Learning by Short stories

Story: The Ghost of Heaven’s Garden. (written 2007; revised 2011)

What I learned: There is such a thing as something that is too personal or inappropriate for the public eye.  Not everything written should be shared or thrown out to the masses.  Before this story, I’d never considered that view before.

The Miller’s Daughter. (April 2011; critiqued Oct 2011)

Even good or beneficial choices made should have a cost–which goes into conflict and raising the stakes.  My rough draft was good, and I still enjoy reading it, but it needs more depth. Every possible decision available to a character needs to have something lost and something gained.   Also, the story suffers from feeling too much like a Chapter One rather than a contained story with beginning, middle, and end. Not to mention, titles do matter. I renamed it to Songbird’s Choice.  Even if it’s not perfect, it’s at least better.

Decision at World’s End. (June 2011; published April 2012)

This story also suffers from a “situational” scene-like plot.  My goal was to give the moment of a crucial decision, to have a character-based plot wrapped up in a paper-package of an SF idea.  Great experiment! Imperfect results.  Perhaps because I wanted to show the turning point more than anything.  Also, I relied too much on the “shaky cam” to up tension. Woops?

– – –

Starspun. (March 2012; on submission till January 2013)

I had a lot of high hopes for this story.  Again it was an attempt at a character-based plot.  I wanted to show that crucial moment, that turning point between despair and hope, of choosing to do what it takes to save yourself, implying that she will or does go through with it and is victorious in the end.  But alas: a turning point, a moment of decision does not a story make, (at least not the way I’ve been doing it).  So though magazine editors really liked the story and the writing, they all agreed that the ending doesn’t hold up.   Again, too much like a Chapter One.

Pirate Ink. (April 2012; never finished)

I try again to write a short story.  This time… flop.  I can’t get it to stay short. I can’t get a handle on the characters. I can’t get a plot to form cohesively.  The stakes feel contrived.  So much ugh.  And all it does is take me away from my novella which I should be working on, not procrastinating from.

At this point I decide I don’t know enough about what I’m doing.  I don’t know how to construct a short story.  Novels I can wrap my head around just fine.  Short stories I’m going to have to admit stump me.  I decide to set aside my short story efforts again and concentrate on Queen.

– – –

Then I saw this post on World Weaver Press’s blog. My eyes go wide.  Look, it’s just the advice that I needed!  I grab my field notes and jot down quotes and advice in big letters so I can come back to it again whenever I decide to brave the world of short fiction again.

So out of this woodwork comes,

Desired. (First draft in Sept. 2013; Short-listed October 2013.)

With this story I finally managed to get a working beginning, middle, and end into a short story, thanks to Amanda C. Davis’ blog-post advice. It’s not just a scene or a chapter one.   I wrote it for World Weaver Press’ FAE anthology submissions window, but it was a story I needed to map out in any case, for character backstory reasons.  The need to write it and this perfect window of opportunity just happened to coincide.  I also learned how to effectively whittle down a draft with this story, seeing as I had a 7,500 word limit.  Before this story, I hadn’t had much experience with paring drafts down to their absolute basics, so that felt really good to do.

The story is by no means perfect, however, and I’m well aware it won’t appeal to everyone, but I’m still proud of it and what it has done for me.

A Gift Once Given. (Started in April 2014.)

I started writing another short fiction story after Desired, but I won’t talk about it here.  Instead I’ll turn my attention to A Gift Once Given which I’ve been writing during the last two weeks of April, as I type this out now.  This one I’ve approached differently than any of the others.  I have a general outline, I know what I want to accomplish, but how I get from point A to point B I don’t necessarily know, and not only that, but I’ve been so out of it during all my writing sessions these past two weeks that I’ve been writing just to write.  Today and yesterday are the first two days I’ve gone back to tinker with any wording or flow or correcting what’s on the page to what I wish it could’ve been the first time around.  I described the process on Twitter as a “rough sketch of a story” and that’s how the rough draft is turning out to be.  The writing itself has been satisfying and has kept me emotionally alive through these past couple of weeks, but what makes me not just satisfied–but happy–is when the story feels right and good and close to how I’d imagined or felt it to be.  There’s a dual satisfaction in not just creating but creating something I like, and it’s been interesting to see how those two facets have been balanced or imbalanced in different ways this go-around.

I’m writing this story for another upcoming WWP anthology, a dragon anthology that I suggested they do–on my birthday! So that’s been fun.  I have no idea how well this story will come out.  Since it’s so rough, it will require more detailed, finer work in later revisions I expect, but I thought I would add it to my list of stories, proving to myself that the rougher sketches can be satisfying as well as the finer, detailed work of honing it.  Still, I think I will always be the kind of writer who must hone the story and revise it as I go along, rather than leave it in “rough sketch” stage until the very end.

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