Monday, October 17, 2016

New blog


Hey there, friends of the Scribblerati!

Long time no see, huh? Our blog has been silent lately, but we aim to change that! Claudia posted last week about Two Sentence Horror Stories, and now I've got a post up all about where I am with my writing. The trick is, though, the post is over at my personal blog.

So, if you're interested, click on over.

I hope you enjoy it,
Jon

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two Sentence Horror Stories: A Challenge!

In honor of Halloween, I've been looking at Two Sentence Horror Stories.
There are tons of them out there on the interwebs. Some are amusing:




 a few are quite good: 



but most are predictable: 


 


And very few are complete stories:


Think about it. You can imagine that entire short story, fleshed (pun intended) out, beginning, middle, and end. Would it be worth writing out in full? Probably not, unless the author was exceedingly clever in their execution. Again, too predictable. But, as a Two Sentence Horror Story, well done. 

But wait! Before I get all judgy in my judgebox - maybe I should try it myself. 

*some time later*

Oh, crud.

Not easy. 

But here's my attempt. 


Martha knew Janey's secret: the ever-growing belly she tried to hide under layers of boys' shirts and baggy sweaters.

As they walked deeper into the woods, Martha had a secret hidden beneath her clothes as well: their daddy's biggest hog knife. 

Cons: Not a complete story. Maybe too wordy? (Always my bugaboo.)
Pros: I think this raises a lot of questions, and gives readers room to speculate. I flatter myself to think all the possibilities are pretty creepy. 

Whatever you think of the results, it's a terrific writing exercise. You have to be concise, and you have to be very specific. With such limited space, I found myself carefully choosing every word to paint a picture of who these characters are, and what motivates them.
Imagine approaching every line in your novel with such care. Somewhat exhausting, but I imagine the results would be worth the effort.

So then. If you dare, post your Two Sentence Horror Story below. Let the games begin! 
This is hard, but fun. No one will judge you harshly. Give it a whirl!

-Q

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Story Ingredients: What Makes a Story Great?

As some of you may know, I’m currently a Creative Writing grad student. In the last class I attended, the focus (and indeed the title of the class) was “The Successful Story.”

The professor of this class and my fellow students were all fabulous and throughout the course had some great insights and commentary about what makes (or breaks) a good story. During this class I also had the opportunity to read more than 80+ short stories—some by established/published authors, some by fellow classmates, some by aspiring writers hoping to get published—and discuss what strengths and/or concerns each of those stories had.
Fist Full O' Short Stories

One of the key learnings for me from this class—and this quantity of short story reading—is that it is a rare thing indeed for a story to be perfect, to not have a concern or two, no matter how well written or thought out. Likewise, it is also rare to have a story with absolutely no merit—that even if there are certain glaring problems with a story—often there are good things going on in the writing as well.

Another take-away for me is that not all readers (or editors/publishers) have the same criteria for what might make them love a story vs. hate it. For instance, for some readers having grammatical problems in the prose is a “deal breaker.” For me, as a reader, I’m not as concerned about that (and can forgive it to an extent), but if I don’t feel some emotional response to the story, or like at least one of the characters, in the end I probably will not like the story—if I finish reading it at all.

Following is a list of key story components (some from my scrawled class notes) that might help make—or break—a story.

Plot structure
-           Scenario
-           En media res (start in action)
-           Strong first line, paragraph, page  (I heard author Joe Hill say recently that your most important thing that happens in the story should probably happen on page 1)
-           Strong ending? (Endings seem to be hard to get right)
-           Clear conflict? Problems stated up front to help move the story (Hook!)
-           Back-story
-           Flashbacks
-           Layering (complexity—more than one thing going on)
-           Timing
-           Twists?
-           Promises fulfilled (character earns the reward)
-           Ambitions of story achieved
-           Climax (involving key players)
Characterization
-           Character change (or lack of change) during story
-           New insight or understanding by character
-           Motivation – is it clear immediately what the character wants?
-           Flawed, interesting characters
-           Indirect characterization
-           Seeing how main character interprets other characters (relationships)
-           POV (point of view)
-           Convincing dialogue
-           Empathetic characters (give me someone to care about)
Beautiful writing/prose/craft
-           Vivid, sensory details, descriptions
-           Given only details that matter
-           Strong syntax (sentences, imagery)
-           Realism or surrealism
-           Showing in writing (vs. telling)
-           Letting reader conclude what is going on (don’t over-explain)
-           Does the story take risks? Stylistic or thematic
-           What’s unique about the story?
-           Strong voice (umph! not bland)
-           NOT passive voice, vague details
-           Mastery of language, unity of purpose
World Building
-           Setting (details)
-           Strong sense of time
-           Strong sense of place
Pacing
-           A reason to keep turning the pages
-           “Cliff hangers”
-           Character motivation and goals
Emotional Response
-           Menace/danger/tension
-           Good times and bad times for character
-           Does the story have deeper meanings? Does it say something about the human condition or society?
-           Is the story memorable?

So there you have it—over 40 components that an author could consider and labor over in a great story. Did I miss any?

For you as a reader or writer, what’s the most important writing component to include—or get right—in a story?

Do you have a “deal breaker(s)” where you will stop reading if the author gets it wrong?

Mark

@ManOwords

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Writing & Rock & Roll

One thing I love about writing is that once you record your ideas somewhere they sit there until you can come back to them. I actually wrote most of this post about six months ago… and I just ran across my notes today and decided to finish it up. It involves the music groups Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe—who I saw courtesy of a friend with an extra ticket (thanks, Chuck!) last summer. Supposedly for Crüe this was one of their last performances ever. But I know for a fact they’ve been back to Minnesota playing again within the last couple months.

The concert itself was a blast—and the reason I’m bothering to bring it up now is that for me it was something outside my norm. I think that’s important for everyone to do something outside his or her usual routine every once in a while, but especially for us writers. Not that I haven’t gone to a rock concert from time-to-time, but it’s not my usual thing. Experiencing something new or different often inspires my writer’s mind and helps me make new connections. I’m not saying I got a new character or story idea out of this particular concert—yet—but who knows? Part of the writing process includes the thinking process—and letting thoughts/ideas “compost” over time.

There’s also this quote about writing that I’ve always liked by Anaïs Nin, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”  So, in the spirit of that quote, belatedly, here is…

A Concert Guide: How to tell Alice Cooper apart from Mötley Crüe

Best in-concert upside-down drum solo/roller coaster ride:  Mötley Crüe
LargestFrankenstein Puppet: Alice Cooper (12’+)
Most worked up audience members: the row of 8th graders behind us
Most skimpily clad back-up dancers: Mötley Crüe
Tallest scaffolding: Mötley Crüe
Alice Cooper song best heard live: Billion Dollar Babies
Loudest Explosion(s): Mötley Crüe
Most predictable beheading: Alice Cooper
Light show most likely to trigger epileptic seizures: Mötley Crüe
Sharpest sword: Alice Cooper
Costliest beer: Xcel Energy Center ($9 each)
Worst/most-absent camera “close-up” operator: Alice Cooper
Three ballads that work less well as a middle-aged audience member than when I was in middle school:
I’m Eighteen (Alice Cooper)
Song with the most fire/pyrotechnic accompaniment: Shout at the Devil (Mötley Crüe)
Most miraculous recovery from a guillotine wound: Alice Cooper
Most satanic symbols: Mötley Crüe (but it’s a close call)
Closest Affiliation with the Devil: Tie- Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe
“Ear worm” that I suffered from for a few weeks after this concert: TooYoung To Fall in Love

So there you have it. For my fellow writers out there, may your New Year bring you lots of writing, rock and roll and a new experience or two for inspiration.

Mark
@Manowords


PS> And if you get a chance to see Alice Cooper or Mötley Crüe as they come through on their next retirement tour, I’d highly recommend it

Friday, November 6, 2015

Rejection Success!

In a previous post I  wrote about my goal to get twenty rejections before the summer was out.  I put six short story's into the submission mill and every time I got a rejection, I sent that story out again within the next day or so. I also got some nice treats from my loved ones to help ease the sting of rejection.

I found I needed those treats less and less as I went along. Maybe my skin got a little thicker. Maybe I just got too busy to treat myself to a walk in the rose garden off of Lake Harriet. Maybe the process of rejection-resubmission just became a habit.


Well, it's been about six months since I started on my goal and even though this beautiful weather may be deceptive, summer has indeed
come and gone.

I imagine you've all been on pins and needles: did she make her goal? Did she? Did she?

Indeed she did.

I logged 20 rejections on September 4th. After I had started back to teaching (my internal end of the summer marker), but well before the official end of summer.

Here's one of my favorite rejections:

Thank you for submitting "Old Glassy's Way." Although it's not quite the right fit for this issue, we very much enjoyed it. Best of luck with this piece, and please consider sending us more work in the future. (We will be guest-editing a second issue in the spring.) 

But I also like getting rejections like this one, because they help me improve the story:

I’m sorry to say that I don’t believe your story will be a good fit for our anthology. Thank you very much for your submission.

The following comments are not necessarily revision suggestions. They are intended to help you see your story from another perspective.

Notes:
- What do Otha and Bernie have in common such that they are peas in a pod? They look nothing alike, they are of vastly different ages, and “even there, in the recesses where things matter, Otha was nothing like her.”
- The opening of this story is quite the info-dump. The dialog and action don’t really get underway until a third of the way through the story. My interest as a reader began waning around page 5.
- Who is the narrator? Who is the audience?

I'm up to 33 rejections. 23 form rejections and 10 personal ones. Whoo Hoo! 


I use a really nice tool to find good markets and to track my submissions: Submission Grinder. 

Check it out!  And then come join me on the rejection mill! It's really the only way to get yourself onto the acceptance wheel!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Six Years of Writing

Six years ago Lisa, Jon, Shawn and myself met up at a Science Fiction class at The Loft, taught by Lyda Morehouse. We instantly recognized each other as kindred spirits and started a writing group (I think it was Shawn’s idea, really, but as usual, we all went along with it). Because the universe can only handle so much bad grammar, it sent us Claudia to balance things out.

During that time we’ve met once or twice each month and have each grown a lot as writers (and critiquers—is that really a word, Claudia? You’ll know).  Each of us has completed at least one novel length manuscript during that time, in some cases more than one. Dozens of short stories have been written, and even a few poems and a novella. All this work has been routed and discussed through our group, novel-length revisions have been made multiple times. To say the least we work hard and are committed to our craft, despite the lack of pay.

There are rejections, sure, lots of them. Lisa has even made it a personal goal to get a bunch of them this year (20?). But there are also signs that our work is paying off. There have been promising conversations with agents and editors—and a few requests to see more. There have been some writing awards (Mark) and even some publications (Jon). We’ve even self-published a “sample book” featuring some of our writing and together gave a presentation at a Sci-Fi convention on what it is to have a great writing group. Over time all this attention to writing seems to be leading us in the right direction.

Part of our writing routine has been posting to this blog—although in the last year we really haven’t been very reliable on that front. But, in six years we’ve published 224 blog posts with over 42,000 page views and 675 comments. That’s a lot of conversation about writing!

In case you’d like to go back and see some of our more popular blog posts, here are some highlights, featuring the top two posts for each Scribblerati agent.

The Scribblerati’s Top Posts of All Time

Two Years Later by Jon Hansen
Our number one post of all time… showing what we were up to four (!) years ago. Maybe we should have Jon do an update?


Dinosaurs vs. Humans by Mark Teats (Mark’s top post)


In Praise of Big Noses by Q aka Claudia Hankin (Claudia’s top post)

The Random Post by Shawn Enderlin (Shawn’s top post)

The Great Word Debate by Claudia Hankin (tied for most commented-on post, but also a generator of a number of other 'spin-off' posts)


On Words, Big and Li'l, All Those I do not Know by Lisa Bergin (Lisa’s top post)



So happy anniversary Q, Shawn, Lisa and Jon. It’s been a great six years and I for one appreciate all the support, feedback and ideas that our group constantly gives to each other. More importantly I always look forward to reading what you’ll write next. Damn we’re good.

By the way: it’s now your turn on the blog.

Mark
@ManOwords

Monday, June 22, 2015

Japanned


Hello again!

It was supposed to be my turn to post something here at the Scribblerati blog on Friday, but it completely slipped my mind. Super disappointing, I know. My apologies. The good news is, the only reason it slipped my mind is because of my currently very full writing schedule.

For example:

1. Our next meeting is on Tuesday, so I need to finish my critique of Shawn's current WIP.

2. I'm continuing to work on my own WIP. It's an on-going process, but I'm pretty happy with it. In fact, it's coming pretty easy at the moment, at least for the next few chapters... there's a hazy part ahead, but... well, whatever, like I said: I'm continuing to work on it. I'm hoping to have a finished draft by...Mmmm... September-ish? Maybe October is a safer guess. Either way, it continues.

3. However, I've been most distracted recently by my own blog. My wife and I went to Japan last month, and I took notes. Now I'm chronicling those adventures day by day. Swing over and take a look, it's all gathered under the tag: "Japanned" to make it easy to find.

So that's where I'm at right now. Busy, busy, busy. I hope you're all still writing out there.

Later, kids,
Jon