Posts Tagged ‘short story’

Just like the last time I posted about this subject, I’m pretty sure someone is reading that post title and is very, very confused.

So if you’re unaware, there are two styles of writing fiction that most writers can be divided into: pantsers and plotters. To put it simply, plotters like to plan out as much as they can before and during writing, while pantsers tend to plan out only a few things, and leave the rest up to whatever they come up with in the moment. Some people do a mix, but for the majority, they usually fall into one camp or the other.

I’m a big plotter, but for a while I’ve been experimenting with more seat-of-my-pants style writing. I wanted to see if that led to situations within stories that felt more natural, more “organic” than something that might feel forced for the sake of the plot. And my experiment yielded an interesting conclusion: except for some short stories (and not many, mind you), I can’t pants for the life of me. And believe me, I tried. I tried to let situations rise as organically as possible and go with the flow. However, what ended up happening more often than not is that I would just sit there in front of my computer, trying to figure out what comes next. Then I’d get distracted, and I’d end up watching a few videos or reading clickbait articles, and then I’d realize that it’s time to make tomorrow’s lunch and get ready for bed, and only a little work has been done, and that just sucks!

I didn’t fully realize how bad I was at pantsing until I was writing an email to my publisher. We were discussing changes I could make to Rose, and I mentioned that I’d really have to think about what changes I would make, as, and I quote, “I can’t pants to save my life.” It wasn’t until I really wrote out those words that it dawned on me how true they were. I can’t pants to save my life. Except for the rare short story, I need an order and an idea of where I’m going. Otherwise, I just can’t write, let alone make a compelling story.

So I’m back on mainly plotting out my stories. But I’m not sad about that. Like I said, I’m a plotter, so it feels good to be writing in a way I know that works for me. And I’m happy for another reason: this experiment in pantsing was a success in a different manner than what I expected. Thomas Edison once said that his thousand failed light bulbs weren’t actually failed light bulbs, but discoveries on how not to make a light bulb. Similarly, I discovered some more of my limitations when it comes to writing, and how I can improve in the future. Far from a complete and total failure.

And if you have a specific way you write, don’t feel pressured to change it because other writers write differently. We all have our areas and our methods that work for us. If you want to experiment and try something new, go ahead and try it. You never know what’ll happen. But never feel that you have to change how you do things. You could end up going from quality work to not getting anything done at all.

Have you tried both pantsing and plotting? How has it worked out for you?

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I know my posts have been a bit more spaced out than usual lately, but I’m hoping to have more to post about in the new month. Hopefully even a couple pieces of good news (fingers crossed). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what’ll happen after Rose comes out. Specifically, what sort of stories I’ll work on once I’m done with Rose.

I know that’s a crazy thing to think about at this point. I’m still doing revisions on Rose for the publisher, and likely they’ll have me do more revisions before we get to publication, and then there’s the publication, and then a whole ton of marketing and other work just to make sure the book is read and sold and reviewed and whatnot. Thinking about future projects should be the last thing on my mind.

But of course, being “logical” has never been one of my strong suits, and dreaming about the future has been what’s helped me get to this point anyway. So why not wax on about what might happen after Rose?

Well, there are a number of short stories I’ve been thinking about working on. I very much want to edit Hannah, the ghost story I wrote back in January, and I want to write a few stories that have been circulating in my head for a while. I also want to eventually get back to the novelette I was working on that was giving me so many challenges, and see if I can get a bit further in that, if not finish it up entirely. It may end up becoming one of those stories where I revisit it every now and then to see if time has given me a clearer vision of how to improve and/or finish it (I’ve got a few of those). And I’d like a few months to spend on all of those, just to see what I can come up with, and if any of it is publishable.

And of course, I’ve been thinking about what sort of novel I’d like to write next, when I’m ready to write a novel. Probably, that won’t be immediately: Rose has challenged me in ways I’ve never been challenged by a story, and I want some time to refresh my mind before I make a commitment to a project that I could end up working on for years and years. But I have some ideas on what sort of novel I’d like to write next, when I am ready to make that sort of commitment.

For one thing, it won’t be a sequel to Rose. I could write one, and I have ideas I could develop into a sequel for Rose, but I don’t want to return to the world of Rose just yet. Especially when I can’t guarantee I can make the story better or on par with the original so soon after finishing the original.

For another, I’m not yet ready to return to the world of Reborn City. Yeah, I know there are a couple of big fans of that trilogy who want the final book, Full Circle, already (I know a few of you are probably out there), but I’m just not ready to get back to that yet.

And finally, I want to do something that’s different. Think of it like houses: I don’t want to try selling Castrum on a house that’s basically the same one they bought, just on a different block and with a different coat of paint. I want to sell them a house that’s just as good as the first one, but an entirely different design, while still retaining the Rami Ungar architecture (is this metaphor getting too weird/complicated, or does it still work?).

All these books are different from one another. I want to do the same with my books as well.

I mean, look at Stephen King: he followed Carrie (a psychic girl who gets revenge on her psychotic religious mother and the bullies at her high school) with Salem’s Lot (vampires invade a small Maine town, and a writer and his allies have to stop them), and then went on to write The Shining (a family that includes a psychic four-year-old becomes the winter caretakers at an isolated hotel haunted by something dark and evil) before creating The Stand (a super-disease causes most of Earth’s population to die off, leaving the survivors to engage in an apocalyptic war between the forces of good and evil). None of those are carbon copies of the other, so I want to do something very distinct from Rose.

And I have a few novels I can choose from. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, so I have plenty of options, but there are a few stories I can think of that would make great projects. There’s one in particular I’d like to work on when the time comes, but it’ll depend on a number of factors, including if I have to pitch something to the publisher (I’m not sure if that’s something I have to do, but it’s something I’ve thought about).

Still, there’s plenty of time to think about all that. I just know that when the time does come to think about all that, I’ll have plenty of ideas to work with and consider. Hopefully whatever I choose, it’ll make for some good reading.

In the meantime, I’m off to work on Rose for a little bit. Here’s hoping I can make some good progress before I have to hit the hay tonight. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

I have not been blogging much in the last week or so, though I’ve read just about every blog post that shows up in my inbox. This is partly because I haven’t had anything I’ve felt passionate enough to blog about and because of time constraints, but it’s mostly because of the story I’ve been working on lately. You see, this story is challenging me as a writer, and the challenge has me engrossed, more so than a test engrosses Hermione Granger around exam time (oh Harry Potter, you always give me something when I ask). It’s so engrossing, that it’s taking up all my creative energies, leaving me unable to blog or even come up with new ideas for stories (though I already have more ideas than I know what to do with, so that’s not a huge problem).

Some of you may remember that I started working on a story I thought might become a novelette or novella in between drafts of Rose back in October or November. After finishing the short story Do-Over the other day, I started working on this story again, and as I said, it’s been challenging. On a number of levels, actually: for one thing, there’s an anthology I’ve heard about that’s looking for stories of a certain word length, so I’m trying to write this story to keep it within the anthology’s word limits. Yeah, I know I should let the story be whatever length it’s meant to be, but after expanding Rose to twice its word length last year because it was suggested I do just that, I feel like I can aim for a certain word count and still get a good story out of it.

Another reason it’s challenging is because of the narrator. Like Rose, I’m telling this story through the eyes of a first-person narrator, which means I’m reliant on her as a narrator to tell the story and to create a good horror ambiance. But at the same time, she’s got a history, a personality, and observations that she’s putting into her story. It’s less like I’m writing the story and I’m channeling my narrator as she’s telling the story, though I do have the power to go in and make changes as needed. And creating that horror ambiance while balancing my narrator’s voice and what she feels is necessary to put into her story, such as her interactions with her husband, isn’t that easy.

Did I mention that this story also takes place over thirty years before I was born, in a state I’ve only visited once? Well, it does, so in addition to being a horror story, it’s also historical fiction, and I’m working hard to recreate an age and place I’ve never experienced, with all the fashions, technology, and attitudes in place. It’s a lot of work, to say the least.

And on top of that, you have all the normal challenges of storytelling: making a story interesting, pacing, showing vs. telling, dialogue, word choice, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But honestly, I think it’s all worth it. Because in my experience, if a novel challenges the writer, it’s going to be a better story in the end. Look at Rose: that novel challenged me every time I worked on it. The first draft alone, I had to go back to the very beginning and start over again because I had to totally reroute the path the story was taking. During the third draft, I added forty-thousand words, a whole new plot line, and even a character or two just to make the story not only longer, but better. And in the end, I created one hell of a story that I feel has a great chance of publication. Hopefully with this story I can get a similar outcome.

Stories can be challenging to write sometimes. It may be difficult to get the words on the page, but in the end, with a lot of work, I think it can lead to a really compelling story. And I’m looking forward to seeing if, after a lot of blood, sweat and tears, I can wrangle out a good story here.

Well, I got another story done this evening. And I honestly didn’t think I’d get it done that quickly tonight. I thought it’d take an hour and forty-five minutes to finish off this story. Somehow I got it done in half an hour. But who cares about that? I got a short story done!

Yeah, I use Bitmoji on occasion. In case you forgot.

Anyway, if you skipped the title the story is called “Do-Over,” and is about the lengths one girl goes to fix her life after she sends out a tweet she doesn’t realize is really offensive, ruining her life. Yeah, pretty relevant, isn’t it? In fact, this story was partially inspired by the story of Justine Sacco, the woman who sent a tweet making a joke how she hoped she wouldn’t get AIDS in South Africa, then saying it wouldn’t happen because she was white. When she finally landed in Cape Town, she was a trending subject on Twitter, had received a lot of hate over the Internet, and had even lost her job! However, I decided to make my protagonist a teenager rather than a thirty-year-old woman, because teenagers are still learning what is considered appropriate and what isn’t (actually, a lot of adults are still learning that, but let’s ignore that for a moment, shall we?), and I felt that would make her more relatable.

At least, it did to me. One thing I’m afraid of is that something I’ve said or done will come back to haunt me, especially if it’s on the Internet where nothing dies. I’ve even had friends and family members look over blog posts and stories just to make sure that nothing offensive was said when I wrote about a sensitive topic (my Aokigahara post is a prime example of that). Tapping into that fear and what it might be like to face that sort of hatred and rejection for making what you thought was just a stupid joke online really allowed me to tap into the character and relay things from her point of view.

And speaking of inappropriate tweets, coming up with what my protagonist tweeted was really the hardest part of writing the story. It actually held me up for about three days while I tried to figure out what my character would tweet. Obviously, coming up with offensive garbage is pretty easy. You only need to look at what makes the headlines to realize that. But coming up with something that a teenager would think is a joke was actually pretty difficult. Eventually I took the suggestion of someone in one of my online writer’s groups to do something close to me and, as I’m bisexual, came up with something that would upset me and my fellow LGBT individuals. After that, the story was fairly easy to write.

This also happens to be the shortest story I’ve written in years, a mere thirty-six hundred words. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a short story that short! And honestly, I wasn’t trying to truncate it that much. I knew it would be short, and I just wrote it. It just became short on its own, I guess.

Still, I know it’s far from perfect, and there may be issues I don’t see at this moment. I’ll probably get it beta read before I submit it anywhere.

Even so, I’m happy with the story I wrote and I’m glad I got it done this evening. Next time I sit down to write, I’m getting back to a certain story that I left unfinished and tackles themes of prejudice. Surprisingly, it’s not the last Reborn City book.

Goodnight, Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!

I’ve mentioned it before, but short stories are often hard for me. And one aspect of writing those that I often have trouble with is the very first part of any short story. Openings. They give me grief.

With novels, I have a lot of room to maneuver around. After all, even a short novel is around sixty-thousand words (and mine are never that short). With all those words, I can take a lot of time and space just setting up the scenario of the story. Take my novel Rose, for example: if we count Chapter One as the opening, that’s sixteen pages and nearly five-thousand words just devoted to setting up the story. And I’m very used to writing this way. I like long, expansive stories. I grew up on a diet of Harry Potter, and in my teens delved into the novels of Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Dan Brown. No one could accuse those guys of being short.

But if I’m writing a short story, the highest word count to still count as a short story is ten-thousand. And if I want to get published in most magazines, the limit is usually around six-thousand. So while I’m used to opening a story with about five-thousand words, or half the length of the longest short story, I now have to try to contain my openings into a much shorter length.

The struggle is real.

Because of this need for brevity, one of the things I sometimes end up doing when I write a short story, at least in the beginning, is to use a lot of exposition. And in some stories, exposition is good. It helps fill in essential information. But in other cases, exposition is just…bad. Instead of actually presenting the story,  the author is just explaining things. Telling you stuff. It’d be like if instead of actually showing Harry Potter growing up, learning about his heritage, and going to Hogwarts, it’d be like JK Rowling wrote, “There was a boy named Harry Potter. One day he found out he was a wizard, his parents died saving him from an evil wizard, who disappeared and gave him a scar in a process, and then he went off to wizard school.”

I often worry that when I do exposition in short stories, it’s the latter kind. Which probably means it is the latter kind. That may be cynicism on my part, but when you’re still inexperienced at something, you’re prone to making mistakes. So perhaps I really am using exposition, and in all the wrong ways too.

Luckily, there are a few things I’m trying to remedy that. One is that I’m keeping in mind something important: I’m writing first drafts. And first drafts are always terrible. Even if they contain intriguing stories, they’re rife with issues that require lots of fixing. This is why we writers edit, multiple times if necessary, before we publish. Heck, Rose had to go through four drafts before I felt it was ready to be sent out to a publisher. And likely if a publisher does like it, they’ll probably have me do a fifth or even a sixth draft before they’re ready to publish.

So if I feel an opening needs work, I can edit it in the next draft, and remove any bad exposition or other problems with the opening I spot.

Hopefully I can improve this part of short stories.

And sometimes, I don’t even need to wait (and this is my second method, by the way). Sometimes a way to fix a short story’s opening comes to you just while you’re writing it. On Friday, I started a new short story that I think has potential. I think I got four hundred words in before I stopped, but then I was like, “Is this really the opening I want?” And as I thought about it, it wasn’t. But how to fix it? And yesterday at some point–I think it was right before I saw Winchester–a way to change the opening occurred to me.  I think this is the right way to open the story without going into exposition. So the next time I work on the story, I’m going go back and rewrite the opening, see if this produces better results. And if it doesn’t, there’s always something new to try. Or I can go back to my original opening. After all, it’s a first draft. I can make as many adjustments as needed.

And finally, I’m reading a lot more short stories than I’m used to. I learned how to write novels partly from reading novels, so reading short stories should help me get an idea on how to write them. I’ve already listened to two anthologies on audio book, and I just started reading the Stephen King collection Night Shift on Friday. So far, they’ve been very helpful, but I’ll need to read a lot more to get a better sense of short story writing.

And finally, I just need more practice. After all, you become a writer by writing in the first place, and continuing to write no matter what. With any luck, more practice with short stories will lead to better ones. Hopefully, anyway.

I’m still trying to be a better short story writer, and openings are still hard for me. But with practice and exposure to good ones, I can hopefully make some progress on that. And who knows? Maybe even produce some stories that a magazine will be proud to publish. Anything’s possible, right?

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve been looking at a screen for most of the day, so I’m going to take a break and read something. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Well, after the fourth draft of Rose, I knew that I didn’t want to go into another novel too soon. I wanted to do some short stories. And I somehow managed to get my first short story of the year out in five days. Impressive. These usually take about two weeks to a month. On a good day.

Hannah is a ghost story about a team of paranormal investigators that explore an elementary school that’s reportedly haunted, and what they encounter in there. And for a Rami Ungar short story, it’s actually shorter than most I’ve written, just under fifty-nine hundred words. Usually they end up between seven-thousand and nine-thousand words. I wonder how that worked out?

And for the record, the Hannah in the title of this story is not based on any Hannah I actually know. And that’s a few: it’s a popular girl’s name in the Jewish community, so of course I’ve met and made friends with several. The titular character’s name actually has to do with a famous urban legend from another country, which I can’t name or go into without giving too much away about the story. I can’t even go into details of the legend, lest I give too much away. However, the name Hannah is a clue, if you want to try to figure it out. Let’s just say, it’s an Americanization.

Anyway, I’m hoping this short story is some good. I’ve been listening to a lot of horror anthologies on audio book lately, so I think I’ve absorbed some of what those had to teach me on short story writing. I also learned a lot from the fourth draft of Rose on concise language and strong writing (thanks Joleene), which probably contributed to its shorter length. And at the very least, if the story is terrible, at least it’ll be well-written.

Of course, there’s still things that can be improved. I think the middle and ending are pretty good, but I’m worried the beginning has too much exposition and telling, and not enough dialogue and showing. I’ve seen short stories do that well, of course, but I’m not sure if it’s done well here. Well, I suppose that’s what second drafts and beta readers are for. And hopefully once those are done, I can get this story published somewhere (I have a few ideas of where I would like that to happen).

Now that Hannah is done, there’s another short story I’d like to get to work on as soon as possible. Maybe even tomorrow, if my schedule allows. I’m looking forward to this one: it’s a story with a wonderfully relevant topic to today’s world.

For now though, I’m headed to bed. After all, I’ve got work in the morning. Goodnight Followers of Fear, and until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Well, it’s been a year since I last had a Lovecraft binge (see Parts 1, 2, and 3 for my previous binges). And while I didn’t read any actual Lovecraft stories in the year (holy cow, that long?) since my last binge, he was certainly never far from my mind. I read a lot of fiction influenced or modeled after his work, including the Lovecraft/YA novel Awoken* (read my review here), shopped around my own Lovecraft-themed story The Red Bursts (still working on that), and wrote an article about why there’s not more adaptations or even a cinematic universe based on his work. No, surprise, after all that I was ready for another dive into his work. And boy, did I enjoy the eldritch swim.

So if you’re not familiar with HP Lovecraft (and I’d bet good money that you’re not), he was an early 20th-century author whose ideas and stories proved very influential on storytellers like Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and Allan Moore, among others. He’s considered the father of cosmic horror, the idea that humans are basically ants in our universe, that there are beings and truths so great and terrible that even glimpsing them can cause madness and death. It’s pretty bleak stuff, if you think about too much about it (which I have).

So this time around, I read “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Lovecraft’s only finished novel, “The Colour Out of Space,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “History of the Neconomicon” and “The Whisperer in Darkness,” as well as several fragments, one letter excerpt, and one parody story, but I won’t go over those. And I got to say, these were definitely some of the most enjoyable of Lovecraft’s stories. They were consistently creepy and kept me engrossed in the story, as well as with the most accessible language (dude liked to pretend he was a contemporary of Poe, rather than a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway). Or am I just used to his style now?

The interesting thing about these highlighted stories is, they also mark Lovecraft’s shift from pure horror to science-horror. Sure, he’s done that before–“Herbert West: Reanimator” is the story of two men trying to discover the key to bringing back the dead using science, a theme also explored in “Charles Dexter Ward,” but more thriller and magical than science-fiction–but here there was definitely a more sci-fi element in his work. “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” both involved aliens, with the former involving a sort of alien infection and the latter involving aliens that have been visiting Earth for centuries.

Why did Lovecraft make this shift? Well, around the time these stories were written–late 1920’s and early 1930’s–was also the birth of science fiction as a proper genre. Pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories were huge sellers, and since pulp rags like these were where Lovecraft normally published his work, he would’ve been aware of the young genre and its exploration of humanity’s possibilities through space exploration, technology, and aliens. It’s no surprise that he’d take elements from those stories and give them a freaky twist. And lo and behold, it led to Lovecraft writing some of my favorite works by him (especially “Colour Out of Space.” God, that was freaky, considering that what happened in that story could maybe happen in real life).

Honestly, I’m glad I decided to check out HP Lovecraft two-and-a-half years ago. Sure, his early works can be hit-and-miss, but as time went on, he got better. And by this point in his bibliography, he was very good at writing stories that stayed in your mind. It’s a shame he didn’t achieve more of a following during this time, because maybe then we’d have more works by him (sadly, he died in 1937 at barely forty years of age), and he’d be more well-known today.

And while I’m done with my latest binge, I’m looking forward to my next one, whenever that is. Especially if the stories from this point on are as good as the ones I read this time around. And seeing as At the Mountain of Madness is the next story in my collection, I’d say that’s a definite possibility.

Have you read these stories or others by Lovecraft? What are your thoughts on them?

*Funny story about Awoken: so I follow this woman named Lindsay Ellis on YouTube (check out her channel here) who does a lot of videos on our media and culture. Yesterday she uploaded a video about whether or not the hate over the Twilight franchise was warranted. During said video, she mentions she and friend/frequent collaborator Antonella “Nella” Inserra wrote Awoken as a parody of Twilight, only with Lovecraft characters instead of vampires. My mouth hit the floor. I had no idea that the novel was a parody of Twilight, let alone written by those two women under a pen name. Though now that I think about it, it explains quite a bit.

I reached out to both women on YouTube and Twitter, letting them know that I read the novel, my ignorance of its authorship, how much I actually liked it, and that I reviewed it on this blog. They asked for a link, and I sent it to them. Since then, I’ve gotten hundreds of views from their readers/viewers on that one review, and the number of reads is still growing. Wow. Didn’t expect that. Pretty cool. Probably won’t last a week, but it’s still cool.

Also, I learned about Poe’s Rule: if you write a parody of something, unless you ad a healthy dose of comedy, people will think it’s serious fiction in a particular style. Which is apparently what happened to me, as these readers are telling me. Good to know.