Make It Better – Best of The Web for Short Story Writers, Oct 2016

This month’s theme here at StoryADay is: Make It Better.

Here’s some recommended reading from around the web on various aspects of making your writing life better.

MAKING YOUR WRITING BETTER

Here are three articles on how you can make your writing better to read, easier to sell, and impossible to put down.

Confessions of A Slush Pile reader – really useful article on why one reader rejected stories from a publication (even if your’e not submitting stories to publications, this is a great list of ‘what will put your reader to sleep’ and help you improve your writing)

Hunting Down Story Goals Plot holes are deadly to your story, but just as deadly are the other ‘holes’ that you might not be thinking about. This article tells you what they are and offers up a handy, printable template for keeping track of the important details. This might be overkill for short-short stories, but could be really useful for longer short stories, novellas and definitely for those of you working on novels.

It’s A Story, Not Just A List of What HappensIn which I offer up some writing advice gleaned from watching an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone — of South Park fame, among other things. [quick read]

THE WRITING LIFE

All writing is not created equal, argues James Scott Bell, while Ruthanne Reid shares advice for not quitting even when you can’t write.

The Five Modes of A Writer’s Life James Scott Bell talks about the five types of writing day you might have (from the inspired ‘flow’ state, to the solid reliable quotas of the “pro”). This is an encouraging article to help you make your commitment to your writing better: understanding that every day is not going to be blissful, really helps you stick to your priorities!

3 Steps to Writing When Life Goes NutsWe all have them: weeks (months?) when life gets away from us and writing seems impossible. This encouraging article from Ruthanne Reid commiserates, then gives you some concrete steps to take, to keep your writing life alive.

REVISION WITHOUT TEARS

Two tools to help you revise without drowning in a vat of your own words (and tears).

The 7DayStory – This email course, that I created with Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA, takes you through the process of writing, REVISING and releasing a short story in seven days. It’s free and, if you’re looking for a methodical way to work through the revision process, pay particular attention to days 3–6

Climbing Mount Revision, One Step At A Time – The guest post that began the 7DayStory process, by Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA.com

BETTER CRITIQUE GROUPS

Critique is a funny thing. If you get lucky, you find a great group and you’re all mature and experienced. If you’re not so lucky, you get newbies or jerks. If you’re thinking of starting a group (or want to make yours better) start by showing them this video: Professor Puppet’s Writing Critique instructions.

This short, funny video by my buddy Gary Zenker, is a great introduction for anyone new to critique, or who needs a refresher Air this video at the start of your group, to set the ground rules in an entertaining way!

How To Ask For — And Act On — FeedbackIf you have other writers willing to read and critique your work it can be really valuable. Here’s are some of the right, and the wrong ways, to deal with feedback.

I hope these evergreen articles will help you Make It Better this month and in the future.

Do you have any tips for things that have made your writing or your writing life better? Share in the comments!


If you want to read more like this, let me send future articles straight to your inbox:

Climbing Mount Revision One Step At A Time

As we sit here, there are only seven days left in May. Seven more stories and then you’re free to take a break, keep writing, set your stories on fire or, preferably revise them into works of genius. To help you out with that latter option I’ve recruited Gabriela Pereira from DIYMFA.com to give you some tips on revision.

OK, I’ll admit it. When I was in high school (and college and art school and grad school) I was definitely guilty of turning in work before revising it. Sure, I would do a quick spell-check and maybe give it a once-over for grammar, but rarely did I ever roll up my sleeves and do serious revision. And I totally know why I was so resistant to revision for so long: revision is flippin’ scary. The goal for this post is to make revision a little less scary. Let’s get started!

 

Principles of Revision
Before we dive into the how-to part of this post, here are a few things to keep in mind as you revise your work.

1) Let your writing cool down before you revise. Revision allows you to add rational choices and strategy to the frantic bursts of creativity that came out in the first draft. Take at least two weeks (maybe longer) after writing your draft to let it cool down before you revise. Step away and work on something else, then come back to it when you’re able to look at it with an objective eye. The beauty of StoryADay is that by the time you get to Day 31 of the challenge, the story you wrote on Day 1 is probably cooled off enough that you can go back and revise.

2) You need to finish first. Nothing you write is etched in stone… you can always come back and make it better later on. You can do fix just about any problem in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page. Finish first. This is why StoryADay is such an awesome challenge: it forces you to finish. Once you’re done with the challenge, you’ll have 31 finished pieces that you can pick and choose from when you start to revise.

3) Do a first read-through. Try to create a relaxing reading experience, similar to how you would read for pleasure. Make sure you’re not focused on the fact that you’re reading your own work. Make minimal notes. Your goal is to absorb the story as a whole, not nitpick over minor details. Tip: I put my drafts into Kindle format and read it on the kindle. This makes it feel like I’m reading a “real book” and not just a printed out draft. With the Kindle, I use the footnote function to make my notes, and since I’m lazy about typing notes with my thumbs, this forces me to keep the notes short.

4) Extract an outline. Write an outline of what you’ve got as a way of getting a handle on what you have written. Then adjust the outline according to the notes you made in your read-through and implement those changes in the draft.

 

Revise in Layers
I like to think of revision as climbing up a mountain. As you go up the mountain, you focus on the challenges and struggles of that one section. You don’t think about climbing the whole mountain at once (or else you’ll psych yourself out) but instead, only worry about that one small slice of the mountain. Revision is the same way. You start at the base of the mountain, revising the most basic elements of your story, then work your way up until you’re focusing on the nitty-gritty details like word choice and grammar. In my mind, revision looks a little bit like this:

Mount Revision graphic

The advantage of approaching the revision process in layers is twofold. First, you avoid overwhelming yourself because you’re only focusing on one layer at a time. Second, if you’re working with a deadline and you don’t have time to address each layer, this method can be especially valuable. If you start at the bottom and work your way up, at the very least you’ll have covered the most important elements of the story whereas if you focus on line edits first, you won’t have time to work out those bigger problems. Here’s a quick summary of each section of the revision mountain and how to address it.

Narration: This is where you consider how you’re telling the story. Is the point of view (POV) right for your story? Should it be in past tense rather than present? Is the voice of the narrator working? The best way to figure that out is to take the first page of your story and rewrite it according to the different options you’re considering, then decide which you like best.

Character Development: Don’t try to juggle all your characters at once. Start with the protagonist and figure out his/her arc, then look at key members of the supporting cast (like the villain or other important supporting characters). Work on each character separately to keep things manageable.

Plot: Here’s where extracting an outline can be extremely useful. If the typical list-format doesn’t work for you, there are many other outline options out there so you’re bound to find something that works for you.

World Building, Dialogue Description and Theme: Focus on these elements one at a time. Is the setting for your story clear? Does it feel real to the reader? How about dialogue and description? Do they flow and ring true? Finally, what’s your theme and does your story convey it?

Take-Home Message

Ultimately, revision is where you add the strategic elements to your story. Now that you know who the characters are and what’s going to happen, you can plant foreshadowing moments and hint at themes that will be important later on. You can’t do all this in your first draft because during that stage of the process you don’t know your characters or the story completely. It’s only once you know the ending and who your characters are at their core that you can manipulate the story in a strategic way.

Once you’ve revised your story, you’re ready to think about submitting it. For details on the submission process, you can look at this handy guide on How to Submit to Literary Magazines over at the DIY MFA website. And don’t forget to join in on the Sub2Pub challenge! Write on!

 

Gabriela Pereira is the Founder and Instigator at DIY MFA: the Do-It-Yourself Program in Creative Writing. DIY MFA is dedicated to helping writers improve their technique and build the benefits of a traditional MFA into their everyday writing lives.

Gabriela has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School with a concentration in Writing for Children. She works as a freelance writing teacher and has taught workshops throughout New York City. Her fiction has appeared in various literary magazines and one of her lesson plans was included in the anthology DON’T FORGET TO WRITE, published by 826 National. She writes regular columns on writing for the STORIES FOR CHILDREN newsletter and CURIOSITY QUILLS PRESS.

Visit DIYMFA.com for more information or connect with Gabriela on twitter (@DIYMFA), Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. For weekly writing boosts, signup for the newsletter WRITER FUEL and stay in the loop with all the latest at DIY MFA.