June 8, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: The Publishable Short Story 1 -- SHORT! (Guy Stewart #2)

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

Every summer I teach a class to young people called Writing To Get Published. The class is self-explanatory and for the most part, I get realistic young people who take the class for several reasons. One of them is that while they are excellent readers and have read both extensively and INtensively, they feel that there is something more out there. They usually aren’t content with reading. For whatever reason, many of them feel a drive to CREATE books.

Being that they are typically between ten and seventeen years old, it goes without saying that they have had limited experience with the world of publishing.

For example, a decade ago, preteens and teens were devouring the REDWALL books, by Brian Jacques (whose human-like animal characters were praised from the beginning for “‘…action, poetry, songs, courage, and vivid descriptions...create a unique style’, ‘equal-opportunity adventuring, in which female creatures can be just as courageous (or as diabolical) as their male counterparts.’ The ‘development of unique language intrinsic to certain species, giv[es] the novels an ‘endearing dialectal dialogue.’ Some critics noted that the books ‘give too simplistic a view of good and evil,’ and that ‘The characteristics of the animals in the novels are fixed by their species, making them quite “predictable”’.

My students, enamored of the series eschewed the elements that made the stories memorable – poetry, song, courage, vivid description, adventuring, language, and the age-old concept of good versus evil – and focused exclusively on the battle scenes, writing reams of hack-and-slash and then breathlessly bringing the “stories” up to me for comment.

I tried to be kind, but most ignored my advice and churned out reams of battle scenes without any thought to plot, then showed it to their parents, who thought the writing was wonderful and asked if I knew any publishers...

When I (also inevitably) announced that I wasn’t sure most people in the class were ready to write novels – and then meticulously went over the typical lengths for novels for young people (after pointing out that most of them weren’t qualified yet to write a coming-of-age novel about a young man or woman...and having some of them violently disagree and write about adolescent romance anyway.

ALL OF THIS TO SAY: Write Short to start with.

There are hundreds of markets (keeping in mind my “to get published” goal) that do NOT require you to give away your hard-earned cash. The pay can be non-existent (these markets are called “4-the-love”) all the way up to professional markets that pay seven cents a word or more. Literary fiction, essays, poetry are showcased in the Pushcart Prize collections (http://www.pushcartprize.com/news.html); speculative fiction, essays, and poetry is catalogued at ralan.com (http://www.ralan.com/index.htm); and romance at http://cindimyersmarketnews.wordpress.com/category/short-fiction-markets/. All of them have a voracious appetite for short fiction.

None of them require the hard work and commitment of producing a novel and all of them will take the efforts of new writers. In fact, all of them depend on the efforts of new writers.

HOW do you write short?

That will be subject of my first series in Guy’s Writing Advice.

For the time being, try and keep your story short – which means that everything should happen over a period of time no longer than a week. It also means that you need only three or four characters – no “cast of thousands”.

Until next time, then...

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