Julie's Quest

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My blog is about the trials and tribulations of writing, where we celebrate successes and commiserate our near misses. We tell it like it is here and will do our very best to help you on the road to being published and pick you up after the rejections (they will come!) Whether you are a professional or amateur writer you will find something useful here.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will visit again soon.

Happy Writing

Julie Phillips - freelance writer - member of the Association of Freelance Writers - member of the Society of Authors

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

I've been thinking a lot about my short stories recently: ideas, plotting, characters, what the story is about, etc. I've been trying to work out why some of my short stories have been accepted, yet others have been rejected. The questions that have been whirring away inside my head are: what makes a good, publishable short story? And how can I get there?

The answer was staring me in the face. In some of my rejected stories the plot was either too weak or there wasn't a story there  -  I had merely taken the reader through a series of events where there was no real conflict or change. I have read many short stories in my time, in the name of research for my own writing, and I  haven't  been able to fathom out  why some of them  got published and mine didn't. It's not always easy to see as I think I am too close to my own writing to be objective enough. I also thought that I could never come up with such fantastic story ideas or write as well as some of the writers whose stories I've read that have been published. You can  drive yourself crazy by over analysing and you run the risk of getting caught in that My-Stories-Will-Never-Be-Good-Enough-To-Compete-With- Writers-Who-Are-So- Obviously-better-than-I-Will-Ever-Be and the rejection cycle. You receive a rejection so you don't write or send any more stories out.

So how do you get yourself out of that negative and unproductive mindset? It isn't easy but it's possible. I tend to choose one magazine and read the stories in that, I then get out the short stories I have had published to remind myself that I can do it and I will do it again. Then I get my laptop out, find a quiet spot and write out some themes and stories. I've done that this afternoon and I'm in a much better frame of mind than I was this morning because of it. I wrote down headings of the types of stories that have been published in the magazine and come up with variations on themes under that heading. It's a worthwhile exercise and you might just surprise yourself. I surprised myself with what I came up with!

There may be an abundance of short story ideas bobbing about in the sea that is your brain, but if the ideas aren't buoyant they'll sink  -  they may contain too much salt so your editor/reader can't drink from them and quench their thirst. It has to be a story to start with and not just a sequence of events. There has to be a clear beginning, middle and a satisfying end. You have to hook the reader from the start to keep them reading and not let them down at the end.

Reading the stories you've had published or stories in magazines helps you to focus in on the particular style and tone of the stories in that magazine, increasing your chances of hitting the spot. But in reading those stories don't ever think that you can't write stories that are just as good as the stories by names you see cropping up frequently in magazines. I thought that and it severely hampered by writing output for a while. You can and will do it, if you read, learn and write.

Before, I didn't really plot my stories and the quality of my writing suffered as a result. But now I write down these subheadings under my main theme heading so I know where the story is going before I waste 1000 words and a couple of hours on a story that isn't a story!

Character 1.
Character 2.
Attempt at resolution.
Added problem/conflict.
Further successful attempt at resolution.

I like to know who has the problem, how they've tried to resolve it, what has or who's stopped them from resolving it and how they eventually resolve it. I like to make sure that the main character has actually changed in someway to resolve their problem and that change came from them and not by a miracle! I like dialogue as that moves the story on by showing rather than telling. You can learn a lot about a character and their problem by what they say and how they say it. You can also discover a lot by how they interact with other characters.

Just half an hour spent this afternoon thinking up short story ideas and following those ideas through by planning/plotting and thinking deeper about what the story is about has been time well spent and will, I'm sure, save me a lot of time and  hassle later. It's all about finding a method that works for you and gets your short stories up to publishable standard.  By spending a little time thinking about your short stories you can avoid writing  a non-starter or having to abandon the story half way through because you haven't thought it through enough and it doesn't work.

So what does everyone else think? How do you start going about writing your short stories?

Happy writing!

Julie xx


Carole Anne Carr said...

So pleased to read this. xx

Julie P said...

Hi, Carole

It's taking a long time but I'm getting there. Just got to remember to slow down and think more!

Julie xx

Teresa Ashby said...

I don't really have a method. My stories start in all sorts of ways, with a character, a title or a line of dialogue I've heard in my head or overheard in conversation. THen it's a matter of filling in the gaps and going where the imagination takes you.

Julie P said...

Thank you for your comment, Teresa,

Isn't imagintion wonderful? I think it's facinating how if you give a writer a prompt or theme to write about, each story will be different.

Julie xx

Mike said...

You're always an inspiration, and nbow you generously give away your secrets. Thank you. I'm sure everything you say can be applied to the novel, too.
Mike xx

Julie P said...

I'm sure it could, Mike. If it wasn't for writers giving away their writing tips when I was starting out I wouldn't have had the bit of success I've had. So if what I've found helpful can help others, I'm happy!

Julie xx

Simon Whaley said...

Yes, this year, so far, I've been trying to do a little more planning in each of my pieces, and it does help!

Julie P said...

Hi, Simon,

Yes, I'm all for spontaneity but doing a certain amount of planning seems to work for me too.

Julie xx

HelenMHunt said...

I find that some of my best stories are ones where I've had a glimmer of an idea (no idea where the glimmer comes from - total mystery) and then let it ferment in my head for a few days before I start to write it. Don't always have the luxury of enough time to do that though!

Fee said...

Hi Julie

Your blog post is certainly inspiring. Thank you for your tips.

Best wishes


Julie P said...

I'm always amazed at how the ideas for short stories just seem to pop up from nowhere, Helen! Wouldn't it be great if we could have more time to write too.

Sometimes I think we can think too much about the stories we write so there has to be a balance, I think.

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Hi, Fee

Thank you - I hope it helps

Julie xx

Olivia Ryan said...

Excellent thinking, Julie, and I do sympathise as I'm not a very good plotter either. I tend to fire off my stories without enough idea of where they're going. The thing is with that method is - sometimes it works really well, but sometimes it just doesn't work at all! I'm trying very hard, with my new novel idea, to plot more carefully and not rush headlong into nowhere. Well done for spending your time so wisely!

Alison Runham said...

Hmm...there's not always a rhyme or reason, I think. I've read published and/or winning stories that are really just character sketches - and thought,how did they get away with that?
Studying scriptwriting recently has been an eye-opener - the techniques on structuring plays are very transferable (and useful!) when writing any fiction.
You've made me think now...may ponder more on my blog tomorrow! :)

Julie P said...

Hi, Olivia.

It's so easy just to rattle a story off in the heat of the moment isn't it! I suppose that all writers have their own methods and you have to go with what works for you.

It's funny how some stories get accepted whilst others don't and I often wonder what it is that the rejected stories are lacking in - why they don't sparkle enough to catch the editor's eye.

Julie xx

Julie P said...


I'd heard that script writing can give you a different dimension on writing short stories/novels. I've never written a script in my life aand wouldn't know where to start but I know writers who are script writers and I've attended the plays written by local scriptwriters too - I'll have to ask them to comment too!

Good luck with your script writing and all your creative endeavours.

Julie xx