Tuesday, February 26, 2013

short story boom?

Lately, there's been some high-profile debate about a possible boom in short stories. Earlier this month Leslie Kaufman wrote Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories for The New York Times which states the internet is a good thing for short-story writers. She states, Story collections, an often underappreciated literary cousin of novels, are experiencing a resurgence, driven by a proliferation of digital options that offer not only new creative opportunities but exposure and revenue as well. It's an interesting article. You should check it out.

However, last week Laura Miller disagreed in Sorry, the short story boom is bogus for Salon.com. She states, This would be good news — if there were any reason at all to think it was true. and goes on, at length, to discuss "this imaginary renaissance." This is also an interesting article. You should check it out, too.
To be fair, Miller does say, With the exception of certain communities of genre writer and readers — most notable in science fiction — these writers aren’t reaching a wider audience because they aren’t especially trying to.

As an author with a MFA, I'd say authors have always written short stories. It's a great way to hone your craft. Short stories also enable writers to experiment with all aspects of writing/story-telling. Historically, short story markets for mainstream and literary fiction have been limited. Is this still true?
As a student and writer of science fiction, there's a strong tradition of SF authors writing and selling short stories. SF was born in the pulp magazines. The biggest print pro-rate markets still exist and there have been some new pro-rate digital markets. I would say the SF short story market is booming.
As a reader, there are definitely a lot of new opportunities to buy short fiction via all the digital markets.
So, IMHO, readers are reading short fiction and authors are getting paid.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Changing Directions

One of my critique partners is generally very positive. At a recent meeting, she was not as positive as usual. The gist of her message was: this is boring. Wow. If my most positive partner thinks something isn't working, it must not be working. And when I was honest with myself, I knew the book was treading water. Nothing was really happening. Egads!
Writer's tip: if something doesn't seem to be working, even if it's only in the back of your mind, it's probably not working.

So, I went back to the last time something interesting happened and asked myself how can I keep the excitement level up? How can I make the action build? Obviously, my first idea—which I wrote—was boring. So I got out a sheet of paper and wrote: What could happen? What would be exciting? It was like pulling teeth, but I made a big list of possible events, some of them ridiculous, some of them silly, some of them boring. The rule was: nothing was off limits. Use your imagination.
I then picked an idea which was more exciting and wrote a new chapter.

After I finished the new, much better, chapter, I tried it again. What could happen? I picked a new interesting idea and wrote a new chapter. Rinse and repeat. :)
Yes, I did end up throwing out about five chapters, but now, my imagination is sparking. I can't seem to stop thinking of exciting new ideas for what happens next. Huzzah!
The moral of this story is: don't be afraid to change directions in your writing. Of course, everyone's process is different.

What process works for you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


My critique groups have been undergoing quite a bit of change lately. I don't know if everyone's making changes and resolutions at the beginning of the new year or what. The net result is I have some different critique partners. And they are writing and submitting up a storm. Yeah! I love the enthusiasm new critique partners bring to a group. There's a certain honeymoon period where they seem to think, 'You mean I get write stuff and get a bunch of feedback for free?' Of course, the honeymoon can end when they actually study the critiques they get. 'You mean my work isn't perfect?' If writers can consider critique and keep writing and keep going to group, that bodes well for their writing career.

Critique group exists to give feedback. Critiquers should say briefly what works in a piece, but they should also say what doesn't work. Critiquers should also be very specific. 'This rocks.' or 'This sucks.' do not contain any actionable information. 'This plot twist was unexpected but takes the work in a new and exciting direction.' is specific. 'When the protagonist beat up the little kid, he was very unsympathetic.' is specific. Be specific when critiquing!

I find I often say some of the same things over and over to critique partners. I'm not sure what to make of this. One of my MFA professors called this "bobble-headisms" and said each writer has certain mistakes they tend to make. The example he gave was one writer who's characters kept nodding their heads all the time. Good writers learn what mistakes they make and try to correct them before they submit to critique group or for publication. This particular professor recommended making a hit-list of writing problems and then looking for them after a draft is finished and wiping them out. Bam! Bam!

I started this post thinking about critique partners, but maybe I need to do my own homework. What mistakes do I tend to make? Hhm...
How about you? What mistakes do you tend to make? Do you know? How can you find out?
Good luck!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

writing process is a snowflake

I have a number of critique partners now and I've had scads more if you add up those from the past. And if there's one thing I've learned from all these writers it is: everyone's writing process is a snowflake--unique. (Please don't confuse this with The Snowflake Method of writing.)
I'm a pantster; I do not plot my novels in advance. Does this mean I have to do revisions? Definitely. Would it be more efficient to plot the book out in advance? No. The Muse is a tricky mistress. I tried this once and it sucked all the joy out of writing for me; I never finished that novel.
On the other hand, I have a writer friend who totally plots the book out in advance. She creates a detailed ~50 page outline before she starts the book. More power to her. Thus, obviously, any amount of plotting can work.

I do usually start with a Big Idea for my novels. Alternately, I have a writer friend who couldn't tell you what the Big Ideas are for her novels even after they've been published. Any amount of Big Idea can work.

What works for a lot of writers is to give themselves permission to write a crappy first draft. Then, you can go back and fix whatever you personally need to fix in rewrites. One of my critique partners has trouble with dialogue tags. One of my critique partners has trouble with descriptions. One of my critique partners has trouble with adverbs. IMHO, if you stop and obsess about getting everything perfect right out of the gate, you'll never make it to the finish line, aka "The End."
But, if you need to obsess, go for it. :)

Take advantage of your snowflake. Do whatever works for you! Good luck!