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S'mores by the fire - Kary's reflections on writing

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Kary English
(@karyenglish)
Gold Star Member Moderator
Topic starter
 

Hey, all,

In the downtime before Q1 judging starts, I thought I'd start an ongoing thread where I share some thoughts, techniques and observations on writing. Let me say right up front that these are my personal thoughts as a writer, not anything official as first reader. In addition, I'm just some rando on the internet. Stuff that works for me may not work for you, and even if something works for me, that doesn't mean it's the best or only way to do it. Your way might be different, and sharing the different ways we do things is how we learn and grow as writers.

So pull up a camp chair, warm your hands by the fire, and let's talk about writing.  Smile

I'll start with a bit about endings.

WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Hugo and Astounding finalist, made the preliminary Stoker ballot (juried)
Published by Galaxy's Edge, DSF, StarShipSofa and TorNightfire

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 12:35 am
Marte, Cherrie, Ease and 11 people reacted
Martin L. Shoemaker
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
Platinum Plus Moderator
 
Posted by: @karyenglish

In addition, I'm just some rando on the internet.

Some rando on the internet whose instincts for endings got me a Nebula nomination, a Small Press Award, and four Year's Best reprints.

 

Pay attention.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 12:39 am
Cherrie, Wulf Moon, David Hankins and 9 people reacted
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Gold Star Member
 

Darnit, I wish was some rando on the internet.

DQ: 0 / R: 0 / RWC: 0 / HM: 10 / SHM: 6 / SF: 0 / F: 1
In for Q3.V39 and Q4.V39
Last four: HM • HM • SHM • SHM
Revised SHM ('Ashwright') at PodCastle

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 12:40 am
Dustin Adams, MountainSpud, David Hankins and 6 people reacted
Kary English
(@karyenglish)
Gold Star Member Moderator
Topic starter
 

Whenever I can, I'll tell you where I learned something, and I learned this bit about endings from David Farland.

There are three kinds of endings.

In the happy ending, the main character gets everything or almost everything they want, and things in general are better than when the story started. It's a very satisfying ending. Romances end this way.

In the sad ending, the MC fails, gets nothing they want, and things in general are worse than when the story started. The difference between a romance, for example, and a love story is that a romance has a happy ending but a love story doesn't.

Both of those are valid endings. Both of those work, and I'm sure you can think of plenty of examples of each. But Dave says that the ending readers find the most satisfying is the complex ending, which is where the MC gets some of what they want, but only at great personal cost.

Example, fantasy: Frodo wants to destroy the One Ring and save Middle Earth, especially his beloved Shire. In the complex ending, he succeeds in destroying the ring, but he's lost a finger, has a wound that will never heal, several of his closest friends died horrible deaths, and the personal trauma is so great that he loses his beloved over it. Yes, Frodo's beloved is the Shire itself. Frodo saves it only to find that he cannot remain. Time after time on his journey, Frodo imagined the Shire, drew strength from his memories of it, but when the battle is done, Frodo has to leave it. He goes to the Undying Lands. His great personal cost is exile.

So how do you do it?

Here's how I do it.  I make a list of everything my main character wants at the beginning of the story (example: to stay home, to keep her kitten, her mother's love). I look at which things are big vs. small, and which things are personal or internal vs. public or external. Saving the world is big and external. Saving a box of salt as it falls from a cliff is small and personal. Saving the Shire for everyone? Big and external. Saving the Shire because of your own personal love for it? Big and internal.

That big, internal thing? My character's probably not getting that. That's the knife I'll twist to put the bitter in my bittersweet ending.

You can also pull this off by using a symbol. In Top Gun, Maverick starts out wanting to be the hottest flyboy in town. He takes risk after risk until he gets it, but the cost is the life of his wingman, Goose. The scene that gets people isn't the botched ejection scene. The scene that gets people is when Maverick finally lets go of his grief and guilt, symbolized by releasing Goose's dog tags into the ocean. The complex ending for Top Gun is about more than the loss of Goose's life. It's about Maverick realizing that his desire for glory was hollow.

So have a look at your endings. Think about about what your characters want, why they want it, and whether you're going to give it to them. Think about whether what they want changes during your story. When you're looking for costs, hit the character where it hurts. Give them a victory, but take something big and important.

Happy endings work. Sad endings work. Complex endings often pack the most punch.

P.S. Comments, questions, examples and counter-examples welcome!

 

WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Hugo and Astounding finalist, made the preliminary Stoker ballot (juried)
Published by Galaxy's Edge, DSF, StarShipSofa and TorNightfire

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 1:27 am
Ease, Cherrie, Wulf Moon and 16 people reacted
RETreasure
(@rschibler)
Gold Star Member
 

I love this so much! Way better than real s’mores. (So sticky, ugh)

My first finalist has a very very bittersweet ending. The character has to sacrifice something she desperately wants for something she desperately needs. 

My second finalist kinda does this? It maybe does it in a false way, not sure. The character gives up her dream, the goal she’s had the whole story, for something she’s realized is more important (family) but then she gets the dream in the end anyway, and all she’s lost is time, really. Maybe that’s why it didn’t win lol!

My quarter 4 story definitely has this. The character gets what he wants, but it sucks, and after some suffering he realizes he wanted the wrong thing. However, again, he didn’t lose a lot personally. Or maybe as Kary said, internally. Something to think on for sure, hmm.

The anthology is full of examples of this kind of win-lose ending, I feel. Leah Ning’s “Yellow and Pink” is a dramatic example of it, C Winspear’s “The Trade” has it, “The Enfield Report” by Christopher Bowthorpe, I could go on for ages. Most of the stories I’m thinking of have this in a way. 

Anyway, thanks Kary, for taking the time! Love it. 

V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: (P)F, SHM, F, F
V39: SHM, SHM, P, P
Always Available for 5-page Critiques
CV & Editing Services: www.rebeccaetreasure.com
Reviews & Short Stories: www.patreon.com/rebeccaetreasure

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 1:54 am
Cherrie, David Hankins, Yelena and 8 people reacted
Martin L. Shoemaker
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
Platinum Plus Moderator
 

The last are often examples of what KD Wentworth called tragically beautiful endings. She loved those.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 3:32 am
Cherrie, Kary English, AliciaCay and 3 people reacted
storysinger
(@storysinger)
Platinum Member
 

Thanks for the insightful info Kary. This should help with the story I'm working on. typing  

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
HM-V38/Q1
HM-V38/Q4
HM-V39/Q2
Published Poetry
2012 Stars in Our Hearts Notions
Silver Ships

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 2:56 pm
SwiftPotato
(@swiftpotato)
Silver Star Member
 

@rschibler The author you're thinking of is Christopher Bowthorpe! Smile Such a great story. And, having read your story that you're talking about, I know what you mean and I think that a character realizing they wanted the wrong thing all along can be a really powerful thing, and very real.

A thing I've wanted to experiment with for a while on endings is making something the reader would normally think has a certain impact have an entirely different one. For example, normally, one would think that living a very long and full life would be a happy thing. But how can you make that something else? Sad, terrifying, bittersweet? And, on a slightly different note, what if the character gets what they want and it absolutely sucks? I feel like there would need to be some nuance to that in order for it to be a satisfying ending, but it sounds like it would be fun to try out.

Also, re: happy endings, I've seen these have great impact in certain stories depending on the setup. (Kary, not saying you meant happy endings don't have much impact!) An example of this would be COTTONMOUTH by Joelle Wellington at Apex Magazine. I know I use that zine as an example a lot, it's just that I read them tons and tend to enjoy their stories! Anyway, SPOILERS FOR THAT STORY BEGIN HERE: IMO, this was a happy ending, because the character we're rooting for gets what they want. Exactly what they want. But that character is not the viewpoint character. And its an extremely satisfying revenge story, at least for me! SPOILERS END HERE. I'd be curious to hear folks' thoughts on this story and why the ending works (or doesn't work for you!), and whether you feel it's a happy one. The story's very dark, but it's absolutely delightful.

Kary, I really liked your breakdown of how you look at the character's desires to determine how you want to end a story. That's really insightful - I'm going to give that a shot! 

R, 3rd place Q4 v36!!!
Stories in Apocalyptic, Cossmass Infinites x2! PodCastle, Spirit Machine; forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, Human Monsters

 
Posted : December 20, 2021 6:50 pm
David Hankins, N.V. Haskell, Kary English and 4 people reacted
FolkLoremIpsum
(@folkloremipsum)
Bronze Member
 
Posted by: @karyenglish

That big, internal thing? My character's probably not getting that. That's the knife I'll twist to put the bitter in my bittersweet ending.

This is BRILLIANT. Probably my favorite writing tip I've encountered. It's like a magic wand transforming story ideas into full arcs with endings people think about for days afterward. 

Q3 V38 - F, Q 4 V38 - SHM
Q1 V39 - HM, Q2 V39 - P

 
Posted : December 21, 2021 4:23 am
Kary English
(@karyenglish)
Gold Star Member Moderator
Topic starter
 

I'm glad this one seemed to resonate with a few of you.  Smile

Some of the comments got me thinking about happy endings that aren't so happy. If your MC is the villain, then an allegedly happy ending can be all kinds of bad / creepy. By this definition, I think Cold, Silent & Dark is a happy ending story.

Departure Gate 34B is a sad ending story. So like @SwiftPotato said, don't discount the straight happy or sad ending for impact. It comes down to how you do it.

Disclaimer: When I link to my own stuff, it's only because I know the story is an example of whatever concept I'm talking about. I'm sure there are lots of other / better examples, too.

WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Hugo and Astounding finalist, made the preliminary Stoker ballot (juried)
Published by Galaxy's Edge, DSF, StarShipSofa and TorNightfire

 
Posted : December 21, 2021 3:41 pm
Cherrie, Wulf Moon, CCrawford and 5 people reacted
dommichaels
(@dommichaels)
Bronze Star Member
 

@karyenglish 

Very insightful and clearly expressed. I'll definitely use this tip.

V37 Q3-HM, Q4-HM
V38 Q1-HM, Q2-HM, Q3-HM, Q4-HM
V39 Q1-SHM, Q2-no entry, Q3-pending, Q4-pending

 
Posted : December 21, 2021 6:01 pm
Physa/ Guthington/ Amy
(@physa)
Silver Star Member
 

Love this thread! Endings are hard for me so it's nice to get some guidance by the first reader. Thanks so much Kary English, Smile

WOTF results:
Before Moon's Vol 39 challenge, 6 R's: Vol 31 Q3, Vol 33 Q3, Vol 35, Q4, Vol 37 Q3 and Q4, and Vol 38 Q3.
For Moon's Vol 39 challenge:
Q1 RWC, Q2 HM, Q3 P, Q4 in progress...
IOTF results:
Vol 39: Q1 HM, Q2 R, Q3 P, Q4 P
According to Winston Churchill, "success is going from failure to failure with enthusiasm"
Somehow I lost my Guthington profile, but it's me. Amy Wethington = Guthington = Physa

 
Posted : December 23, 2021 1:33 pm
twdad
(@twdad)
Active Member
 

Thanks for sharing!! I definitely struggled with the ending for my first submission, but your advice has me super excited to improve on my endings from here on out.

 
Posted : December 23, 2021 5:58 pm
storysinger
(@storysinger)
Platinum Member
 

As we have heard, the beginning, the first two pages, and the ending are all that get read a very large percentage of the time.

With this level of competition, you cannot afford to give your story anything less than your best. Write what you know. Write cause that's what you love doing. Hone your skills like a blacksmith sharpens a blade. Find the right angle that leads to the point. Learn how to learn!

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
HM-V38/Q1
HM-V38/Q4
HM-V39/Q2
Published Poetry
2012 Stars in Our Hearts Notions
Silver Ships

 
Posted : December 23, 2021 7:20 pm
Joe Benet
(@joe-benet)
Bronze Star Member
 

Heard your recent WotF podcast episode, Kary (polished, well done) where you and John briefly mentioned the downsides of writing real-world politics into our stories.

How does that apply to satire?

Sci-fi and fantasy are perfect realms for highlighting human inconsistencies and does not always have to be obvious or blatant. But does satire have automatic marks against the story, or can it pass a first read as easily as any other that checks the boxes? Does it depend on the obviousness of the satirical target, or the side of the aisle? Or is the story rejected outright because by definition the targeted idea will draw too many complaints by adherents?

Thanks for the insights!

HMx6
SHMx1 (Q2'22)

 
Posted : January 1, 2022 6:45 pm
Kary English
(@karyenglish)
Gold Star Member Moderator
Topic starter
 

@joebenet

Hi, Joe,

Apologies for taking so long to get to this. If you could indulge me just a little further, would you mind asking this in a different thread? For this particular thread, I've removed my First Reader hat to speak and plain ol' Kary English, writer and former winner.

To answer you properly, I'll need to speak as First Reader. Ask it wherever you think is appropriate, tag me, and I'll come in and answer.

Cheers!

Kary

WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Hugo and Astounding finalist, made the preliminary Stoker ballot (juried)
Published by Galaxy's Edge, DSF, StarShipSofa and TorNightfire

 
Posted : February 2, 2022 12:20 am
Kary English
(@karyenglish)
Gold Star Member Moderator
Topic starter
 

How to evaluate feedback, especially when it's conflicting feedback

I know many of us are still mourning Dave, so here's one of Dave's lessons on accepting or rejecting feedback.

Dave said that you have to evaluate every single piece of feedback on whether it will help you tell the story in your heart. If the answer is yes, then you take the feedback, and it doesn't matter if it came from him, Neil Gaiman or some rando on the internet. If the feedback helps the story, take it.

If the feedback doesn't help you tell the story in your heart, then don't take it, even if it came from him, Neil Gaiman, or some rando on the internet.

Sometimes this is an easy call to make. A beta reader says "Hey, I think it would add some interest if there was a love triangle here," and you know that this is really not a love triangle story. Easy peasy, no triangle, even if Stephanie Meyer herself said "Hey, love triangle, please!"

In other words, don't take feedback just because somebody big said it. And don't ignore feedback just because it came from someone who's never gotten above an R in the contest. Instead, dig into the feedback. Does it help you tell your story?

If several readers mention the same spot, look hard at that spot. Sometimes the suggested fix is wrong (needs a love triangle!), but there is a problem (flagging interest) in that area of the story. If that's the case, identify the problem and fix it in a way that serves the story.
----

I'm going to try to do these roughly once a month. Sorry this one is a little late. Stuff... happened.

WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Hugo and Astounding finalist, made the preliminary Stoker ballot (juried)
Published by Galaxy's Edge, DSF, StarShipSofa and TorNightfire

 
Posted : February 2, 2022 12:34 am
Ease, Disgruntled Peony, David Hankins and 8 people reacted
Cray Dimensional
(@craydimensional)
Gold Member
 

@karyenglish Thanks. I’ve been struggling with this. 

Small steps add up to miles.
V38: R, R, HM, HM
V39: RWC, HM, P
"Amore For Life" in After the Gold Rush Third Flatiron Anthologies

 
Posted : February 2, 2022 1:34 am
Cherrie
(@clfors)
Silver Member
 

@karyenglish I absolutely love this advice. When I give critique I try to avoid suggesting how to fix anything and instead put it in terms of “flagging interest” “lack of connection to character” etc. 

I know I personal dislike being given suggestions on how to fix a story. But have of course benefited from critique. 

3x Finalist Illustrators
3x Semi finalist Illustrators
1x HM Illustrators
6x HM Writers
https://clforsauthor.com
Author of the Primogenitor series: Progeny, Adaptation, Reunion Available on Amazon under CL Fors

 
Posted : February 2, 2022 7:44 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
Platinum Member
 

Good stuff, Kary! grinning This is something I've definitely done my best to learn as a writer. I'm pretty good at it most of the time (though everyone has their off days). If feedback doesn't sit right with me but I get similar feedback from multiple people, I look at what they're saying and try to figure out what the source of the problem might be. 

I try to keep this in mind both when I'm getting critiques and when I'm giving them. While I do sometimes give examples of ways people could fix a problem, I try to keep them general whenever possible, and I also a) try to explain the source of the problem and b) generally clarify that my suggestions examples rather than a way the writer has to go (just because that's how I might do it doesn't mean that's the way they would--I'm basically just trying to jog their brain so they get to thinking about ways they can fix things their way).

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain
R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, SHM, 1st Place (Q2 V38)
Ticknor Tales
Twitter
4th and Starlight: e-book | paperback

 
Posted : February 7, 2022 5:16 pm
storysinger reacted
Martin L. Shoemaker
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
Platinum Plus Moderator
 

Never forget… If one person says you’re drunk, ignore them. If ten people say you’re drunk, fall down.

If multiple people report a problem, there’s SOMETHING there, even if they can’t correctly identify it.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : February 7, 2022 5:35 pm
pdblake
(@pdblake)
Silver Star Member
 
Posted by: @martin-l-shoemaker

Never forget… If one person says you’re drunk, ignore them. If ten people say you’re drunk, fall down.

If multiple people report a problem, there’s SOMETHING there, even if they can’t correctly identify it.

I usually find the first guy was right all along. 

R:6 HM:6 SHM:2
My Blog

 
Posted : February 7, 2022 5:38 pm
Kary English
(@karyenglish)
Gold Star Member Moderator
Topic starter
 

OK, just a short one this month since I'm buried in slush.

How many of you have trouble with your stories being a lot longer than you thought? Length isn't necessarily a problem all on its own, but many markets have length limits that start in the 4,000 to 5,000 word range.

So how do you limit the length of a story?  Here's what works for me, and I can't remember if I learned it from Dave or from Mike Resnick. I *think* it was Mike.

To keep a story SHORT, limit the following:

1) How many characters you have. My shortest stories have one or two characters, max. If you're looking to seriously cut a piece, see if you can remove a character.

2) How many sub-plots you have. My shortest stories have ONE plot line and no sub-plots. If you're looking to seriously cut a piece, consider removing a sub-plot.

3) How many setting locations you have. My shortest stories take place in ONE setting location with no movement to a new location.

Examples:

Flash

Cold, Silent & Dark, 650 words - ONE character who stays in bed the whole time. She *thinks* about a second character, so we could argue it's two. One plot line.

Departure Gate 34B, 850 words - TWO characters sitting in an airport gate. One plot line.

5,000 words

Totaled - 4-6 characters (two main characters, a villain, a distracting love interest, two kids who are mostly memories), main plot and two sub-plots (a romance and a research project), two setting locations

Inconstant Heart - Three characters, two setting locations, one plot line, but it reads like one main plot and two sub-plots. In this one and Totaled, I deliberately trapped my characters in a single setting the vast majority of the time.

Shattered Vessels - Four characters (two main characters, a best friend, a guide type, *might* be 5 characters if you count a certain inanimate object), two plot lines, three main setting locations with a rapid fire mention of several others.

How about longer?

5600 words - When the North Wind Blows - 6 characters (two main characters, two best friends, two babies who are more MacGuffins than characters), five setting locations, three-ish plot lines

6500 words - Poseidon's Eyes - 7 characters, 5 setting locations, three-ish plot lines, maybe four.

7200 words - Minder's Bond - 4 characters, 5-6 setting locations, three-ish plot lines.

8200 words - Flight of the Kikayon - 5 characters, 5 setting locations, 3 plot lines, maybe 4.

What am I counting as a character? If they speak and have an impact on the plot, I count them. If I mention random patrons having lunch in a cafe, I don't count them.

What am I counting as a setting? A location requiring description where significant action happens. A flashback might count as a second setting depending on the story. A kitchen and bedroom might count as different settings depending on the action, or I might just count the house. There's a little wiggle room here, but in general, fewer characters, fewer plots, fewer settings help keep a story short.

What am I counting as a plot line? In The Minder's Bond, there's a relationship, a journey and an assassination attempt. I'll call it three. In Kikayon, there are two relationships, a get-off-the-island plot, and a trip in a balloon, so maybe that's 5?

Edit: Hmm, I guess it wasn't short? Time to kill a plot line.  😉

WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Hugo and Astounding finalist, made the preliminary Stoker ballot (juried)
Published by Galaxy's Edge, DSF, StarShipSofa and TorNightfire

 
Posted : March 4, 2022 4:58 pm
David Hankins
(@lost_bard)
Gold Member
 

Good insights, Kary! Limiting characters has been a constant problem for me. Life is full of interesting people, so I want to add them to my stories to add depth.

I recently did a major rewrite that cut three characters and two plot lines and it cut the story almost in half. Also, because I wasn’t spending words describing all of the extra people and problems, I was able to add more depth to the pieces that really mattered.

Winner, Volume 39, 2nd Quarter, 3rd Place
V38: HM, HM, SHM
V39: HM, 3rd Place

Published Stories:
"A Properly Spiced Gingerbread" in DreamForge Anvil Volume 7
"The Last Quest of Corbin the Coward" in Factor Four Magazine
"Reassessed Value" in Third Flatiron's After the Gold Rush Anthology

 
Posted : March 4, 2022 5:45 pm
Kary English
(@karyenglish)
Gold Star Member Moderator
Topic starter
 
Posted by: @martin-l-shoemaker

If multiple people report a problem, there’s SOMETHING there, even if they can’t correctly identify it.

Yes, agreed!  Smile

WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
Hugo and Astounding finalist, made the preliminary Stoker ballot (juried)
Published by Galaxy's Edge, DSF, StarShipSofa and TorNightfire

 
Posted : March 4, 2022 5:59 pm
Martin L. Shoemaker
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
Platinum Plus Moderator
 
Posted by: @karyenglish
Posted by: @martin-l-shoemaker

If multiple people report a problem, there’s SOMETHING there, even if they can’t correctly identify it.

Yes, agreed!  Smile

Multiple mentors have said that a good editor or critiquer can tell you what's wrong, but not the right way to fix it. That's up to you. They can suggest, but only you can decide.

With "Unrefined", my V31 winner, Dave identified what he saw as a problem. The story was about my narrator's doubts that he could run the organization. He wanted to see more of those doubts at the beginning.

But I liked my beginning just the way it was: an in media res introduction to the opening crisis, with alarms blaring and people evacuating before sabotage can destroy the station. I wasn't going to give that up, and there was no time for doubts in that scene, only time to act.

So I decided to introduce the crisis and then take half a flashback to why the narrator and his partner weren't on the scene when the crisis struck, and had to rush to the station. That gave me a place to explore his doubts.

Only it didn't work out that way. When I started into the flashback, it wasn't about his doubts, it was about his on again/off again relationship, and how that had driven him to take a remote assignment so he could clear his head after their latest fight. That strengthened the later scenes where they fought about his decisions as a boss.

But what was that early fight about? About the struggle between him as boyfriend and him as boss; and that struggle was rooted in his doubts.

Dave identified that the theme needed reinforcement, but I decided how to reinforce it.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : March 4, 2022 10:55 pm
Martin L. Shoemaker
(@martin-l-shoemaker)
Platinum Plus Moderator
 
Posted by: @karyenglish

To keep a story SHORT, limit the following:

1) How many characters you have. My shortest stories have one or two characters, max. If you're looking to seriously cut a piece, see if you can remove a character.

There's some interesting math that I won't get into here, but a good rule of thumb is that the potential scope of the story grows as the square of the number of significant characters (especially POV characters). That doesn't mean that you have to explore that potential; but it's out there, waiting to draw you in and trap you in a novel if you let it.

So 2 significant characters have 2 times as much PS (potential scope) as 1. 3 have 3 times as much PS. But 4 have 6 times, 5 have 10 times, 6 have 15... And it grows faster from there.

Again, you don't have to explore all of that potential scope; but if you don't explore some your story feels unfinished. There are relations out there that you ignore, yet readers can see them and wonder what's missing.

Grouping the significant characters reduces the potential scope. When the Fellowship of the Ring traveled as a group, the scope was small (though not as small as 1). But when they split into groups at the Falls of Rauros, the scope expanded rapidly.

http://nineandsixtyways.com/
Tools, Not Rules.
Martin L. Shoemaker
3rd Place Q1 V31
"Today I Am Paul", WSFA Small Press Award 2015, Nebula nomination 2015
Today I Am Carey from Baen
The Last Dance (#1 science fiction eBook on Amazon, October 2019) and The Last Campaign from 47North

 
Posted : March 4, 2022 11:05 pm
pdblake
(@pdblake)
Silver Star Member
 

@karyenglish thanks for taking the time Kary. 

 

I can recommend Ken Rand,'s 10 percent solution to trim down those wordy manuscripts. 

R:6 HM:6 SHM:2
My Blog

 
Posted : March 4, 2022 11:35 pm
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