New story of the week. Check it out.
I attempted to conversationally give you some overview of short story structure and elements last time and I realized that I failed utterly. I was here, I was there. Then it hit me, “there are tons of good, systematized breakdowns on the web.” So here is the best, most elemental appendix I could find. These are the basic elements of a short story! It’s nicely ordered and easy to follow. I don’t think they are selling anything as it appears to be a site for a teacher’s sophomore English class- perfect. Get these in your head. They should become reflexive knowledge. When they are you will be able to abandon them at need. As I said before, keep reading; you will learn more tricks from other stories than anyplace. It’s the difference between learning how an engine works from a parts list and learning from tearing one down.
Outside of the elements of story construction there are few tips and tactics (to quote Nintendo Power of the eighties) that I have found help in writing my stories.
Give yourself time: Unless you’re me, you have a day job (or not, these be dark times). Even if you don’t have a day job allotting time to write can be difficult. There are always more pressing things to do- fix the toilet, paint the closet, watch back episodes of Battlestar on Hulu (take that). You have to take time. Take is the perfect economic verb for what you need to do: weigh the opportunity cost of your writing time. Is Lorne Green as Captain Adama more important than my writing? Really? Take time, and write. If you can do it like clockwork, fine. If not, take it where you can get it. I usually require about three hours solid to be productive. I write in the morning- every morning. I start with an hour or two editing previous work (usually 7 or 8 until 9 or 10) then I am primed and ready. After that I work. I don’t always produce anything of value, but the action is an act of ritual and it creates, over time, a discipline that is invaluable when the ideas are flowing.
Ritual Space: In my early twenties I could only write on graph paper in public places where I was socially uncomfortable. How did I ever get anything done? I was socially uncomfortable just about everywhere outside of my bedroom so it wasn’t as hard as it sounds. These days I write in my den on my laptop with a dachshund in my lap. I tend to keep coffee on the heat and a box of crackers for when the coffee makes me want to puke. This is ritual. You need to create ritual space for your writing. You will create the space based on habits, but as you psychicly fill the space you will find that the space will support you in what you do. Faith built the temple, the temple sustains faith, to quote the Bishop of Metz.
Inspiration in a box: I read every day. Usually a few shorts and I keep a book on hand for breaks. Sometimes I work in silence, this morning I listened to this. Whatever works. When I wrote my first (unpublishable) novel I burned through Slint’s spiderland about eight-hundred times. Everyone has something they can use to get going. I have coffee and Phillip K. Dick had amphetamines- that says nothing about the relative caliber of our writing. The trick to getting rolling is too individuated to be easily explicable here, but as the plaque above the Sybil’s drug den said- know yourself. (or go with Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate, whatever historical plaque gets you going)
Finish: My earlier advice to write badly dovetails with this. I used to have trouble bringing my shorts to a proper conclusion. Novel length writing agrees with me because I like not having to concern myself with rapid logical development. You need to get stories in the bag to get them in the editor’s in-box. I still jump around, but writing is a job and you can’t jump forever. If I am not making progress on a piece I put it in an ‘unfinished’ folder and get on with something else. Yet there is a point when you have sixty starts and no finishes when it’s time to think, “If I were the boss of a story factory, would I fire someone like me?” You know you would. Finishing a story is a very different animal than starting one. People actually have psychological blocks to completing stories. When you pair that with the purely structural narrative difficulties in bringing a story home it’s easy to see why ‘unfinished’ folders tend to dwarf ‘finished’ folders. You can learn to finish a story. Don’t concern yourself with notions of ‘quality’ or ‘sense,’ just get on with it. When you put the last words on the page you get two things: a sense of relief, and a story you can edit and rewrite into what you want. By most accounts T. S. Eliot wasn’t publishable until his work got into the hands of the fascist Ezra Pound for extensive editing . So finish your work. Find your own Ezra Pound, or wake up the one that lives in all of us (right between the the Christmas Spirit and the Beast Within). You can do this. You’re a writer.
So I want to share my most recent story rejection with you:
Thank you for allowing us to consider “I am Edgar Telling, Alone,” but I’m afraid I’m going to pass; it’s just not a Shimmer story. I hope you’re able to find the right home for it soon!
I’ve always assumed ‘best wishes’ was just a figure of speech.
That is the Science of Fiction.
Next up: Part 4, rewrite you lonesome soldiers.