How to Start a Short Story

First, start in the middle of the story. Provide your characters with responses, feelings and thoughts. Make your characters active, not passive- meaning they do things, have actions, not just talk or think.You also need to provide specific details that mean something in the story. Lastly, but most important what does your character want? Need?

Fear is a great place to start a story. A character who is genuinely terrified is the best place because the reader is going to be terrified as well.

Sex is also a good way to begin a story. But who are they? Where is this taking place? On an airplane? On a roller coaster? In bed? On the floor? And what does sex mean to them?

If you’re having trouble starting your short story, use writing practice. Writing practice is a way to get to your unconscious, the place where your creativity lives. If you don’t know how to practice writing practice it goes like this:

Put the arm you don’t use to write behind your back. This is your editor arm. Next put a pen or pencil in your writing hand and begin to write never stopping to edit. Editing kills creativity and you certainly don’t want that.

———————————————————————————————–
Sue Powers has had many stories published. Her favorites are Saturday Evening Post, New Millennium Writings, Blue Earth Review, Adanna, Funny in Five Hundred and Another Chicago Magazine. She is now teaching Writing the Short Story via email.

William Faulkner Fiction Contest or Not

Just recently, my story Eleven Jewish Korean Vets, was published by Saturday Evening Post. Then tonight, I got a call from the William Faulkner Contest judge. She told me I won 2nd prize in the contest, which would have paid a huge amount more than the Saturday Evening Post provided ($25.00). But as my daughter Carrie has said, (I’m paraphrasing) two publications thought my story was worth publishing.

I was quite surprised to get this call. I started pacing which is what I do when I’m trying to think, then I sent out emails to some friends and family and posted it on Facebook. But then I remembered. Once you write a story and send it out, you never know who will take it and who will not. So I can only blame myself for signing the Post contract that says I can’t re-submit for the next six months. Not that the Wm. Faulkner would have been published six months from now. Still, if it’s such a good story that two publications wanted it, I could have found a small press magazine that takes reprints and sent it out. Oh well……

Tomorrow I meet a friend and then next day after that I meet another friend. In between I write and work.

Bottom line, today’s call is now in the past. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’ll be updating a story I recently wrote. Fingers crossed I can send it out once it’s updated.
———————————————————————————————————
Sue Powers has 21 fictions published. She’s still working on her book of linked stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness. You can find her teaching Writing the Short Story at John Hershey high school on Wednesday nights, room 119, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Saturday Evening Post Results

Having an active imagination, I expected a great deal more then I received. I expected a publisher or an agent to contact me. And of course that never happened.

But before I discuss what didn’t happen, there were some good things. So far (I can’t speak for the future), Janet Krole, Richard Shandross and Bob McGowan Jr. commented. Mr. McGowan also went into some detail on why he liked it. Also many people emailed me and told me they loved it, liked it, enjoyed it, etc.

As for my writing group, they said didn’t know that Saturday Evening Post was still around. Or to be more exact, another writer smiled at me and another congratulated me prior to the meeting.

Now for the things that didn’t happen. They asked for a photo and a bio, which they didn’t use. Also they paid me $25.00. For a such a prominent magazine, one would think the payment should have been a lot more. (Usually small press magazines pay nothing. It’s supposed to be an honor to be published by a small press magazine, which is supposed to be one’s ‘payment.’)

I spent many hours and quite a bit of energy writing and rewriting until Eleven Jewish Korean Vets (http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/) was finalized. Now, divide $25.00 by say 60 hours of writing, I just earned .42 cents!

This story went through several drafts before the final draft. My poor writing group spent countless hours reading and critiquing each draft. Then I had it proof-read. I also spent many hours submitting to various publishers, only to get rejections. Finally the Saturday Evening Post accepted this particular story.

But the biggest news is the editor of the Saturday Evening Post has requested another story. Though I doubt much will happen even if I submit and they accept another story.

So…. should I submit to them again and make another .42 cents?
—————————————————————————————————-
Sue Powers is a writer and teacher. She gave up learning how to play the guitar to concentrate on her book of linked stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness.

She’s teaching Writing the Short Story at John Hershey High School, 7-9 p.m., in room 119. You can also follow her blog sj-powers.com and on Facebook: s-j power stories.

Writing Tips: Find Inspiration through the Environment

If you are struggling to get words onto the blank page, don’t just sit there. Fill your creative well.

Here are some ways to do that:

1. The Music of Your Environment
This is how I turn the sounds of the world around me into fodder for inspiration. While you’re out for a walk, running errands, or just taking care of business, take a moment to truly listen to your environment.

If you’re driving to a specific destination, focus all your senses on the road and the traffic around you.

If you have a smart phone, tablet, or digital voice recorder, take down your thoughts for later use. You can also do this while sitting on your porch, after a long day at work, or running around with your family.

2. Inspiration through Music
If you’re in the middle of a scene and you can’t come up with just the right element to keep your story moving forward, here’s a tip that might help you focus on your work.

Turn on your favorite radio station or your writing playlist. Let the music resonate through your entire body and let your mind wander where the music takes you.

What ideas come to mind as you listen?

After the song or piece of music is over, pick up your mobile device, notepad and pen, or open a blank document in your word processor of choice, and jot down the tidbits that come to you. You may not be able to use them at the moment, but keep them for later use.

Even though you are a writer, do you also play a musical instrument? If you already have an instrument that you play, I have a suggestion for you. Why not sit down at your instrument, or pick it up and play whatever is in your heart.

Making your own music is just as powerful and inspirational, if not more so, than listening to recorded music, or attending a live concert.

3. Read, Read, Read!
I know authors and marketing professionals have discussed this topic on webinars and podcasts, but I want to add my encouragement to all writers, from novices to full-time authors.

You don’t have to rely on print or eBooks only, you can also get audiobooks to listen to as you work. I read a lot of books in my genre, but I also read other books, to find that little nugget of inspiration, when I am suffering from writers’ block.

I’ve heard it said that you can’t be a great writer without being an avid reader first.

4. Find other sources of inspiration
Although I stress the importance of reading to become a better writer, there are other sources of entertainment and information you can use for inspiration.

Many people mention that they become inspired by movies. Although I can agree with that to a certain extent, you don’t have to limit yourself to this medium only. TV shows and movies aren’t the only sources of inspiration I’ve found. If you can find an app or a website that has links to free audio recordings, such as classic radio shows.

Listening to podcasts is another great source of information and inspiration. Also, engaging with like-minded people is beneficial.

5. Here’s a tip that I think all writers can use in their writing process. Find a writers group, or a critique partner or group to help you fine-tune your writing before you get published. The more you can tweak your writing, the more likely others will read it.

Sometimes writers can inspire each other, so connecting through email or social media is a good way to “talk shop” with people who are walking the same writing road as you are.

You and your writing friends can encourage each other on your career path, and your mentors can hold you accountable for a project you are working on, so you can get it finished and into the hands of readers.

I strongly urge you to take advantage of these inspirational sources, because something that a character says or a description of a scene can lead to an idea that you can’t let go of. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of ways to find inspiration, these are a few of the methods that personally work for me.

I hope that you can find one or more of these tips helpful in your own writing.

How do you find inspiration for your creative work? Please leave your thoughts below.
____________________________________________________________________
Sue Powers has a dazzling array of publishing credits. Among her favorites are New Millennium Writings, Another Chicago Magazine, Happy, Facets, The Writer’s Place, Funny in Five Hundred, Blue Lake Review and Samizdada. She has won some writing awards and been nominated for others.

Reminder: She’ll be teaching Writing the Short Story at Hershey High School in Arlington Heights, September 5-October 17th, from 7 pm to 9 pm., Room 1080.
She’ll also be teaching How to Publish Your Manuscript at Morton Grove Library, sometimes in October/November.

How to be a Writer

 

What do you need to be a writer?

No matter what kind writing you want to do, you must read the kind of writing you plan to write. This is the maxim of every writer I know.

You also need an imagination. Now where does your imagination live? I imagine it comes from somewhere inside of you. The gut? The unconscious? Your heart? Your brain? It’s really difficult to say but I do know how to access it.

First you put away your editor. Your editor will always get in your way. Second, put a pen in your hand and piece of paper in front of you. Then start writing. Don’t think, don’t stop, let your imagination run wild. It doesn’t matter if what you write stinks. It’s the accessing of your imagination that counts. If you happen to write something good, go to your computer and enter the text you’ve written then keep on writing. You can edit later. The point is, get it down and keep on writing.

Next is craft. I know many don’t want to take the time or effort it takes to improve their craft. But if you want to be a successful writer, you must improve your craft. One way to do this is to join a writing group. You also must continue to read. Reading provides inspiration and education.

It provides education through the way the writer writes. There are also many books out there that are instructional. One of the books I’d recommend is 1,001 Tips for Writers by William A. Gordon.

If you have to mimic this author’s prose, go ahead. But don’t leave it there. Try to write your own way. A successful writer has his or hers unique style. Mimicking other writers is only a way to begin to craft your own style. This might take weeks or even years, so a writer needs tenacity.

Doesn’t matter what you write, you need to access your brain, your imagination and create your own style. You also need to dig deep inside of you and pull out memories, secrets and things you don’t want to remember.

So start accessing your memories and your imagination, beginning now….

Sue Powers has a dazzling array of publishing credits. Among her favorites are New Millennium Writings, StoryQuarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, Happy, Facets, The Writer’s Place and Samizdada. She’s won some writing awards and been nominated for others. She now has 15 published stories.

Your Writing Mind: An exercise

 

Do you need inspiration to write? Here are some ideas.

Write a short story, poem, a blog or novel using these:

  • A person who will do whatever it takes;
  • An eavesdropper;
  • A snob;
  • A person who will do what it takes;
  • The first day of school;
  • The third day without sleep

Here’s another idea. To get to the point where you’re writing without your editorial mind, lay some paper in front of you with a pen or pencil. Don’t open your computer. You’ll want to just write with one of your hands.

Then put your left hand behind your back. The left hand (or right hand if you are a lefty) is your editor for this exercise. You don’t want you editor to rise while your writing. You just want to keep writing without lifting your pen or pencil, even if the result isn’t anything you’d want to share.

Look around you for a moment. Then start writing.

This exercise opens your writing mind. And what you write may not come to anything, but at least you’re writing. Do this daily and eventually something will click and before you know it, you’ve gotten a poem, short story, etc.

If any of these ideas work for you, let me know.

#

 

Sue Powers has had many stories published in zines and magazines. She is also a recipient of a fellowship prize from the Illinois Arts Council in Prose and two of her stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Here’s Where I’m At

 

 woman writing 

I’ve stopped writing the mystery. It wasn’t working so I’ve taken a break. I was going to take a Private Investigation course so that I could get inside the head of a P.I., but I chickened out. Well not exactly chickened out. I will take it. But something happened that made me stop and work on each story in my collection.

I’ve been shopping my book around for years – since 2009! I’ve made many edits since then and recently my collection made it into the 2nd round of judging and finished in the top 10% in the New Millennium Writing Sunshot Awards. I’d say that was pretty darn good! They didn’t do Honorable Mentions, but if they had, my story collection, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness, would have been on the list.

So that’s where I’m at, working on my stories. Wish me luck –I’m going to need it!

Going for the Jugular

I once had a writing student tell me she wrote for ½ hour straight and when she was done, her writing scared the hell out of her!

Writing can be scary. It can be painful. It can be a lot of things, and good writing can be all of these things. I think because writing is about letting go and going for the jugular – a thing that fiction writers do over and over again, revealing their secret, unfinished business.

Which brings me to wonder? Have you ever written about something you never told anyone before? You know – where you wrote straight through, not stopping to edit, just letting go and going for the jugular?

Try it, and see if you get scared!

Practice, practice!

Red reading small 2

After many drafts, I can finally say I’ve written a mystery book and it’s done. Done, but I dumped it. Hang in with me. I’ll tell you why.

I’ve been a short story writer since the day I could write. Then I suddenly found I had the time to try something longer. Having always wanted to write a mystery, I decided why not write one? I’ve the got time, I’ve got writing skills, what could wrong?

Well just about everything. The first draft was terrible. I forgot to follow the rules of a mystery where one clue leads to another. But the narrator had a voice that some in my writing group actually liked. Good omen, I thought.

So for the following next drafts, I concentrated on the rules of mystery writing, but the narrator’s voice got lost. It was dull, flat, uninteresting. Even I thought so.

Despite my best efforts, the following draft did not improve all that much. I began to feel mystery writing was simply not my genre.

So during a break from it to gain some perspective, I decided not to let my writing group read the final draft. I mean, really: How many times could I ask them to read the same thing over again? I wished to remain in the group, not bore them to death. But they said they were invested in it. So I had to give in and let them read my last draft.

The feedback was this: Neither the characters nor the plot were interesting enough to keep readers reading! Needless to say, they were right. That clinched it. Into the garbage it went. (Not really – I just set it aside.)

So I bought a book on how to write a mystery. Read it cover to cover. And now that I’ve gotten the hang of it and know my characters better, I’m thinking I may start writing a new mystery.

And that’s where I’m at now. It really does take practice to perfect one’s craft if you want to write something worthwhile. So I’m plugging along. Learning the mystery writing craft, i.e. perfecting my plot, my pacing, my characters.

Wish me luck. I get the feeling I’m going to need it.

*

S.J. Powers (aka Sue Powers) has a dazzling array of publishing credits and she’s also won a few awards, such an Illinois Arts Council fellowship in Prose.. Despite some very nice rejections, she is still searching for a publisher for her collection of stories, A Surprising Measure of Subliminal Sadness. 

She lives in a Chicago suburb with her partner, two cats, one bird and a snake (the snake is on loan) and can be reached at firegut@sbcglobal.net.

Mystery Writing—Oh Dear!

Bored woman writing immensely long essay.

 

 

I’ve been doing something I’ve always wanted to do: writing a mystery.

Sounds easy, right? Especially if you’re an accomplished writer. Think of a premise and the book should practically write itself. Well not exactly.

If you’ve been a literary short story writer all your life, you might want to create something more than just a good plot.

So I’ve created these goals for myself:

First, add a main character who develops as the plot develops. Which is what I’ve tried to do. But this has turned out to be more challenging than I ever thought.

Second, create 200+ pages. This is definitely a challenge for me. I’ve never even written a novel. In fact, I think the longest story I ever wrote was only 20 pages. Now to write ten times that and make it engaging.

Still, I’m plunging ahead.

But I’m back to being a beginner again. I will admit as a beginning story writer, I once wrote a story from the point of view of a grape. Yes, a grape. You’d think it would have been all downhill after that. But apparently there was enough going for the story that I got encouragement to keep writing from an editor at the New Yorker.

Needless to say I continued. Through my marriage, through the raising of my kids, through going back to school for my master’s degree, and through various jobs. It was hard not to listen to the characters’ voices roaming in my mind, even with toddlers yelling in my ears. So I kept writing. But perfecting my craft took years.

Now I have a book of stories, still waiting to be published…. Should I give up on finding a publisher and self-publish? At what point should I consider this? At the point of despair? I’m nearing that point.

But I’m not giving up. Instead, I’ve switched genres and am now writing a whole book, not a single short story, or a series of stories. An entire book based on a mystery.

But writing a mystery book is totally different from writing a short story. It’s a whole new genre. A whole new beast. Like going from being a water creature to now having to acclimate yourself to living on land. And that’s where I’m at, still acclimating myself.

Except I don’t have thousands of years to adapt. I have to finish the book, fully acclimated or not. And along the way, I have had to ask myself: Is the book interesting? Is the pacing right? What about the narrator? Is she engaging? Do I have too many sentences that begin with “I”?

My writing group thinks it still needs more work, and so do I. So I’m going to keep at it. After all, isn’t an author just an amateur writer who perseveres?

#

Sue Powers, aka.S. J. Powers, has received a Prose fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council and praise from her writing group. Her story, 13 Rules, won first place in the fine literary magazine, New Millennium Writings. She is now working on a mystery entitled She’s Not There.