberrant period of atmospheric distress and may have no meaning for the future at all. So I don’t want anyone overhearing bits and pieces and running wild with them. I don’t think we can afford not to be careful with our discussions at this point.”

John’s words were reverberating through Ruben’s mind even as he answered. “Agreed. When should we set the meeting?”

“I’d like to suggest tomorrow morning if you and Lenora can make it that soon. Say 10:00. I’ll give everyone lunch.”

“I’ll check with Nora and get right back to you.”

“Good. I’ll do the same with Soren, but I’m pretty positive he’ll drop anything else when I tell him the details.”

“Thanks, John. I’ll call back soon.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Ruben couldn’t sit still. He got up and paced his office, hearing John’s words over and over: “… may be just one short aberrant period … may have no meaning for the future …” Ruben rubbed the back of his neck, trying to erase the tension that had grabbed him with those words. Before that statement, he’d felt they were dealing with a weird, but interesting phenomenon of nature that would prove to be one for the text books but little else. With those few words – coming from one of the nation’s most eminent scientists, whose hunches Ruben had learned long ago to trust implicitly – he could feel something else creeping in. He refused to acknowledge it as fear. He tore his thoughts away from the repetition of words and started down the hall to Nora’s office.

~

The following morning four puzzled scientists convened in the dining room of Dr. John Cartwright. The three men knew each other well since they had worked on several projects together over the years. Ruben introduced Dr. Coleman to his friends and explained that he had briefed her on all that he had discussed with John the previous day.

“Nora told me during our drive here that she spent two years working with Dr. Armond Newman in Germany.”

Soren looked up sharply. “The physicist who received so much notoriety for his work in acoustics?”

“Yes,” Nora said. “He discovered some interesting fluctuations in how sound waves traveled through air and through several other substances when there was a change in the magnetic field around the immediate area in which the sounds were being emitted.”

“But tell them about the experiments he did even after his article was published,” said Ruben.

“I was fascinated by some of the work he was doing and kept asking so many questions that he finally confided in me about some private experiments he was conducting and eventually allowed me to observe them and take part in them. He manipulated the magnetic fields in these experiments until he was able to strike a metal gong with a metal hammer, but not one sound came from it. Or, at least that’s what seemed to be the case. But when he checked the instruments that measured the sound waves themselves, he discovered that sound had been emitted, but was not picked up by our ears.”

“Fascinating,” John said, scooting his chair closer to the table and leaning his elbows on it, allowing him to come closer to Nora as she spoke.

“Yes,” she said. “I was totally fascinated – in fact I was captivated by all of it. “He then called in his dog and had him sit with us as he repeated the striking of the gong. Again we heard nothing, but his dog did. And, as I’m sure all of you know, dogs are capable of hearing a much higher pitch than humans, but are deaf to sound pitches below 40 hertz. His dog heard the gong, but in a later experiment, where Dr. Newman tried several different materials which would produce sound at much lower hertz than the gong, his dog heard only one of those experiments, and he and I still heard nothing.”

“And you say it was the change in the magnetic field? Nothing else?” asked John.

“That was the most fascinating part of the experiments. Absolutely everything remained the same in every experiment except the magnetic field around the instrument emitting the sound and its immediate area. With every significant change in that magnetic field, the ability to hear the sounds changed as well.”

“But physics doesn’t lead us to believe that the magnetic field plays that large a part in the emission and transmission of sound waves,” said Soren.

Ruben spoke for the first time then. “Well, up to this point in time, science hasn’t proven a connection, but you know as well as I, Soren, that one of the things we pride ourselves on as scientist is that we are learning more about the universe and its vagaries all the time.”

John spoke again. “Ruben, you have a degree in geomagnetics. Was there anything – anything at all – in your studies that hinted at a possibility of connection?”

“I did come across one interesting theory, proposed during the early 1940’s.” ………………


©2014 Sandra Conner
Fiction, Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Friday Fictioneers 1/27/17 – The Date

This week’s Friday Fictioneers 100-Word challenge was hard for me. I just couldn’t get “connected” with those antique cars. But finally, thanks to Orville and Julie-Bell, I managed to come up with something. If you’d like to join the fun follow the link and get the details.

My story is below Al’s photo prompt.

PHOTO PROMPT © Al Forbes
Copyright Al Forbes

THE DATE

 

“Orville! Stop pretending we’re out of gas, and get me home!”

“But – ”

“Stop. Aunt Pearl always said never trust any man who drives a crank-up machine with no top.”

“Oh, Julie-Bell … Honey,” Orville cooed, wrapping his arms around her. “Just one little kiss.”

Julie squirmed, blushed, fluttered her eyelids. “Well …”

“That’s my girl.”

Just as Orville’s lips settled firmly in place, the sky burst open, and drenched the lovers.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Julie wailed.

Orville hopped out and went to crank the motor. “Well, at least I can skip the cold shower when I get home.”

 

 

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Fiction, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

Prompt Nights – Glimpse Into the World of Edgar Allen Poe

This week on “Prompt Nights” Sanaa has challenged us to get our inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe. I’m super pressed with my regular teaching this week, so I don’t have time to write a brand new piece, but Sanaa assures us that previously written work is welcome. So since the theme immediately brought to mind a story I wrote some time ago — and since it’s a story I think even Ol’ Edgar himself would appreciate — I’ll share it this week. (Those of you who have read it previously have my permission to skip it this time.)

THE FOG

LIGHTHOUSE WITH FOG
The fog’s especially heavy tonight. I can’t see three feet past the door, so I guess it’s a good time to stay inside and write this letter. The lighthouse on the island has sounded the foghorn every two minutes for hours now.

I haven’t been back to the island since that night. In some ways, I wish I had moved away when you did. I’m sure it’s a lot easier on you not having to look out across the water and see that island every day. I know the spot is overgrown now, but I can still pick it out as clearly as if we’d left a marker. And hearing that blasted horn blow every time the fog moves in really gets on my nerves.

Tonight it’s as thick out there as it was the night we buried him. I often wonder what would have happened if the fog had lifted in time for someone to see us digging the grave. But, of course, that wasn’t likely to happen. Once the dratted stuff moves in, it clings to us like a shroud for the whole night.

I wish you were sitting here with me, sharing a bottle of our favorite whiskey. I hate being alone with my thoughts. I’m always chilled and shaky when there’s fog. And it feels as if something’s choking me. I wonder if that’s how he felt as we tightened that rope around his neck until he stopped breathing.

I sure wish you were here with me. I hate fog.

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