She stopped for a moment to admire the curtains, even attempting to set it right; for the gentle breeze disturbed her frills.
Jason on the other hand, had his bedroom door closed in tightly, sealed from the world outside.
She tiptoed around the house, not wanting to disturb her son. Perhaps he had fallen asleep.
Copyright © 2017 David Alexian
All rights reserved.
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. But the secret to successfully getting a short story published is to add something special to your storytelling mix…something that captures the attention of editors and readers alike. While there are no hard and fast rules for creating a great short story, here are a few industry secrets that will help your writing stand out:
Identify The Heart Of Your Story. Explore your motivations, determine what you want your story to do, then stick to your core message. Considering that the most marketable short stories tend to be 3,500 words or less, you’ll need to make every sentence count. If you over-stuff your plot by including too many distractions, your story will feel overloaded and underdeveloped.
See Things Differently. Experiment with your short story’s POV. A unique, unexpected voice can provide the most compelling, focused experience of the central story. Just be careful that you don’t inadvertently give the story to a nonessential character. Narrating the story line through a character who’s not central to the action is a common mistake many new authors make, often with confusing or convoluted results.
Opposites Attract. Elements that work against your character’s central desire will keep the reader intrigued and prevent your story from getting stuck. You can also try approaching your core idea from an unusual direction. Dialogue, setting, and characterization are all areas that will benefit from an unexpected twist.
Craft A Strong Title. This can be one of the most difficult—but one of the most important—parts of writing your story. How do you find inspiration for a great title? Have friends read your story and note which words or phrases strike them or stand out. These excerpts from your text just might hold the perfect title. Try to stay away from one- or two-word titles, which can seem to editors as taking the easy way out.
Shorter Is Sweeter. Resist the urge to go on and on. With a shorter short story, you will have more markets available to you and thus a better chance of getting published. Here at Writer’s Relief, our submission strategists and clients have noticed that editors consistently prefer short stories that are under 3,500 words over longer ones.
Use these simple tips to polish your prose and assess any potential short story shortcomings. With these insider guidelines, you can increase the odds of your short story being selected for the pages of a literary journal. That’s the best ending any author could devise—or even better, a great beginning to your future success!
He cocked his head to the side, surveying the room. Placing his elbows on the table, he exhaled.
He had always longed for his freedom to be with his family, but now, he felt as though the distance they had was what his family needed. His thoughts raced. Much the same as the night he was taken away. He wanted to get away from them. Thinking, maybe it was a wrong idea to be let go from a secured place. A place he had control over. Perhaps the judge was wrong and that he was not a rehabilitated man. At that moment, he wanted to return to Centenery. To the place where he hid behind stone walls and prayer someone his life will end. But even behind bars, new travelled fast. And without saying a word, it was understood that Deo Narine was to be touched by no one.
Copyright © 2017 David Alexian
All rights reserved.
The first novel is definitely the hardest! You think you have internalized how a story works as a reader and then you discover there is so much more to learn.
In this article, Natasa Lekic from New York Book Editors takes us through five problems that are common in first novels and how to avoid them.
The experience of writing your first draft can be a roller coaster.
However, once you write that final page, you’ll relate to Zadie Smith:
“It’s a feeling of happiness that knocks me clean out of adjectives. I think sometimes that the best reason for writing novels is to experience those four and a half hours after you write the final word.”
For most first-time writers, this is followed by a straight dive into the publishing process.
After all, you did the work, now it’s time for your story to get out into the world – right?
Not yet. A crucial second phase is involved: the editing. Today, many novels go through an editor before they even reach a literary agent.
At the company I founded, NY Book Editors, we specialize in the editing phase, so we’ve worked with hundreds of first-time novelists. Our team of experienced editors—which has worked with authors ranging from Stephen King to Paulo Coelho to Haruki Murakami—say writers often stumble on the same things.
Here are the common issues writers deal with in their first outing:
1. Where’s the conflict?
Stories must have some form of tension, or conflict, at all times. First novels often start with long descriptions of place or character. The exposition may be beautiful, but prose is never enough to keep your reader interested.
Take even a quiet novel, such as national bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. In the opening scene, it’s an ordinary morning in Harold and Maureen’s household, but something seems wrong.
He’s sitting at breakfast, she’s vacuuming, and then, “The vacuum tumbled into silence, and his wife appeared, looking cross, with a letter.”
The letter is for Harold. As he absentmindedly reacts to Maureen’s request for the jam, she says:
“That’s the marmalade, Harold. Jam is red. If you look at things before you pick them up, you’ll find it helps.”
Harold discovers that the letter is from an old friend, letting him know she has cancer. Maureen changes her tone. She says she’s sorry to hear the news and tries to make a positive remark about the weather.
It seems she’s not just a crabby old woman. Her attitude is more complex than that.
On the surface, we’re reading about an ordinary breakfast and the delivery of a letter. But from the beginning, the reader can see there’s much more going on. This is what keeps us interested.
As an author, you know the central conflict of your story, the main arc, but remember it’s built up gradually through every little scene.
Your novel should never become a catalog of events. Instead, it should always include tension and conflict, which continue to engage the reader. This is the engine that drives your story forward.
2. Are your characters interesting?
As a reader or a movie goer, how frustrating is it when a character doesn’t turn out to be more than they seem? It means the writer didn’t have any insight into the inner life of this person or their world.
When a character has depth, we want to spend time with them – regardless of whether they’re good or evil, sympathetic or not – we’re drawn to their story and compelled to find out more.
One effective way to make sure your character is rich and multi-dimensional is to write their backstory.
This backstory is written outside your novel, and it should tell the character’s individual story—where they come from, what drives them and why—along with details about their life.
You can think of it as a mini history, and ask yourself what you might write if you were doing it for a family member or friend. You might include details about where they were born and who their relatives are, along with defining moments in their life, and tidbits about what they like or dislike.
In other words, you would include the big things, along with quirks that make them unique.
You might scratch your head and wonder why this is necessary. It’s not going to be in the book after all. Who cares about their backstory?
Jenna Blum in The Author at Work explains:
“Hemingway said that only the tip of the iceberg showed in fiction—your reader will see only what is above the water—but the knowledge that you have about your character that never makes it into the story acts as the bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives your story weight and gravitas.”
The intimate understanding you have of your character will bury its way into your novel without you even noticing it. The reader, however, will be able to tell the difference.
3. Is your prose too beautiful?
Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.
Georges Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.” Simenon went on to say that he learned, after working with one editor, that sometimes style can overwhelm a writer’s content.
“When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”
Or, as one of our editors put it, overuse of things like descriptors can bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning of a sentence and continue reading.
4. Has someone else read your manuscript?
Every writer should reread their own work and self-edit repeatedly – until they feel they’ve done everything they can for their manuscript. But at a certain point, a writer losses the ability to look over their own work honestly and objectively.
When he was younger, one of our editors completed a Master’s Thesis. Once he felt it was as good as he could possibly make it, he sent it to a friend to edit.
The document was returned in a sea of red marks. The most distressing edits, however, pointed out sections in which he had left out entire sentences.
“I knew exactly what I was trying to say, and so when I read it, I wasn’t reading the words on the page. I was reading what should have been there. My brain was filling in the gaps.
If I hadn’t had that person read it, I would have turned in something that in no way represented what I meant.
There comes a time when your writing is just too familiar to you. It all makes sense to you, so you can no longer see the flaws.”
That’s when a beta reader or a professional editor can really help. They’re approaching the manuscript for the first time, and they’re going to pick up on things you would never have noticed.
5. Be original
I know what you’re thinking—this is from Captain Obvious! But unless you have a masterful command of how to write in your genre, you run the risk of being predictable.
Consider Adele Waldman’s novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.; it’s about the romantic relationship between a man and a woman and has been compared to the work of Jane Austen. However, unlike Austen’s work, Waldman’s novel is written from the point-of-view of a man.
At its core, the story is familiar. There’s nothing original about the concept of this book, which became a national bestseller. However, because Waldman took the unconventional approach of telling this tale in the first person from the perspective of the man, she made something old feel wholly new.
Having a woman write a romance from the perspective of a brilliant young man gives rise to psychological observations that make the book feel revelatory.
In your genre, ask yourself how your story differs from other books. Even though you need to meet your reader’s expectations for their genre (Nathaniel P. is, after all, a novel about relationships), you also need to surprise them.
Keep in mind that fans of sci-fi read a lot of sci-fi, fans of chick lit read a lot of chick lit, and so on. They’ve seen many variations of the same story. You don’t need to recreate the wheel, but a fresh voice or a new approach to a tried and true formula will delight the reader.
As a bonus, if you’ve done this well, it will also be much easier to describe your novel to readers. Everyone gets excited by discovering a fresh approach to a genre they know well.
The last piece of advice is – don’t stress!
Writing a novel is an immense undertaking. By taking the time to craft your story, your unique perspective of the world, you’re embarking on a difficult but endlessly rewarding journey.
When you make mistakes, don’t be too hard on yourself. Every author you’ve ever admired (alright, alright except Shakespeare) has lagged here and there, learned from their hiccups, and gone on to write the books that shake you to your core.
It doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and your craft. You’ll get there.
Shelly Narine, stepped across the kitchen floor. The floor boards hissed. The rubber slippers she wore dragged against it, every time her heels rose. It made a solemn rhythm. She looked at her husband and four children. Screaming in her mind was how quiet everyone was. She could not remember the last time the girls were around each other without bickering taking place. Especially during dinnertime. Shelly felt this was always the worst time when they were together. Voices clamored for various parts of the meal. If one chicken was on the menu a particular night, it best has more than two legs and two breasts. And as for the loaf of bread, more than two ends. …………………..
Copyright © 2017 David Alexian
All rights reserved.