The Interwebs host an unlimited number of suggestions on how to write fiction, as well as countless books from people far smarter and skilled than I. For those trying to determine if a short story (ie less than 30,000 words) truly has merit, I recommend the following piece of advice…
While I don’t claim to be an expert, after receiving critiques from fellow writers and editors for nearly a decade, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what critiques to give credence to and which ones to ignore.
By ignore, I don’t mean dismissing the critique partner or disregarding the entirety of their comments. Most critiques cover a variety of points, so I rate each individual criticism on its own merit. Otherwise, I risk missing out on valuable feedback or never being able to keep a critique partner.
But there are definitely signs that can help filter out the good from the bad.
Many studies suggest a large number of people have a desire to publish a story (one such study even suggests the number being over 80%). However, an equally large number of people often feel they don’t know how to get started, let alone have the skills or knowledge to take a story across the finish line of publication.
NOTE: When I mention “publication” in this post, I am referring to traditional publishing, not self-publishing. That said, I feel the concepts and information in this post applies to both and encourage you to read on regardless of your stories final destination.
If so many people want to write books, how come there aren’t billions published each year?
There are many “reasons” why so many stories go unwritten and, sadly, the reason often comes down to a general lack of focus or allowing inaccurate perceptions to derail the story.
I am (un)happy to say that I used to be one of those poor souls above:
Photo by: Lucas Moratelli
Please note: This article is in regards to being published in traditional markets versus self-publishing.
Writers face many challenges on the long road to becoming a published author — lack of time, money, resources, inspiration, support, etc. One of the biggest challenges (IMHO) is simply staying motivated against the overwhelming odds of getting published, or at least, the perception of the odds.
Innocent Doubt – By T. A. Fenner
A muffled beep sounded from the hip of Jacob’s overalls, drawing a heavy sigh from the tiny hunter. He slipped a hand inside the pocket and pulled free an army-green wrist watch.
His brother’s watch.
Jacob stared at the timepiece as his thumb traced its circular edge. Dave… After a hard swallow, Jacob checked the time.
FacebookPhoto by: Lucas Moratelli
As an aspiring writer, I have collected what I feel is more than my fair share of rejections (count is now up to 48 on 8 short stories…ouch!). The rejections used to be canned, with ZERO personalization or any acknowledgement the story was even read. But as time progressed, I started to receive a hand full of rejections with a few kind words, and even some pointers on what did and didn’t work for the publisher.
While it sucks getting rejections, especially so many, I knew from my research that this is pretty typical for new writers exploring the traditional world of fiction publishing, that it’s going to take a number of rejections (which sadly, is looking like far more than 48 for me) and the value of those rejections improve before the first publishing credit is finally earned.
But things sure got interesting when one of my stories finally got noticed!
Campside Sadistic – 1100 words
By T. A. Fenner
Just a little popcorn flash fiction I created for a contest that required the use of “It was a dark and stormy night” in the story. Didn’t win, but the editor thought it was a fun read. In any case, figured it would be a good story to get the Halloween season kicked off… It is Halloween season, right?
Anyhow, check it out below!
If ever there WAS a word that caused a whole heap of consternation within the writing community, it most definitely is the word “WAS.” A lot of time and effort has been spent focusing on whether or not this little word (and its variants (wasn’t, were, weren’t, etc) and others like it (looking at you: am, is, are, being, be, been, etc) are truly the bane of the publishing world or whether they are completely justified showing up within the beauty of our prose.
In this author’s opinion, the answer is a frustrating: It depends.
Photo by: Dade Freeman
One of the more common first person themes I have seen within my writer’s group is the overuse of pronouns (I, me, my), with “I” being the biggest offender. This theme is really noticeable when the pronouns come at the beginning of multiple sentences within a given section. For example:
I was so hot that sweat poured down my face. I ran across the street to the hotdog stand. I asked the vendor for a bottle of soda. The moment he handed it to me, I guzzled it down so fast that I barely tasted it.
Pronouns, when overused, tend to draw too much attention to the character (as in: HEY, LOOK AT ME AND WHAT I AM SAYING, DOING, ETC!) versus focusing on the story unfolding before them. They are also guilty of carrying a lot of filter words, as if the reader needs to be told who is doing the seeing, hearing, touching, etc.
How do you limit “I” and other pronouns?
Photo by -Curly-
A great story often requires great characters, or, at least, one great character. Great characters come in many shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, and, more importantly, carry a range of depth and dimension.
So how does one create great characters?