Wednesday, March 6, 2013

on writing - io9's short story writing tips

io9's Secrets to being a Super-Prolific Short-Story Writer.
Personally, I like #5 and #12 best.

1) Know how your story ends before you begin it. This
doesn't always work, but it often does — my biggest problem
with short stories is that I get halfway through and then have no
idea what happens next. Maybe I have a really cool setup or a
really interesting dilemma for my characters to face, but I don't
have an ending in mind. And this can derail a story for weeks,
or permanently.

During that first flush of invention, when you're creating the
story's premise, is the perfect time to try and imagine the ending
as well. Once you get stuck in to writing the thing, you'll be more
absorbed in specifics about the characters and situation, plus the
beautiful images you'll no doubt be crafting.

By Shiho

2) Don't just write the same story over and over again, or 
you'll bore yourself. This seems like a no-brainer, but really, it's
something to think about. And if you set yourself the goal of
writing a story a week, you'll start seeing pretty quickly if you're
just writing the same story every week. Repetitive patterns that
you might not notice over a period of weeks or months suddenly
become really obvious if you're doing a story a week. Also, avoid
HAITE (Here's An Idea, The End) stories.

3) Start crude, and then work on refining. When I first tried
writing a short story a week, I found that I was having a lot of
trouble with the basic shape of the short story — my efforts at
short fiction often meandered a lot, featuring scenes that didn't add
anything to the story. Often, I would realize at length that the story
really started on page five, or that one of the many strands I'd
layered in really was the story. So one experiment that I tried was
writing stories that were very basic.

There's nothing wrong with a story that's meandering or even
sprawling, but I found I was much more successful at writing those
types of stories once I'd gotten better at doing the type where a
problem is introduced, developed and then resolved.

4) Have a bunch of stories on the back burner, and keep rotating.
In an ideal world, you'd write a single short story in a week, maybe
revising a bit the following week, so every Monday you'd start with a
blank slate. But it doesn't always work out that way, and if you do get
stuck on one story, it's a great idea to start another one. You can have
half a dozen stories in progress at any given time, and just make an
effort to finish one of them every week.

5) Don't be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours.
Sometimes you gotta spend some time chewing over the turning point
in your story. Sometimes the ending you thought was so crystal clear
when you started out has turned mushy. Sometimes you have to throw
out a thousand words of perfectly good story because it rang false and
didn't feel like the direction the story should be going in. There's no
substitute, on occasion, for sitting and sweating it out. Think about the
characters, and what they're actually thinking and feeling in the
situation you've set up. Think about the themes you've established and
what sort of resolution they're leading to. Take the time to visualize
the right ending for this story, or put it aside.

6) Write a bunch of stories in a shared world. This is a time-honored
tradition in science fiction. You can do the work of world-building
once and then amortize it over the course of writing a number of short
stories. This not only allows you to deepen your stories' shared setting,
but makes it easier to think about your next story.

7) Some stories are just the turning point in the story, not the whole
story from beginning to end. This one is really important. Sometimes a
good short story just gives us the turning point, the moment where one
person makes a crucial decision. We don't see everything of how she or
he got to this point, we don't see all the ramifications of the decision

8) Try creating a character study, or a collection of potent images, 
instead of just a series of plot twists. This is sort of the opposite of tip
#3, in a way. People sometimes assume that science-fiction stories should,
by their nature, be plot heavy — the collision alarm goes off, the
undiscovered new element has weird properties, someone makes a
defining choice, the end. But some of the best stories in the genre are
really just collections of cool images or a few really great character
moments in an intriguing setting.

9) If you're getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably 
haven't found what it's about yet.  Maybe you're trying to make your
characters care about what you want them to care about, instead of what
it makes sense for them to care about. The power of storytelling is so
great, that when you find what your story is actually about, you may feel
it propelling you forward with its unstoppable logic. The characters will
be motivated to move forward, the mysteries will feel more and more
urgent until someone solves them, and the underlying themes will get
clearer and clearer until they form into some kind of potent image. That's
the idea, anyway.

10) Try an exercise, like rewriting a well-known story from a different
viewpoint. Try rewriting Star Wars from Leia's point of view. Or else, try
writing an autobiographical story with one element tweaked to make it
science fiction. Or else, try writing a story backwards, so you begin at the
ending and work your way back to the beginning. It may sound like sort
of a cheat, but part of "writing a short story every single day" can include
the fact that some of these short stories are writing exercises that you
may or may not ever try to publish.

11) Don't be afraid to take crazy risks. Quite possibly, nobody will see
this particular story except you and maybe your friends whom you beg to
look at it. So why not just go nuts and try some freaky shit? Go all
William Burroughs or Don Webb on the mutha. Acid trips, logical lapses,
surreal moments, over-the-top characters, prehensile tongues, and a
resolution that's no resolution at all.

12) Write for different markets. One of the most basic pieces of advice
beginning short-story writers hear a lot is to read magazines before you
submit to them.  But you can go one step further — read Clarkesworld,
Asimov's or Weird Tales, and then set yourself the task of writing a story
that's ideally geared towards each of those magazines. Don't just rip off
the stories those magazines have already published, since you'll just be
creating a bad copy, and the editors will be able to tell. Instead, set yourself
a new magazine to try and conquer every week. This will force you to vary
your style and approach from story to story, and give you a goal to work
towards.   (Full article here.)

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