I thought I would share a little tip today which I still use regularly myself when writing and also editing short fiction.
When I first started penning stories professionally, I inevitably had my share of rejections (who doesn’t!). Over the years I have thankfully managed to minimise those dreaded “no, thank you” responses and even when they do pop into the inbox (oops), I can normally “fix” a story quite quickly these days to ensure I sell it on somewhere else.
At a recent short story workshop, I told my students to carefully drill the “basics” at the story planning stage. You need, above all, a strong character and a strong theme. Avoid clichéd situations and try to think of something original. Then check that your character has learned something or changed significantly by the end of the story. This is the clincher. It may be that your character has realised something internally. It may be some external change. But it must be significant.
A story can’t just be a moment in time that goes nowhere ( ie has no plot) – however brilliantly you write it.
“Not enough plot” is a regular reason for rejection in the magazine market. So check that your story has layers. Plot can be woven in as back story…but it must be there. The reader needs to understand why your character has a problem. Where that problem came from. And how the character might move forward from it.
Ipso facto. The plot must thicken!
Writing can be such an isolating experience, can’t it? Such a
love-hate relationship. We can’t live without it and yet some days it drives us nuts.
Monday, we write a page and are sure “this is it”. By Friday? “What was I thinking?”
So what a treat to get together a group of writers for a workshop to share the ups and downs, to share tips from the three decades of my professional writing life and to reassure them that however long you have been doing this ( and however supposedly “professional” you have become), there are moments of doubt and frustration which we just have to work through.
At the weekend I led a workshop for a group of 12 writers as part of the Watermark summer arts festival - and what a privilege. They were keen, open, warm and funny.
We did one exercise which prompted some ideas and scenes which really touched me. The pictures are still in my head. Private - obviously. I wouldn't break their trust. But I can tell you that I had a really good feeling that they would leave and continue some excellent work.
So this blog is just a quick thank you. To the lovely writers in my recent group and to all the writers out there. For being keen and open, warm and funny and most important….for doing what writers do best.
Helping to unlock what is written, not on the page, but in our hearts.
Do please keep going!
PS To see my latest story CRUMBS - see next Woman's Weekly July 30th edition. And if you would like details of future workshops, keep an eye on my teaching page or send me your email address via the contacts form.
OK. Despite the title, this blog is not going to be a moan. The hair-shirt kind. Oh woe is me. Why do I not have a rocking book deal yet , blah blah.
This is not even a blog about my height (though I admit it– only 5ft 4” in my flats. Same height as the Queen, in case you’re interested).
We are , in fact, back to word counts ( see earlier blog).
I have just received some very nice feedback from a respected women’s fiction editor with Penguin. OK – so it was a rejection. Technically. But it wasn’t one of those – go away and never darken our door . It wasn’t – “not right for our list”. It wasn’t
- “you’re rubbish” and it wasn’t that old favourite - “ I just didn’t love it enough”.
This response said some v nice stuff… “dynamite premise”. She liked the voice and the story apparently has a great deal going for it ( phew!). And the little but? The manuscript for this novel has apparently come up a bit short… Oops! With all my editing of chapters in and out, seems I have edited a wee bit too much.
The best bit is this editor took the trouble to give some really helpful direction to get the MS back on track which in a busy schedule, I really value.
I guess, given that my forte just now is selling short stories ( thankfully going great guns), I should not be surprised. I am very used to tight plotting and packing big stories into tight corners. Switching between the disciplines takes practice and as all freelance writers know, we tend to be juggling many different projects at once so memo to self is to watch those word counts on my longer MS.
Not that I am downhearted. For a prolific writer like moi, what’s a few thousand words more? So it’s back to the chapter plan (yup; if my agent is reading this, I even do smart “chapter plans” on Excel spread sheets these days) and the jolly ol’ word count button.
Which is why you must forgive the short update this week on account I have bulking up to do ( and I don’t mean
yours truly on the cupcakes, more's the pity). Also I need to file a couple of short stories to keep the income stream happy.
Wish me luck!
PS If anyone reading this has signed up for my short story workshop, I look forward to meeting you very soon. Lots of lovely tips to share from the commissioning editors I work with regularly.
Teresa Driscoll - journalist, author, mother of two and lover of great coffee.