Category Archives: creative writing

The Length of the Story

Several decades ago, a viable market existed for stories at 5,000 words or more. Now, the market for short stories drops off quickly after 4,000 words. This creates more competition for lengthy stories and leaves writers with reduced chances for publication.

I try to keep my short stories to no more than 3,500 words, usually less. To do this, I place my stories in a single time period and in a particular place with no more than three main characters. Focus is important.

Each word of description and dialogue should support the plot without the reader asking questions. Each event has to relate to the story in a direct way. There should be no more than one subplot, preferably none. Ignoring these points, the word length grows quickly.

Some short stories are just not made to become short stories. They may be an outline for something longer like a novel. If I find that a short story does not want to be short, I try to break it up into several pieces to try to tame it.

It generally does not work. In one case, I gave up and turned the short story into the novel it wanted to be. At the other end, sometimes a novel can be nothing but a series of short stories.

I wrote a book that just did not work. To salvage something out of it, I made five of the chapters into short stories and three were published.

I find it is best to listen to the story and let it grow into what it wants to be.

Quote: Keep writing and the truth is revealed quietly one day.

 

What I learn from creative writing that I use for grant writing

Writing short stories has helped me a lot to write grants. Not the part about making stuff up, but how to think creatively and find places to send my stories (or grants).

Creative writing develops characters, introduces conflict, and presents a solution (mostly). A grant writer develops the story behind a community’s need and finds the resources to fund that need.

Yeah, this doesn’t really compare that well. Maybe with examples.

For example, writing short stories gave me the skills to write concise. I learned to write in the active voice and be conversational. I learned how to move a plot along quickly to a conclusion.

Grants require concise writing because of limited space. A writer has to tell everything in as few as words as possible. Like in short story writing, every word counts. Writing in active voice helps.

Active sentences use fewer words and explain things more directly. Also, using words from everyday conversation help define a need better than using broad, scholarly words.

Short story writing also helps in research. With each story, I try to match what I wrote with what a publisher would accept. I learn to follow the guidelines exactly when submitting. This is the same for submitting grants. The simplest thing is to follow guidelines, which is where most people mess up.

Finally, all writing requires editing skills. There are an over exaggeration of material to learn from, but the best is to simply re-read what was written. Over and over.

Ask questions about each separate thought as if someone is reading it to you and you have questions about each separate thought. Don’t be upset if you yell at yourself for writing some nonsense. It just needs to be rewritten.

In the picture, who represents grants and who is about creative writing?

Three things about a character’s name

A name means someone existed who meant something to another person. Names are important in life and in a story.

1. A name should mean something to the character (and reader)
When I read a name in a story, I expect something out of that character. I want to see what happens to the named person and what part they play in the story. When I’ve read enough and find that a writer has named people and never mentioned them again, I stop reading. Naming every character just because they are in a scene makes me wonder who is important. Maybe none of them.

2. Way Too Many Names
Some writers believe the more names, the better the story. I quickly become lost as to who is who. How many characters should be named in a story? Not that many. I like for named characters to be developed in some manner. To do this with a lot of names can only result in a story filled with character sketches and no story.

3. Characters with similar names
Each name should be unique in some way. As an example, if several names start with the same first three or four letters, it is difficult to keep them all straight in my head. The first couple of letters are mind catching and should be different and as unique as the characters. My mind is not caught when too many names sound the same.

What’s in a name?
I use the term “name” loosely here. Really, it is any title given to a character in a story. It doesn’t have to be their name, but could be a title like “detective”. I picture three levels of characters:
• Those with names who have some significant part in the story.
• Unnamed people who are described in some detail and generally have a title. These characters may appear in several scenes before disappearing. They add to the story.
• Unnamed and briefly mentioned characters are mostly for only one scene and can be important for the atmosphere they provide.

A name should help develop the character’s personality and give the reader a reason to keep reading. A name should be treated with care because it is what is remembered. Just like in real life, a name identifies who is who.

Outlining for Fiction

I’ve been writing short stories for many years. Now, I’m writing novels, hopefully to publish one soon. Whether writing short or long fiction, I learned not to write an outline.

When I’m ready to write, I had already been thinking about the story for so long that I don’t need to write an outline. I think not writing an outline is what most fiction writers do.

Some writers just start writing something and some say they start with an idea only. But, I think most are like me and have thought about the story enough that they have the story outlined in their thoughts. Except, soon after I start on a story, about when I discover the main character and plot, I write the ending.

This becomes my outline. A start and a finish with only the middle to be written. Fairly simple process, like coming to a fork in the road and knowing which one to take. Yet, by the time I’ve completed the middle, a lot of times my ending and beginning have changed and taken the other fork in the road. Sometimes, even my ending is better as the beginning and vice versa.

My characters are at fault. While they have not entirely changed things, they tweaked enough to make the story start and end as they wanted it. I let them since it is their story, anyway.

I’ve tried writing a story without first writing the ending and I’ve ended up with a story without an ending. Maybe an outline would solve this issue. The problem is I wouldn’t follow an outline if I wrote it.

At some early point in writing the outline, I would be writing the story.

Outlines can be good for a lot of things, such as writing business plans or a technical manual. Even some fiction writers do well with an outline. Writers should not get lost in outlines. Do the minimum and go write.

What really matters is the story.

Quote:  A fork in the road. Classic cliché. Most people write about how they don’t want to go left (or right). It is better to write how it is good to go in the other direction. Granted, the choice may lead the traveler off a cliff, but it was good up to that point.