I tend toward long stories that require time to produce. Because of the long turn around when writing such stories, progress on enhancing my writing craft skills was slow.
As I finished a draft of a 600,000-word story (which I broke into five 120,000-word books), I reached a point of understanding the writing craft that made me rethink everything I had been trying to accomplish. I needed to write shorter stories that would allow me to practice the finer details of craft that had finally clicked for me.
I began writing short stories — well, stories as short as I could make them. This allowed me to repeatedly practice in less time than long form stories allowed all the skills needed to write stories.
The stories came in at 8,100 words, 7,200 words, 18,700 words, and 50,600 words. Then I felt the need for a story that would lead into the stories I had already written. It came in at 18,800 words. I submitted the stories to various markets as I wrote them, but I have not yet made a sale.
After reviewing this collection of stories, which are related and explore the origins of a world and characters I plan for a future long-form story, I decided I can use them to create an anthology. This would give me a book I could publish that would be 103,400 words (plus or minus what editing does to the word count).
I’m now editing that collection and having a fine time doing it. I’ll see where this path leads me.
Don’t self-reject. Let the professionals do that for you.
I keep repeating to myself: If I don’t submit, I’ll never sell a story. I share this advice with others as well. I’m not saying submit crap — it needs to be your best work — but don’t let the fear of rejection stop you. Even the most successful writers receive rejections. It’s a part of the job.
I finished final edits on my newest novella, so now it’s time to submit it. I don’t expect it to be accepted, though (keeping my expectations under control is one of my coping mechanisms). I’m not convinced I write anything anyone wants; however, I have received rejections with personalized comments that indicated some of my stories have been close.
My stories may be too normal. They’re not odd, experimental, or mind blowing. Many of the stories published by the various markets don’t appeal to me and I don’t write those kinds of stories; all though, occasionally I am pleasantly pleased with what is published. I write what I like to read, stories that make me feel good, stories that give me catharsis.
I’m hoping for a good outcome with this submission, but I’m also preparing to submit the story to the next available market on my submission plan. That is my job.
I’ll do my job and let the professionals to theirs.
As I worked on my current writing project, I wrote the line “Patrick realized he had chosen the wrong path for his life.” I then described the path he took and the path that in hindsight he wishes he had taken.
This reminded me of the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I often think about the poem and ponder how I came to be where I am today, what roads I took, what roads were the wrong roads, and where would I be if I had followed those other roads. Now, as I work on a second draft of the story, that theme pulls at me and cries out for more attention.
The story already had a theme about doing the right thing but not necessarily knowing what the right thing was until too late in the process. This new theme blends with the original theme in the sense that a choice was made and then later events called the choice into question.
The road most people’s lives take is the result of random opportunity and desperate grasping for any job so they can simply survive another day. In my life, though, there were a few moments when two roads diverged and I had to choose. Did I choose wisely? I often doubt I did. Regardless, I have to accept where I ended up.
I tend to write stories that use a narrative conflict type of Person versus Self where the main character is struggling with their own prejudices, doubts, or flaws. This creates an opportunity for the type of character change arc that most appeals to me.
My current project still has that conflict as the main character struggles with his purpose. He had thought himself to be doing the right thing with his life, but came to believe he’s living a lie. Just as he is ready to quit and move beyond the lie, disaster strikes, a disaster that causes him to rethink whether or not he really was living a lie.
As I worked on the story, I came to realize that another character was responsible for triggering his doubts, a character who was actively working to undercut him. This brought into the story the Person versus Person conflict type, a conflict type I have little experience with because of being so drawn to Person versus Self.
I’m a couple of chapters away from finishing the first draft of this story. I look forward in the second draft of expanding the Person versus Person conflict. It makes the story stronger.
I always know an assortment of details about my characters, but I have not in the habit of actually interviewing them. As I worked through my current project, I discovered when I answered K.M. Weiland’s Question of the Day on Twitter I learned facts about my characters I had not considered. Those facts helped me improve my presentation of those characters. That has prompted me to enhance my writing process by doing more character interviews.
Following are examples of questions that improved my story.
What are some of your protagonist’s idiosyncrasies?
Patrick’s friend had given him a chess piece, a knight, on his ninth birthday because all he ever talked about was becoming a dragon-slayer knight. Carved from fine marble, the piece had always been shiny and silky, but it was even more so now after years of him fidgeting with it, spinning it in his fingers, and rubbing his thumb on it when he sank into deep thought as he strategized.
What makes your protagonist laugh?
Patrick tends to be impassive, stoic, disciplined, and affects an austere manner. However, he’s not above enjoying satire, parody, hyperbole, and irony even at inappropriate moments. When his friend says she has nightmares, he tells her his warhorse’s name is Knight-Mare. He has to apologize because she thought he was mocking her.
What is the worst thing your protagonist has ever done?
In all the years Patrick had been a dragon-slayer knight, he had fought many dragons, wounded several, and drove them away from the human lands, but he had never killed a dragon. But when he fights his most recent dragon, and severely wounds her, almost mortally, he realizes what he does is wrong. The worst thing he had ever done was become who he is.
I’m progressing on my writing craft skill building. My Alpha Readers are reviewing my most recent story and I’m beginning another story.
The theme, story structure, character change arc, DREAM Tool (which stands for Denial, Resistance, Exploration, Acceptance, and Manifestation and is involved in relationship building between characters), MICE Quotient (which means Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event and has to do with nesting the various story types), and the chiastic structure are designed, and the starting outline has been generated.
I’m currently reading Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories That Matter (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 9) by K.M. Weiland. Weiland’s discussion on theme has helped me focus my story, which will make the story better.
On her web site , Weiland posted a series of articles about Chiastic Story Structure, which is something I had not heard of. When I looked at my outline I discovered it had Chiastic Story Structure. Now that I’m aware of it, I made a few tweaks to tighten the structure, which will make the story better.
Writing is hard. Editing is a challenge, but not as hard. Different neural networks are involved. Creating something new out of nothing is like following the shadow of a thought through a marsh. Editing something already created is more like chiseling a granite mountain to perfect its shape. Each step in the creative process has its joys, and its pains.
In editing, I use various tools to help me. One set of tools are Word macros I wrote to highlight items I should pay attention to. I finished that process and now move to another tool someone else wrote to look for more items to review.
Soon I will declare this phase finished and ask my Alpha Readers to provide me their feedback, which will lead to more editing.
I finished the first draft of my current project. Now it’s time to revise. Often, when I learn new things about my story, I go back to previous scenes to make changes, but sometimes the needed changes are too extensive. I make notes about those for use in my first revision pass.
Here are seven of the items I will review to see if I should work them into the story. Some of them probably aren’t needed and won’t be used.
1) The dragon economy uses delayed reciprocity and social ties as the means of exchange. Obligations to Kedekitley exceed Kedekitley’s obligations to others. Therefore, Kedekitley is affluent and prosperous.
2) Kedekitley is good at math and designing structures. Other dragons say he is a genius, although he disputes that. Early in his career, though, he made a math mistake that resulted in a structure collapse. Now everyone keeps reminding him of it, but in an admiring way because they say having only made one mistake is proof he is a genius.
3) Early in the story, Kedekitley mentions Xenkerdecley had spoken to him. Late in the story, he visits with him. In that scene, I realized Xenkerdecley is Kedekitley’s mentor and the dragon Kedekitley most admires. The magic and thrill I felt at that moment is what keeps me writing. I definitely want Xenkerdecley’s importance to Kedekitley to be shown in the story.
4) Kedekitley has no enemies except the Dragon Council (who prohibit interacting with humans), Cultists (humans who want to murder Naia because they claim she is a beast), Travis (who wants to restart the Dragon War), and Viren (who leads the kidnapping of Kedekitley’s human friend).
5) Dragons use aromatic (camphor-like) plants to keep insects out of their nests.
6) Kedekitley picks up Sten’s habit of saying “Oh, bother,” when things go wrong.
7) Dragons have more technology than I originally envisioned. After all, they are descended from spacefaring dragons who came to this world to have a more agrarian life, but they didn’t abandon everything technological.
So much work yet to do. So much fun yet to experience.
When I envision and design a story, sometimes I already have a character in mind. Sometimes I create the character specifically for the story. In either case, I typically only have enough of the character designed for what the story needs to propel the plot. The character grows in depth as I discover the character’s details. This is one of the fun aspects of writing.
In my current story, the dragon Kedekitley is an example. At the story’s midpoint, Kedekitley points out to the human Sten that Sten has a mathematical calculation error in his bridge design. This is a turning point in the story as Sten learns the dragon is more than simply a beast of burden. The dragon is smart.
Later, in a scene with his life-mate Arizesyley, Kedekitley mentions finding the mathematical calculation error and blames it on Sten’s overconfidence. Arizesyley teases him saying Kedekitley knows about how being overconfident can cause one to make a mathematical calculation error. In his defense, Kedekitley says he only made a mathematical calculation error one time.
That exchange added facets to Kedekitley’s personality I had not known, and brought about scenes where other dragons mention he had once made a mathematical calculation error. Kedekitley is admired and considered a genius by the other dragons, but no one lets him forget he once made a mathematical calculation error.
Moving through the overlapping portions of these two stories has been instructive. I experimented with different methods to keep the two stories in sync and found that simply opening the two documents side by side and stepping through paragraph by paragraph works best.
I’m also enjoying comparing overlaps between Tui T. Sutherland’s Dragonslayer and the two stories The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1) and The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire, #5). One difference between Sutherland’s stories and mine is in her stories, the dragons and humans (called scavengers by the dragons) do not speak a common language. In my stories, the language in the two stories is the same. That means I must keep the dialogue matching exactly even if I change the action beats to accommodate the different point-of-view characters.
This is a good exercise, and the stories are excellent. I am continuing to learn as I work on the project.