Before I delve into this post, I want to apologize to adverbs.
I don’t have anything against you guys. I use you all the time in my day-to-day communications. However, when I am editing my writing, you guys have to ride the red pen out of my work. Sorry.
In my first draft, I don’t worry myself over word choice, pacing, grammar, or any other of those details. If you have read my earlier post, you know that my first draft is usually written by hand to eliminate distractions and turn down my internal editor. A first draft’s goal is to get the story out of my head, and onto the page. After I get the story out it is time to do my first edit.
The first edit happens during the transition from paper to computer. During this step, I am looking for problems in the structure of the story. I tend to change things for pacing or plot-logic reasons.
The second edit is where I start aiming at those pesky adverbs. The problem with adverbs in fiction writing is that they turn down the intensity of your sentence. If the verb needs a modifier to describe the action, I probably chose the wrong verb. Choosing the right verb speeds up the pace of the story and gives the reader a more clear image.
The specific things I look for when I am hunting adverbs are: “-ly” words, “very”, and the “to be” verbs. Keying in on these instances help me eliminate the majority of unnecessary adverbs in my writing. I replace them with better verbs or a rephrased sentence that more clearly conveys my story.
What are your thoughts on adverbs? Do you have a special way of dealing with them? Please, let me know!
It consumed Shelly’s mind. The moment she walked away from James, her brain began chewing on her vengeance. He would pay. His body would bear the mark of his sin. Shelly was sure of that much.
The first plan that she engineered was discarded quickly. There were simply too many ways for things to go awry. Her thoughts had been too hot, too fresh, too intense. She decided that revenge would be much more fulfilling if served meticulously and intentionally. There would be no hysterics. Shelly wanted to see James’ search for mercy as he looked into her eyes. She wanted him to see her cold lizard brain through her dead eyes. That would be her personal victory.
It took her several weeks of planning. It took her several months of positioning her traps. It would only take the span of an hour for her triumph to be complete. Shelly had sacrificed everything in her quest. She had lost her job months ago. Her savings were running dry. Shelly was unsure of her future. One thing sustained her, though; he would pay.
The day was upon her. She threw the duffel bag into the passenger seat and began to drive with one thought on her mind. Today, he will pay.
I am looking for beta-readers!
I need some help shaping one of my stories. If you are interested in reading thrillers with a splash of horror, you would probably really enjoy reading my story. The help I am asking for is three-fold:
1) Clarity of writing. Is there any point in the story that you had to re-read because it was unclear what was happening?
2) Plot pacing. Are you compelled to read through the story in its entirety, or do you become distracted at some point?
3) Word choice. Do I abuse a particular word or phrase? Is a phrase awkward and need to be reworked?
If you are interested in helping, please reach out to me @trevillesghost on Twitter.
I am pretty new to blogging. I don’t have all the answers. I can’t tell you how to get thousands of views, I only have a couple hundred. I can’t tell you how to optimize your blog for search engines or build anything that requires HTML coding. What I can tell you is what I enjoy when reading blogs. These same things are what I try to replicate in my blog.
Keep the posts short. I really don’t want to have to wear out my scroll wheel when reading a post. That being the case, I try to limit my post length to about one monitor’s worth. If I have something to say that may take more space, I consider breaking it into multiple posts.
Maintain a consistent theme. When I visit someone’s blog, I like to have a good idea of what I will be reading about. Some days I may be in the mood for some self-publishing tips. Somedays I might just want to read some random funny posts. Whatever the case, I like the idea of being able to confidently pick the blog I will spend my limited reading time on. Therefore, I limit my posts to 3 topics: Amateur Advice usually relating to writing, Vignettes, and some random short tidbits.
Less is more. This goes hand in hand with your post’s length. Your blog should be easy to navigate. I should be able to intuitively find what I am looking for without much hunting. I try to replicate this by keeping my blog neat and tidy with minimum visual noise.
These are the guidelines that I use to make my blog. They may not be the right guidelines, but they are mine.
What guidelines do you use when crafting your blog? Please, feel free to share!
Sam should have noticed the first warning sign, but he was far too entrenched in the argument he was having with his wife. The high-pitched ringing fell on deaf ears as Sam and Marge yelled at each other across the dining room table. The second warning sign was ignored in much the same way. Sam began to develop a case of tunnel vision. When the third and final warning sign hit him, Sam took notice.
It was too late. Some switch inside his brain turned off, and he became a spectator in his own life. This feeling was always strange to Sam. His body was still moving and acting, but his brain was completely dissociated. He usually told his friends that it was like watching a first-person movie from the front row.
Sam watched the “movie” helplessly as his hand wrapped itself around his wife’s throat and lifted her a few inches off the ground. He saw her were eyes wide with shock. She grabbed his arm with both hands, trying to pry his hand away from her neck. Sam saw her try to scream out, but the grip on her throat was too strong. She began to hit-scratch-bite his arm — anything to escape.
Sam’s body half-carried, half-pushed Marge into the kitchen. Sam saw the knife before his body did, and he knew what would happen. He wished that he didn’t have to watch this part.
The knife buried itself into Marge’s left side and carved a path through to her sternum. Sam stared into his wife’s eyes in horror and watched the light of her soul fade. His body wasn’t done, but Sam and Marge were. He forced himself to think of anything other that what was playing out in front of him, trying to escape the morbid reality.
When Sam finally started paying attention again, he was closing the back door of the car. His body sat in the driver’s seat and backed out of the driveway.
Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning introduces the reader to characters, setting, theme, and the central conflict. The middle places the protagonist in dire circumstances. The ending reveals how the protagonist either overcomes, or is overcome by, the conflict — depending on whether the story is comic or tragic.
When writing a short story, all of these elements must still be present. Where a novel gets 75,000 words or more, the short story gets 5,000 to 10,000, and that’s on the long end of the medium.
This poses a challenge to me as a writer when trying to create nuanced characters and plots. It is a constant struggle to make my writing clear and concise enough to convey my ideas while still remaining within the format. There is a process that I use that helps me overcome this, though.
1. Begin with a stereotypical character. This allows me to set a template in someone’s mind. Within one paragraph, I can associate my character with a given stereotype that may take pages or chapters in a novel. Generalities exist because they are generally true. I use this to my advantage. For example, the social perception of an athelete is someone who is physically gifted, but lacking in mental capacity. By allowing the reader to form this opinion on their own, I can skip quite a bit of characterization. This saves my word count for showing the reader how they are wrong about the character.
2. Allow your plot to develop your character. In a short story, my characters and plot really have to form a symbiotic relationship. I simply do not have the word count to use the same bag of tricks a novelist uses. By using an easily recognizable template, it allows me to play with the readers perception of the character. I can guess what the reader will think of my character, and what they may expect my character to do. Armed with this information, I can sculpt my plot to surprise and entertain the reader by preying on their preconceived notions.
3. Subtlety is key. I try my hardest not to tell my reader what to think about events or characters in my stories. I try to allow my diction to lead the reader to assumptions and revelations about them. Instead of telling my reader that my protagonist athelete is really smart, I might try to find a way to squeeze in a reference to the completed crosswords he has in his room. Instead of telling the reader that he wakes up a 5am to work out, I may mention that he woke up late drooling on a book. The idea is to subtly shift the reader’s perspective from the template to your character.
The whole goal of this process is to allow the reader to retain the 90% of the character that fits the template, while delving into the 10% where your character differs. This saves wordcount that you may be tempted to spend on characterization that does not add to the plot. The plot, then, can be more robust and engaging because your words are freed from unnecessary obligations. In the end, the short story is all about my economy of words.
Disagree with my process? Have something to add? Feel free to comment on how you bring your short story characters to life.