creative writing

Starting Off and Writing to the End

People in the writing business talk about how important it is to grab a reader’s attention at the start of a story. Yet, the beginning, middle, and end all make the story. The catchy beginning is only remembered by what followed.

As an example, Moby-Dick’s opening line, “Call me Ishmael,” is considered a memorable beginning. However, if a reader never heard of the book, the line is meaningless. It is famous only because of what followed.

After reading a story, I have no clue what the first line said. I remember more the middle and end rather than the beginning. I think a story can recover from an okay beginning, but not a so-so middle and ending.

Catchy beginnings are pushed more in the commercial industry who largely do not care if the story falls apart soon after it starts. The reader has already been caught in a purchase. As for readers, some give up on a book if the beginning drags on. They worry too soon that it may foretell the rest of the story.

In a book about writing I read that, if a writer thinks a device of words is necessary to insure the story is read, the story is better not to be written at all.

I write the beginning of a story without thinking about a catchy anything. I think the start of a story should be with the expectation that a buildup with an end is coming. The start should be done in a natural way with the development of the story.

Not long after I write the beginning of a story, I write the ending. It gives me something to aim for, even if I probably change the ending when I get there. Probably the beginning, too.

I just make sure the beginning and end connect with the middle, which is enough for a story.

It takes time to create

In my attempt at being a published short story writer, I try to spend more time being creative and less time finding a home for my stories. Finding a magazine to send my short stories to can take a lot of time.

Over the years, I used sources such as Duotrope (costs to subscribe, but worth it), Poets and Writers Literary Magazines database (free, but please subscribe to their great magazine), and the annual Writers Digest Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Using these sources saves time from randomly searching the internet.

I also use a spreadsheet I created with over 250 magazines who publish stories similar to what I write (see the blog post “Keeping Track of Things). The spreadsheet doubles as a way to keep track of the stories I send out.

After I narrow down my search to a few magazines, I go to the magazine’s website for more information.

I read what the magazine has published, the editors’ biographies, their mission statements, and submission requirements. One of the most important items is meeting the word count. I stay at least 500 words below their maximum number of words because shorter is generally better.

When I finally pick a magazine, I follow the submission process exactly. I don’t want my story rejected because of a technicality. And, the most important part of the process is spelling the editor’s name correctly.

What this is all about is the expense of time. Writing and getting published are about many things, including writing a good story. Having enough time to do this creativity and finding someone to like what is written is important.

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?