Writing Mechanics

Class – How to Write a Short Story

It’s no secret that I love short stories. I like reading them and writing them. I like writing them because they are quick and relatively easy for me. I also lose interest in my story after about 5,000 words and am ready to move on to something else.

So when I saw this online class on Brandon Sanderson’s channel, I couldn’t resist posting it here for those that may be interested in writing short stories. I learned a lot from this class, I hope you do, too.

If you want to do the exercise in the comment section, feel free!

Class cliffnotes:

These elements help you determine where a story/stops and the kind of conflict your characters face.

MICE

Milieu begins when your character enters a new space and ends when your character exits the space. Conflict is the middle that stops your character from reaching his/her goal. The moment the goal has been reached is the moment the story ends.

Inquiry stories are driven by questions. It begins with the question a character has and ends when the question has been answered.

Character stories are driven by angst. Simplest form, story begins when they are unhappy with themselves and end when they are happy. But really these stories begin with an identity shift, a shift in how the character self-defines and they end when the character’s self-definition solidifies, when they have a new understanding of self – Example: coming-of-age stories, romances.

Event stories are driven by action. These begin when the status quo, or the sense of normal, is disrupted and they’re restored when there’s a new status quo. External threat.

Character event – internal conflict.
Event event – external conflict.

Milieu formula: <m> <i> </i> </m>
Start with milieu, incident, close incident, close milieu.

Wizard of Oz is a perfect example:

<c> character – Kansas girl
<e> event Tornado
<m>milieu Welcome to Oz
<i>inquiry Get back home
</i> close inquiry Go back home
</m> close milieu Dorothy leaves Oz
</e> close event Arrives back in Kansas
</c> close character Kansas girl didn’t need to look any further than my own backyard.

Honesty, this breakdown really helped me formulate the story structure in my head and I think it will prove really helpful in future stories.

Happy writing!

Life-condensed, Writing Mechanics

Tips for Writing a First Draft and Life Update

I was too tired this week to contribute to my word count so now I’m playing catch up. If you haven’t participated in word sprints, I would highly recommend that you do it. They are super fun and super productive. I’ve been hooked on the Word Nerds word sprints – they are doing a four-hour word sprint today that I fully intend to participate in. I’m figuring out what I want to write for that time period.

I just finished a short story which I will post tomorrow. It’s a long one – over 3000 words. It’s amazing to me how I can look at a prompt, close my eyes and my imagination just takes over and before long, I feel compelled to write. Then I go into a writing trance and it’s almost like a high – I am transported to a world of my making. It’s a pretty powerful feeling, not gonna lie. Anyway, if you’re stuck or you need some support I would highly recommend you type in word sprints into YouTube and you’ll find a bunch of fun sprints to take part in.

I spent the first half of yesterday getting my hair done. I’m determined that I will NOT go gray any time soon. I feel like coloring my hair takes ten years off my appearance and I will continue to color my hair as long as it doesn’t look stupid – i.e. I’m trying too hard and people look at me and say, “wow. Look at that old woman trying to look young” then I’ll stop.

But I’m not there yet.

Anyway. I went to my salon and we’re chit-chatting and I ask her how things are going for her. They were shut down for six(ish) weeks during our lockdown in .. April (I think it was April) and that really took a toll on them. I had an appointment with them in May and they were just beaten down. It nearly destroyed them and they were working hard to play catch up. I tipped her $20 bucks back then just to try and help her in any way I could.

Fast forward to today. When I asked her how they were doing, she said not very good – they were closing their doors on December 16th. I was sick to my stomach for her. It breaks my heart that their business, and so many other small businesses, simply couldn’t sustain the insane reaction we had to this damn virus. It’s unfair and criminal, in my opinion, to strip someone’s livelihood away from them like that.

I asked her what she planned on doing next. Both her and her business partner (they have been best friends for 10 + years) had already gotten jobs in phlebotomy. I have no idea what drew them to that field but they both got a job at clinics with different medical facilities. One of them is actually going to be working for the same hospital that I work at. I told her that she should think of becoming a medical assistant. She said she had thought of that and is interested but she didn’t want to go to school for it. I told her that it wasn’t necessary to go to school for it, though of course the hospital would prefer that you did. However, we have hired several people who have not gone to school for it and have been trained on the job so she should definitely keep her eyes out for openings and apply. She asked if I was certified, which I am, and I told her that if she gets a job as a medical assistant, she has to work for one year before she can take the test. The hospital pays a bonus and you get a significant raise if you become certified because it looks good for the hospital to have CMA’s on staff. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for her and let her know if anything becomes available. With her phlebotomy experience she will be a strong candidate even without formal training.

She said she went into phlebotomy because she was tired of working in an industry that didn’t offer any security. It’s too stressful to always wonder if today will be the day she doesn’t have a job. And I can’t blame her. That’s the biggest reason I went into the medical field – because that’s a field that will ALWAYS need people and I figured the insurance would be decent. (The benefits are … fine – not that great – but not that bad, either).

It makes me wonder how many other people out there have had to rethink their professional careers because of this damn virus. And now there’s talk of shutting down again. I heard through the grapevine that my hospital is working very hard thinking of ways NOT to shut elective surgeries down again. It’s true that we have a lot of COVID cases in the hospital and that a lot of employees have been tested for COVID and that entire departments have been shut down because there hasn’t been anyone to work them, but what’s the alternative? Go into hiding and go through this again and again every time cases go up? It’s like Ground Hog day. When does it stop? No. We can’t continue to hide from this thing – we have to grit our teeth and get through this. We need to urge the groups of people that are vulnerable to COVID to stay home while the healthy get out there and live their lives. I know herd immunity is sort of a dirty phrase right now, but that is exactly what we must do to get back to normal.

And any COVID cases overflow? Let’s designate large facilities and turn them into a MASH unit and take care of them that way. That has to be a better alternative than shutting everything down further destroying the economy. We can’t sustain this insane pattern. At some point, cases WILL go down, they have to. We just have to ride this high.

The vaccine is available but thank God the hospital is not going to make us get it. I would rather continue wearing a mask than get the vaccine. You just don’t know what sorts of poisons are being injected into your body and I would rather not have any unknown long-term effects, thank you very much. No job is worth my health. Period.

Moving on to a different topic ..

I bought a new Christmas tree. We have literally had our Christmas tree for over 25 years and I noticed, for the first time last year, when I took a picture of it how ragged it looked. It’s been losing more and more needles every year and now it just looks like a six foot Charlie Brown tree. I stumbled across a Black Friday deal on the Target website and bought a 7.5 foot tree for $100. We just got it last night and I’m excited to put it up after recording our podcast. It comes in three pieces – I’m looking forward to spending a fraction of the time setting it up. Our old tree was the kind where you had to put every single branch on and then fluff. It took forever.

Not sure what we’re doing for Thanksgiving this year. I know one of Kevin’s sisters will not be joining us as her children don’t feet comfortable getting together because COVID. They only want a get together of just their immediate family. I know it’s disappointing but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Since we’re short staffed at work, management has approved over time. I will DEFINITELY be taking advantage of that these upcoming weeks. Of course, it would be happen during NaNoWriMo but that’s okay – I’ll just get less sleep. I can sleep in December, right?

Enough with the life updates, let’s get back to writing. I thought you all might enjoy Jenna’s tips on writing a first draft. I like her style – she’s informative but funny and doesn’t take herself too seriously. I have watched A LOT of writing videos and some of these writers are so snooty I can’t even stomach it. We all have different styles and ways we approach our writing – there is no wrong or right way of doing it. It takes trial and error before you find your groove. I’m finding my groove. I’m starting to understand how my brain works and what my creativity needs to be coaxed out of the recesses of my mind. I’m being a NaNoWriMo rebel this year and I’m really enjoying myself. My rule is there are no rules. I write when I want and what I want because ultimately, I’m writing and that’s all I care about, no matter what that looks like.

(warning if you’re sensitive: language)

Video Summary:

1. Accept it will be bad
2. Outlines save lives
3. Don’t read it
4. Don’t edit
5. Edit if you can’t stop thinking about editing
6. Habit over motivation
7. Set goals
8. Understand your distractions
9. List your weaknesses
10. Calm down – refer to #1

My thoughts:

  1. I think this is a very important point. It’s true. Your first draft will be bad. You will re-read it and think, “wow – I suck.” But that’s normal. You can’t edit and revise something that doesn’t exist so just write it. Give it a few days before you read it and then work on making it “pretty.” I post my short stories without editing them – and I know they are not my best work, but every time I write a short story, an angel sings. At least, in my head. lol And it becomes easier for me to write the next one, then the next one. I have to exercise my writing muscles and I can’t do that unless I WRITE.
  2. Yes / no. It all depends on how you approach your writing. Remember – there is no one size fits all when it comes to writing styles and preferences. For me, I like outlining to a point, write it, then re-assess my story and where I need to go depending on where my characters took me to begin with. Then I will outline a bit more, write those bits, and so on. This works for me because it gives me just enough material to write but it doesn’t feel stale and boring.
  3. I 100% agree with this. I write it, then don’t read it again for quite some time. Then when I go back and read it, I think, “hhmm, this is not half bad.” I need some distance from my creativity – she can be an all-consuming bitch. Not to mention, people who write, then go back and edit .. I could never do that. To me, that’s like taking one step forward and two steps back – ugh, just no.
  4. I’ve never really gotten to this point because I’ve never stuck to a project long enough TO edit it. So I guess this tip doesn’t apply to me … yet.
  5. N/A
  6. This is me, hands down. I rarely have motivation to write, unless it’s NaNoWriMo and only then it’s because there are thousands of other people in the same boat and I love rewarding myself. I am working hard to make writing a habit and I hope to have that habit firmly in place in 2021.
    1. By the way – my weekly writing rewards to myself are: 1. new glasses 2. new Christmas tree 3. Rhodia bullet journal (because I’m about halfway through my first one – yes, I’m still journaling!) and 4. wireless earbuds – because my earphone jack on my phone is on the bottom and it’s super annoying trying not to yank my earbuds from my ears whenever I’m walking)
  7. Long-term goals, like quarterly goals, do not excite me. It excites me to see a daily blog post go up so that is my goal for this upcoming year – to write daily, or nearly daily, blog posts. But how many times have I said THAT in the past. (Hint: a lot).
  8. Jenna likes noise when she writes, I’m the complete opposite – it has be absolutely dead quiet when I write. I have honed my skills to always be aware of my surroundings with my job so focusing on one thing with something going around me completely derails me. I know my distractions – YouTube. But, I also think YouTube helps me because I get a lot of ideas and inspiration by watching YouTube. I love YouTube because it’s real people with real thoughts and real problems as opposed to paid actors that like to lecture me. No thanks.
  9. I know for me, writing descriptive prose is a weakness. I’m great with dialogue, not so great at describing the setting. I really need to work on that. And when I do describe a setting, I absolutely have to have a picture, or some sort of visual aid, to help me write it. Knowing this, I know that when I go back to edit, I will have to pad the story with description in order to give the reader a sense of where my characters are interacting. I hate to write setting, but it’s a necessary evil. Otherwise, my characters are in a green screen and that’s not fun to read, I’m sure.
  10. Your first draft will suck. Refer to point one.

It’s the saggy middle, ya’ll, pull your pants up and keep writing!

Writing Mechanics

How to Outline a Short Story

Uncle.

I have to admit to the world something I’ve been denying for years.

I’m a short story writer. *GASP*

I know, I KNOW. I’m not exactly ashamed of this admission, but it’s a bitter/sweet pill to swallow. I love writing short stories. I love writing scenes. I do not, however, like writing longer pieces. I think I’m going to have to accept that I may NEVER write an entire novel – I just get too bored with the same story line. Maybe I should focus more on writing short story anthologies. That is why I like writing several things at once – maybe I have attention deficit disorder when it comes to fiction. I can’t tell you the number of times I think of a story idea while reading something or even writing something entirely different. I’ve come to accept that is how my brain works. I supposed it’s time to stop fighting it.

So when I watched this video, a lightbulb went on over my head. Her ideas ignited my dying embers. (How is that for sounding dramatic).

Maybe I’ll focus more on honing my short story skills.

Or maybe not.

You never know with me.

At any rate, enjoy the video. Maybe it’ll ignite your smoldering fire. (I feel like that sounds dirty …)

Discuss among yourselves. I need to go to work.

Preptober, Writing Mechanics

What is the Story You Want to Read?

How does this author not have more subscribers!?

I’ve never contemplated joining someone’s Patreon, but I’m not going to lie, I think I might join Abbie’s.

I found her information HUGELY helpful and I will definitely be applying her tips to my upcoming NaNoWriMo story. In fact, now I’m thinking instead of posting excerpts from my actual novel, I might post the back story of my main character – sort of like a teaser to her “official” story. I’ve been toying around with this idea for quite some time… maybe it’s time to take that idea off the shelf and dust it off.

I also really like her put a board on Pinterest idea, too. I am DEFINITELY inspired by looking at various faces, locations, etc. and I think that would definitely help me.

Good thing that’s on my NaNoWriMo Bingo card.

She just earned herself a new subscriber. I look forward to watching more of her videos.

Video Summary

Step 1 – Choose your Genre
Step 2 – Find your Theme
Step 3 – Meet your Protagnoist – and his/her baggage
A. Desire (the thing they want + think will make his/her happy)
B. Fear (the thing stopping him/her from going after his/her desire)
C. Misbelief (the thing him/her mistakenly believes is true about the world [exact opposite of your theem])
Step 4 – Describe your vibe – three (or more) words
Step 5 – Pick a location

Bonus Tips
Make an aesthetic board – example Pinterest
Make a playlist
Give it a working title

 

Video Summary

Theme – aka the truth you want to teach your reader

Step 1 – why does your story matter to you?
Step 2 – flip the truth on it’s head and make it a lie
Step 3 – find origin of that misbelief – digging into your protagonist’s past
step 4 – Look for patterns – your protagonist acting on his/her misbelief again and again
A. How does my protagonist cement his/her misbelief as a truth again and again
Step 5 – Tell the truth – crafting protagonist’s “aha moment”

Writing Mechanics

How To Solve Writing a Mystery

A bug bit me.

And I’m not mad about it.

Have you noticed I’ve been blogging more? I think I’ve blogged more this past month than I have in the past two years.

I’m blogging more because I’m exercising my writing muscles. I want to start writing more fiction and to do that, I need to write SOMETHING.

I’ve been wanting to write a mystery. I love mysteries and have been really enjoying the mysteries I’ve been reading lately. (Pst – follow me on Goodreads). But the question is, how the HECK do I write a mystery?

I mean, I can WRITE the story, but how do I structure it? How do I write a story that the reader doesn’t see through in the first ten pages?

I’ve been watching a lot of writing vlogs lately. This one from Alexa Donne caught my eye.

Video summary:

1. What is a (bonkers) reason for someone to kill someone?
A. Motivation / Reason

2. Come up with alternates / additional reasons for someone to kill your victim
A. Red herrings / Misdirects

3. Third-Act / Climax (about 70/80% into the story)

4. Brainstorm of good victims – archetypes – list characters around the archetype

5. Who is the killer?

6. Who is the main character?
A. Outsider or an Expert

7. Construct the setting

8. How to approach law enforcement involvement
A. Local cops vs. FBI
B. How does legal authority play in your story?

9. How is the body discovered?

10. How does your main character get involved / find the body?

I have to say, this is helpful information. I’m a pantser, meaning, I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t outline. However, I’m working on changing that because though I can furiously write a story and it’s thrilling to see where it takes me, I inevitably get stuck, then frustrated, then disgusted and I end up tossing my story. I want a more hybrid approach. Where I’m outlining to a point, but then giving myself the freedom to see where it takes me. I think they call it the headlight method.

“Writing by your headlights simply means that you plan the first part of your story then write it. When you get that section written, you’ll be able to see what happens next and can plot out the next few scenes or chapters.”

Learning about the art of writing motivates me!