by Lester D. Crawford
Santa said, “There are two kinds of people: those who are on the naughty list, and those who are not.” He handed me my gift and added, “Both receive the same gift. Karma sorts things out.”
I love my gift. She’s wonderful. And, karma taught me which list I’m on.
It had been a little sneeze, but now I sit in the yard, in the snow, the cute baby dragon curled up in my lap, asleep, innocent and sweet, smoke still rising from her nostrils as I watch my house burn, the flaming Christmas tree still framed in the window.
My 100-word Christmas story for 2018.
For years, I’ve practiced the craft of writing fiction. The scale of the subject is sizeable. Every author has their own take on the topic and each has their own process for achieving success. By studying what these people teach, and by writing close to a million words, I’ve developed my process, a process that accommodates my personality and idiosyncrasies. I may never be a master, but I do constantly improve.
This year I’ve applied my process to short stories. The turnaround time for creating a short story as opposed to a long form novel has allowed me to rapidly practice story structure, character change arcs, and other details of story theory. Each story has strengthened my skill set. And, each story has been wonderful. I am proud of my accomplishments.
I’m going to keep pushing, keep improving, and keep having fun.
Normally, I know the plot of a story first. Then I lay over that plot the main character’s character change arc. These two steps happen so close together, there’s not really a delay between developing the plot and the character change arc. With my current project, however, I did not have the plot figured out. I only knew the essence of what needed to happen.
To solve my dilemma, I set the plot aside and concentrated on the main character’s character change arc. Once I knew how the character would change, I returned to built a plot to support that change.
Over the years, I’ve studied many resources about character change arcs and feel comfortable with them, but to help with my current effort, I decided to review and refresh my thinking. I reread K.M. Weiland’s article series How to Write Character Arcs.
I was amazed how that gave me insights and ideas about my characters and the story plot. More details are still to be developed as I outline, but I’m excited about where the story is going.
I’m a planner, which means I know my story before I begin writing. However, that does not mean I don’t discovery write. The plan provides the structure for the story, but the details that complete it I discovery write.
During the writing process, fantastic insights occur. For example, in my most recent short story, I discovered the dragon has a thing for rocks. When she finds a rock large enough to sit on, she jumps on it and says, “This rock is my rock.”
That affinity for rocks then grew into a backstory where the dragon collects smaller rocks, her hoard, which she enjoys sitting on. That detail is not revealed in the short story, so I feel compelled to write another story with this character so I can explore her rock fetish.
I’ll put that one on the to-do list because I another stories to write first.
The rush from having these fun insights and ideas is part of the reason why writing is addictive. I’m always looking for another flash of insight, another spark of an idea, another fix for that addiction.
Recently, I’ve been writing short stories. With them I can practice my writing craft skills quickly because a short story doesn’t take as long to write as a long-form story. This quicker turnaround allows me to refine my writing process by repeatedly running through it over several months rather than years. For these stories, I aim for 6,000 words.
Micro fiction is another form I dabble with. Every year I write a 100-word Christmas story. I tend toward long stories, so the first time I wrote one of these I was surprised I could. (Apparently, a 100-word work of fiction is called a “drabble.” That means I dabble in drabble.)
I searched for information about micro fiction story structure and discovered a variety of opinions, all of which are probably valid. The story I wrote this year has a three part structure: 1) Setup, 2) Bridge, 3) Consequence. I like the way it turned out. Later I’ll experiment with some of the structures and methods other writers suggest.
In December, near Christmas, the story should be available for you to read. Stay tuned.
For this year’s Clarion West Write-a-thon, I worked on my short story skills. One story is in the submission phase looking for a market to call home. A draft of a second story is finished and is now being edited. The story is slightly long for my target markets, but with some work, it will be made right. After editing, my Alpha and Beta Readers will look at it and their suggestions will be applied as appropriate. Then it will begin its submission phase.
Word Cloud and Pages for draft of You and I will Change the World
This year I’m again participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. My goal is to practice my writing craft skills on a series of short stories.
The Write-a-thon is a fundraiser for the Clarion West Writers Workshop. If you wish to donate to Clarion West in my name, go to my writer’s page and click on the Sponsor Lester D. Crawford button.
(You can also read an excerpt from my current short story project on that page.)
Sometimes, bad things happen. Sometimes, many bad things happen. Sometimes, it feels like the universe is conspiring against me. At those times, it can be hard to work on writing. However, at those times, taking a moment to write can be a way to briefly escape this conspiratorial universe by visiting my universe where I am in control. That is how I feel right now. I’m going to visit my universe where dragons walk two circles and make little marching steps before lying down for the night. I will write the scene where Ladyhawk does just that.
Tess of the Road Cover
Another book that caused me to evaluate my writing is Tess of the Road
by Rachel Hartman. This story occurs in the same universe as Hartman’s Seraphina
and Shadow Scale
duology, but it is not a third book of a trilogy. It is the first book of a new duology centered on a new character, Tess.
Having multiple stories in the same universe is something I do, but that is not what struck me about this story. What enthralled me was Hartman’s use of setup and payoff. She introduces objects, cultures, characters, or concepts at organic moments in the story where learning about these items fits perfectly. However, the payoff is later when those items reappear at a pivotal moment in the story. Since we have already learned about them, the story charges forward without pausing to explain. I like the way Hartman does this. I, too, do this to some extent, but I could use with some improvement.
Every Heart a Doorway
Every Heart a Doorway Cover
by Seanan McGuire is a fascinating read, but this is not a review of the book. If you are interested in learning more about the book, look it up. I only want to mention one of many elements that made me stop and think about my own writing. This element involves expectation and making a twist that thwarts that expectation.
Trying not to be too spoilery, the scene occurs in the first act when we meet the main character. She is described as having black hair with white streaks. We learn that when she was in a magical land, a character there had run his fingers through her hair making the streaks. My immediate reaction was: Where he touched her hair, her hair had turned white. Then the narrative continues with a description of how the streaks were made: The hair that was not touched turned white with jealousy. Oh! That was an unexpected twist. It was simple, straight forward, totally violated my expectations, and it was wonderful.
I often think about the need for big twists in my stories (an example of a big twist occurs in “The Sixth Sense” (1999)), but I had not considered little twists. Is there anywhere in my writing where I make such twists that challenge my readers’ expectations in surprising ways? I fear not unless I wrote the little twists without thinking about them. Reading “Every Heart a Doorway” changed me as a writer. I learned a new skill. Now, I need to intentionally apply it to my writing.