Don’t be afraid of the workshop

One of the best ways to get valuable insight into your writing is to have it workshopped. I had the luxury of going through this during the creative writing classes I took in college.

For those not in school, there are community book stores and book groups that will hold workshops. I’m sure there are some forums out there where you can get that to happen (I tried to get it working on here, but no one wanted to submit.) One place that might be useful, though I haven’t spent much time looking through the community stuff, is scribd. That’s what I’ve been using whenever I post Word documents on here and it seems like a cool site worth checking out.

Now, the reason for my title. While I considered the workshops fortunate, some of my classmates showed immediate apprehension. They were nervous to let others read their stories, maybe of fear of people not liking them. Some people tend to have issues taking criticism. Whichever the reason, if you’re afraid of workshops, stop now. To truly be a great writer, you have to let others read you.

take a seat and join the discussion

take a seat and join the discussion

*People in picture might not be discussing fiction, but they totally should be.

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.

The value of hearing your work

How many of you read what you’ve written out loud after you have finished writing it? You would be surprised, that something that sounds okay when your write it, or makes sense in your mind, will sound awkward out loud.

Many time, that is how your reader will comprehend it, awkward. So give it a try, read your story to yourself and see how it sounds, I bet you’ll change something.

For some added fun, here’s a video of Chuck Palahniuk reading an excerpt from one of his books. Chuck’s books are pretty popular with the 20-somethings and his book readings usually draw a decent crowd. Warning, the content is totally NSFW.

Something for bloggers and readers

It seems like useful links just keep showering me today. Must be all the rain I’ve been experiencing lately.

Since I am a blogger that uses wordpress and lives in Baltimore, this conference looks pretty interesting. I might just sign up for twitter just to find out what’s going on there.

I noticed a lot of people end up here for the article I wrote about Hidden City Quarterly, and that is pretty exciting. I spoke with the editors and they’re excited to know people are searching for them so much. So I thought you might like to know they have a new issue out. I’m loving the cover, check it out:

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.

Writer’s Block

It affects us all sometimes. Anyone who writes for any means, be it pleasure or work or a creative writing class that fills a general requirement, knows the trouble in overcoming writer’s block. I guess it could be seen as ironic that a blog about fiction writing would be suddenly stopped with a bad stretch of the block. But there are ways to get past it.

Not quite sinister enough.

Not quite sinister enough.

Read for inspiration. Try reading some short stories or maybe a good book. Sometimes great inspiration can come from another. For example, when Eddie Van Halen invented finger tapping after listening to the solo from “Heartbreaker.”

Tackle the block head on. By this I mean, sit down in front of your medium and accept that you have writer’s block. Good, now think about whatever is on your mind lately or current emotions that have been prevelent in your life. Explore them. You might end up creating a masterpiece. Also, give fiction prompts a try. They might not lead to any pieces that you would want to keep but they could get you writing again.

Just leave it alone for a while. There is always the possibility of putting down whatever you’re working on for a while. Sometimes, inspiration takes time. When writing becomes so automatic, does it lose it’s creativity? I have no answer for that, though I think it would make a great discussion break.

That's a better representation.

That's a better representation.

So I definately feel my writer’s block crumbling. I have to admit, this is a way harder topic to writing about then I originally thought it would. I do enjoy this little project, and I’ve gotten some great comments, so I’m glad people appreciate what I’m trying to do here. I think I’m getting all sentimental on you guys. Let’s cut it before the waterworks. Peace in the East.