Have you checked out…

…your local non-corporate bookstore? Many people go to Borders or Barnes & Nobles when they need a book. But there are plenty of private owned bookstores in every city that might offer more to it’s customers then just new releases and Starbucks.

Many will have extensive used books sections, with way more manageable prices compared to what B and B&N up there think they can charge you. They might even offer more community related activities, such as book clubs, workshops and reading sessions.

There happens to be one such place like that right in my Baltimore. They actually have everything I listed, and probably even more.

Or maybe, you like your books slightly more… Communist. Someone will have you covered.

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On being a writer and a student

Sometimes, finding time to write can be next to impossible. It’s a passion that can sometimes be difficult to find time for. Between finishing school, working, blogging, doing the rest of my classwork and attempting to maintain a social life, it can be rather hard to find time to do what you love. I’m sure a lot of people who read this have the same issue, and I want you to know, I feel you.

Look at my desk, I don’t even have room for my laptop on there!

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What’s your perspective?

By this, I’m talking about the narrator of the story. From which perspective is your story being told? Picking your perspective is more then just whatever you feel like. Each one brings a stylistic difference with it that will change the way your story is told.

First person

I’ve heard people call first person amateur, but I disagree. It does tend to be the voice most used by beginning writers. First person is easy to start, but hard to master. It is best used in situations where the action is very focused on your main character and they have a very strong voice. Things in the story should be colored toward their opinions and ideas. You should really know your character before jumping into the story.

Second person

Rarely used, and for good reason. Since second person is ,”you,” you’re making the reader the main character. This could be used to create an interesting mood or to place the reader in an uncomfortable situation (I’m thinking the Beatles song, “For No One,” off of Revolver).

Third person limited

Possibly the most versatile voice you can use in short fiction. There is a lot you can do by being detached to your character but only having access to their thoughts. You know have the freedom to describe the actions of other characters separate from the interactions they have with your main character, but since you only have access to their thoughts you can show how they shape that person. It can also give you a detachment, a sort of coldness, to your main character. A desperate emotional situation, with an unfeeling narrator, can feel that much worse.

Third person omniscient

Another voice that would be rather difficult to use. This time, only because of the space requirements. This is much easier to use in novels, where you have the time and space to jump around between your characters. By doing this in a short story, you are limiting how much you get to know about each character you move to, and you already have so little to work with.

Fiction Prompts

Given out by teachers, and offered up by never-ending laymen, fiction prompts always exist as a facet of our craft. I feel like they can be good for breaking writers block, or for short exercises to get you into a creative mood, but see less value beyond that.

A good idea should come from within, not based on a prompt by someone else. You should be able to create your own prompts based off of the images you see in your day to day activities and the situations that you and the people you know have experienced.

That being said, I would be no good if I didn’t provide some links and examples. Here we go:

This is a list of prompts that I actually like. A list of simple images that can spark creativity.

There seems to be a lot of blogs based on this subject.

I have no words for these.

Looking for something to read?

If you’re looking for something a little more professional to read, I found a couple of useful lists.

Here is the Barnes & Noble list of short-story collections listed by newest first.

And here is a user-made list of some short-story collections on Amazon.

Of course, you can always go to the library and get any of these for free 😉

It’s all in the details

Detail detail detail. When to use detail in short fiction? That can be a tough choice. In a novel, you basically have unlimited space to say as much as you want whenever you want (I’m looking at you John Updike, with your paragraphs that are longer then a page). I’m going to give a few ideas about how I think detail should be used in short fiction.

Don’t over-saturate with background information.

I’ll say the average short story is 8-12 pages. That does not give you a lot of space to say everything you need. My tenure as a selection editor taught me that. Many student stories would spend 2/3 of their length just setting things up and giving the background information. Then the actual story would be crammed in at the end. Be immediate. The past can be a tool for giving just a little extra info when it’s needed.

Precession is key.

Be choosy. Pick and chose your details for the right moments. Let them set the mood and help establish a tone. By choosing just certain details to tell the reader an attic could vary from ominous to wondrous within the same structure of a sentence.

I can’t say that there is a specific “right” way to write detail, but I do think those are two great tips on how to use them. Your word choice and how you structure them are totally up to your style.

Pif Magazine – is less more?

The next online literary magazine to fall under my scope is “Pif,” another all-in-one like “Hidden City Quarterly” though with a lot more clout and a lot less style.

Pros

  • Has been published since 1995 and has a rich archive.
  • Will take pretty much anything as a submission.
  • Content is all on the main page.
  • Hosts Pilot-Search, a literary search engine

Cons

  • Front page is ugly
  • Very overwhelming at first. There is no introduction, just an assault of content.
  • Links are confusing and strangely labeled. (masthead and mediakit)
  • Why is Pilot-Search so buried if it’s as good as they claim?

So what we have is a site that is all about substance over style. Way over style. No style can be found at all. At first glance, the website looks like a fake one designed to trick people into looking at ads. What “Pif” really screams for is organization. The front page looks like it should be a different page, maybe one labeled “content.”

The jury is still out on Pilot-Search. It claims to be the largest literary search engine, but then why have I never heard of it? And why is it so hard to find?

The content itself is decent. Nothing particularly wowed me. Everything seems to come from a published writer. What’s interesting is that you have to create an account to see any information about submissions. It seems that Pif wants to be exclusive. In that strive, they are excluding readers as well.

Despite my harsh opinions, “Pif” claims to have a large readership that returns “…12.5 times per month.” Maybe one of you guys will enjoy it more then I did.

Verdict: Pass it. There are many literary magazines online.