Showing posts with label what is a story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label what is a story. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 9

When Should You Send Your Short Story Out For Critique?

In her blog post today, Jody Hedlund brought up an important issue, one I've been thinking a lot about lately: critiques.

I don't mean what critiques are or how to write one but about when, in the life of a project, we should send our 'word babies' out into the, potentially hostile, world?

When Should You Send Your Short Story Out To Beta Readers?

After the first draft? The second? The third? Should we let others read our stories while they're still in development or wait until we've ironed the kinks out, as it were, and are (we think) ready for a larger audience?

Every writer is different, has different requirements, different expectations, different vulnerabilities, so what works for me might not work for you and vice versa.

That said, here's my take on it.

I like to involve beta readers at an early stage because they have something I almost completely lack: objectivity.

My process for a short story

1. Write the first draft

2. Read over the first draft and do another couple of drafts.
- Check the draft for grammar and spelling mistakes.

3. Give the first draft to a trusted beta reader, someone who has read my work before and given me valuable feedback.
- Wait patiently for him to read my story. 
- Receive the feedback.
- Ask questions only for the purpose of clarifying the feedback. Never defend. Never explain.

4. Give myself time to think about what my beta reader said. Decide how I'm going to incorporate the feedback into my draft.

5. Write another draft, one that incorporates some of the feedback just received.

6. If my beta reader is up for it, I give the revised draft back to the same reader and ask for his feedback on the changes.

7. Depending on the feedback, I may go through this process a few more times.

8. After I feel I've ironed out most of the bugs using this process I give the story to my other beta readers for feedback. 

9. I accept the feedback, change the story where I think it needs it, and give it back to any of my beta-readers that are up for it. I repeat this process till the story seems as good as it's going to get.

That's it.

Let me put on my business hat for a moment.

I'm an independent publisher/author/writer so that means I want my stories to sell. Reviews help my stories sell. And even though a one star review is preferable to no review, I'd prefer to minimize them. (Every writer who does this for a living will get a one star review at some point. Like death and taxes, it's inevitable.)

So. To maximize sales and minimize authorial angst I like to get as many eyes on my manuscript prerelease as I can.

Now let me take off my business hat and put on my scuffed and worn writer hat.

What are stories?

Stories don't live on paper. Like dinosaur bones, they reside deep in our conceptual earth or, like stars, exit 'out there' in a conceptual sky.

We put bits and pieces of them down on paper, sometimes doing funky things with flashback sequences, but the stories themselves exist without us, though they do need us to dig down, find them, and reveal them to the world--or at least to the world of our readers, those wonderful people who make our creative madness possible.

Here's why I need beta readers:

When I read one of my stories my eyes are still on the stars and I don't see the words. I don't know if what I've written will be adequate to communicate what I saw.

Over time the vision will fade and I'll lose a bit of the shocking immediacy that blurred my sight. I'll then be able to read one of my stories and see how the language flows--or doesn't, as the case may be. I will then be able to see the vessel (the words, the language) and not just the thing itself.

I hope that doesn't sound too 'artsy'; I think we each have our own mythology about where our stories come from, each as true as the other.

When I write, I try to use words that will evoke the story I'm discovering within myself. I try to write something that will evoke that thing, that story, that experience, in another.

The only way I can know if I've done that is to get other people, lots of other people, to read my scribblings and tell me what they 'saw', what they experienced.

Then I tweek my words so the story I uncovered within me is the same thing they connect with within themselves.

Or something like that.

I look at critiques both these ways, sometimes with my business hat on, sometimes with my writer hat. What I say about critiques, and about why they are important, depends on which hat I'm wearing, which perspective I'm seeing the issue from.

I hope that makes some sense! (grin)

Nasty Critiques

Some of you may be worried about having your manuscript brutalized by a reviewer/reader/critiquer having a bad day, or otherwise out for blood.

I wish I could say it'll never happen, but it will. Just like getting a one star review is inevitable, having some clod do a vivisection of both your and your story is like a right of passage.

It changes you, but you survive to write another day.

I remember the first time my work was brutalized. It was the first notes/critique I received on a particular manuscript so I was crushed. I cried, I felt like crap. I figured if this was one so bad, what were the rest of the critiques going to be like? But I did one good thing: I didn't respond and just waited.

It turned out the other folks liked the manuscript, though (as expected) they pointed out a few places where it needed work.

My point is that when you get a hateful review know that person isn't responding to you, they aren't even responding to your work, they are either having a bad day and using the opportunity to vent or are the sort of person who thinks belittling others is fun.

Whatever the case, ignore the critique. Stop reading, set it aside.

I think I'll always be affected by nasty critiques, but you learn to shrug it off and move on.

The only time the bully wins is if you stop.

Never stop writing.

Question: When do you send your story out for critique? What is your process?

Other articles you might like:

- Find Out How Much Traffic Your Blog Gets
- Using Language To Evoke Emotion
- How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing

Photo credit: "143/365 Come Sail Away With Me" by martinak15 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, June 20

10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected

why stories get rejected

It's always nice to learn why a story was rejected and, although it hurts, the greater the detail the better. David Farland's latest article gives 10 reasons why he rejects stories. I'm just going to summarize them (well, that was my plan), so I recommend you read his article for the details.

1) The story is unintelligible.

2) The story is unbelievable.

3) Too many adverbs and adjectives.
I hadn't meant to comment on these, but I can't resist. The first time I heard someone say that, as a general rule, a writer should avoid using adverbs, especially those that ended in -ly, I thought they were daft. (And yes, I'm painfully aware of the -ly adverb I just used, but I think it adds something to the sentence that goes toward my point so I'm keeping it. Isn't irony grand?) It took reading Stephen King's book, On Writing, for me to see the wisdom in this.

If it helps, think of it this way: Instead of using -ly adverbs, use strong verbs. Rather than making a word more interesting, or more meaningful, by modifying it with another word, try making the word itself everything you need.

For instance, rather than writing,

a) "I won the lottery," she said happily.


b) Waving her lottery ticket above her head, she jumped up in the air and screamed, "I won the lottery!"

I think that the advice to steer clear of -ly adverbs goes hand-in-hand with the advice to show rather than tell. I don't think the above example is very good, but hopefully it is enough to give you the sense of what I mean. For the purposes of the example, I should have used one strong verb rather than the adverb ("happily"), but perhaps you can suggest something better in the comments.

Also, there is a change in tone between (a) and (b). I think that (b) hints at the speaker being an extravert and fond of screaming, especially at concerts.

In any case, moving along.

4)   Nothing happens.
Make something happen and make it happen earlier rather than later. Try to grab the reader with your first sentence and don't let them go until the last one. I'm sure there are many names for this quality of can't-put-it-down-edness but I think of it as narrative drive.

5) Don't confuse your readers.
You may know the story takes place on the 5th moon of Dovan, but your readers won't unless you tell them. After a while folks are going to stop guessing, get irritated, and find something else to do.

6) Remove the boring bits.
I can't remember who said this first, but it's true. If it doesn't absolutely have to be in your story toss it. Ask yourself: does this further the story? If yes, fine. If no, lose it.

As David Farland says, this also applies to writing sentences like, "They shook on it," rather than, "They shook hands on it." If it's clear from the context that what they're shaking are hands (rather than, say, flippers), then you don't have to include that information. If, on the other hand, the "they" in question are squid-like personages living on the dark side of our moon then you might want to specify which appendages they used.

7) Have a story and tell it.
If a piece of writing is, say, 2,500 words long and has a title that doesn't mean it's a story.

Although there are no rules for what makes a story a story--including the rule that says there are no rules--people who judge story contests generally appreciate it if there is a beginning and an end. You get bonus points if there are characters things happen to and if these events put your hero in danger of not reaching their goal. I've written a bit about story telling here.

8) Don't cheat
I'm not talking about plagiarism (but don't plagiarise), I'm talking about including something like violence or sex when it has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. To be clear, I'm not saying anything for or against using sex or violence in your stories, but everything in your story, everything, has to be there for a reason and if that reason is simply to shock or titillate then your story will be weaker for it.

8b) Understand your market
Let's say you're writing a paranormal romance. Including a scene in which a character has something done to them worthy of the movie Saw means you run the risk of alienating the editor who will make the decision whether to buy your work.

9) Non-formed stories.
See point 7, above: Have a story and tell it.

10) Don't irritate your readers
This is in the same vein as 5, above: Don't confuse your readers. For instance, although I don't believe there are hard-and-fast rules about how many points of view your story should be told from, if you have 5 in 2,500 words you'll confuse your readers.

Dave Farland gives the following example: "John raced out the door, after brushing his teeth." After I read this sentence I parsed it as, "After brushing his teeth, john raced out the door." If a story was filled with sentences like that I would become irritated.

To read the rest of David Farland's awesome article (alliteration can, occasionally, be tolerated ;) click here: Ten Reasons Why I'll Quickly Reject Your Story.

This ends the list of 10 things which will will send your story to the proverbial dust bin of obscurity, but of course (and unfortunately), there are far more than ten. But take heart, Mr. Farland has just published the next article in this series: Why Editors Reject Your Story. In that post he discusses what separates stories which receive honorable mention from stories that win.


Related reading:
- The Starburst Method: How to write a story, from one-liner to first draft
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How to build a Villain, by Jim Butcher

Photo credit: A Writer's Journey

"10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.