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

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New school year, new way of thinking/writing

 The kids to go back to school for the new school year. Many of them will be moving on to a new school or even leaving to go to sixth form or college or take their first tentative steps into work. Some will be just starting out on their educational journey or moving up a year. The time just seems to have flown and it doesn't feel like it's been 7 weeks, but my diary says that it has!

Although I've enjoyed having my daughter at home and doing the many activities we've done (the most memorable  being the scout camp - but that's a different story), I'll be glad to get back into the old school routine. So it's a new start for me too. I've been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about how I operate as a writer. I've been analysing how I write, when I write and trying to figure out what changes I can make to ensure that  my writing life is more efficient and successful.

At the moment, short story wise, after another flurry of rejected short stories, alongside reading more short stories and reading about how to write short stories, I've decided to go back to basics and take a good hard look at my stories and why they just aren't quite hitting the mark. Rejections can be soul destroying. They can demotivate and lead to a severe loss of the imagination and a drought of impetus to carry on. But when you've had as many rejections as I have (probably in the 100s), you won't view them as a negative entity. They are an opportunity for growth as a writer.

I've gone right back down to the planning stage and I've started to mind map my short stories. I put a working title in the center of the page and put PROBLEM at the top and RESOLUTION at the bottom. I then mind map the story (putting any thoughts about the progression of the story into little clouds as I move around the page)  until I've got the beginnings of a fully rounded short story that I can build on.

 The funny thing is, though, since I've started doing this I've discovered some interesting things about the way I write and my stories: some of my 'stories' aren't, in fact, stories and are just sequences of events, some of them are weak stories where either the characters are too wishy- washy or their problem isn't worrying enough for them which means the story is missing that spark that editors want. A lot of my stories start out promisingly enough, but peter out in the middle to an unsatisfactory ending. And when I read other people's stories that are published, I can see that some of my stories just didn't have that elusive quality that they have.

Now, you would think with all those negative points that I would be shoving all my stories into the shredder and never be writing again. Well you'd be wrong. Far from being discouraged, because I know where my stories fall down, I now know what I need to work on to get them into the premier league of short stories - where I might see two of my stories in the same issue of a magazine  -  the 'holy grail' of the women's short story writer! Other writers manage it and so can we - if we are prepared to work hard, learn from those who do it on a regular basis and listen hard to what our own stories are telling us.

I also know that I've had short stories published before, so I must be doing something right some of the time (I just wish I knew what it was that I was doing right so that I could do it more of the time!) There are lots of reasons why short stories get rejected, of course: too long/short, on a similar theme to one the magazine has has just bought,etc, but sometimes it's just because our stories are rubbish and we have to accept that - but it's something we can work on and nothing to get disappointed about.

I'm also writing down tips on what makes a good, publishable, short story and here are some of my favourite:

1. Make sure your character(s) have a problem/conflict that they need to overcome/resolve.
2. The resolution must come from the main character - no knights in shining armour please.
3. Give your character(s) a plausible problem that they have to resolve - make sure it's something they would encounter in their everyday lives.
4. Make the setting familiar to the reader; supermarket, Dr's waiting room, office, shop, restaurant, etc, where they will have been themselves and can identify with.
5. Stay true to your character(s) in their actions, thoughts, dialogue, appearance - don't make an upper class judge speak like a rap star from the ghetto, (unless it serves a purpose to the story or it's for comedic effect.)
6. Give your character(s) a problem/conflict that many readers will identify with: relationship issues, work issues, learning, community issues, etc - this will make it easier for readers to identify and sympathise with your character's(s) concerns.
7. Pull the unusual from the usual - don't go with the first thought you have for a short story - chances are that you and a hundred other writers have had the same idea. So think outside of the box and attack it from a different angle to give your story that edge - originality.
8. Give a realistic and satisfying ending - too many stories don't have this and it lets the whole story down.

10. Most important is this  -  read the submission guidelines and the magazines you want to write for - not just the short stories, every page including adverts and reader letters; It's amazing what you can learn from them.

I now have eight of these mind maps so I'll busy over the next month expanding on them and shaping them into short stories I'll sub. So why not give the mind mapping a go yourself and see what it shows you about your writing. It could take you a step closer to publication.

Happy writing

Julie xx


Simon Whaley said...

My eyes are going funny. Where's point 9? :-)

Julie P said...

Er ...... just checking you're awake and I was testing your proof reading skills ;0)
Julie xx