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Writing Fiction Tips (Part II)
Whether Stuck in the Middle or Ready to Edit
Writing Fiction Tips (Part II)
By now you’ve reviewed the information available in Part I of the Writing Fiction Tips, or maybe you’re rebellious and refuse to do things in order. Hell, you’re not even sure you want to bother with reading tips 1-5. Fine, I also don’t feel like writing a new into so let’s get back to the remaining guidelines I have learned through sharing fictional shorts and critiques on online forums.
6.) Cliché critique #2 – show don’t tell
If I could only practice what I preach… Again, this is a point that gets stressed from our earliest attempts at creative writing in elementary school and while I still struggle with this “rule” I think learning to apply it a little bit more with each piece I write helps. The point of writing may be to tell a story but the choice of words should allow the tale to actively unfold. It is like the difference between watching a play and reading a play. Unless you have never heard feedback similar to this, if you have already mastered this point and it does not apply, then just try to find places in your story that could be altered from a tell to a show. This should happen in the rewrite, as you are editing see if you can find one or two areas that would be improved if action and conversation executed that portion as opposed to you simply rattling off what happened.
If nothing else, remember you have to know the rules before you break them.
7.) Trim the fat.
The quotation “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter” has been attributed to Twain, Hemingway, Blaise Pascal and others, and honestly all of them probably shared the sentiment. One of the main tricks to writing short stories is to say what you mean in as few words as possible, in other words get to the point. Certainly there is room for tidbits of information and poetic prose to enhance the artistic value of the story, but carefully monitoring how much of this there is should be your responsibility once you switch from frivolous writer to hardnosed editor.
Once in a while I write some section that came to me while working on a short piece and then later realize it just doesn’t mesh well, detracts from the flow or murders my word count. I consider these little gems to have come to me at the wrong time; my muse was distracted by shiny objects. So I remove these portions and keep them in a separate word doc of randomness. It may be so good I am tempted to use it in the wrong context just to showcase it, but that has never worked to my benefit. Usually, while writing some other short story down the road, I get stuck and refer back to my bank of random items and find something fits like a puzzle piece and even offers inspiration for where the story should go!
Here is a trick that has worked for me. I have a story that is 2200 words but I also know it would be easier to enter in contests or submit to certain publications if the word count was at 2000. So I go through and edit it down to 2000. I keep both versions but now I have two stories (regular and light) that can be distributed to multiple places. Besides, it always helps me learn how much I really can take out and still have a work I am happy with.
8.) Watch your tenses.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about this point; it’s pretty self-explanatory and cut and dry. The problem I have is starting to write in past tense then deciding I would rather write in present, and seem to neglect to change the tense to match throughout. Some writers just don’t seem to want to stick with one, and that’s fine, but if not done with precision a simple thing like past, present or future tense can make even what could be a brilliant piece very confusing. If a reader has to spend too much time trying to decipher the timeline of a story the impact of the tale is lost.
9.) What’s in a name?
These are people you are creating and their names should reflect their personalities: a free-spirited hooper with dreads should have an interesting name just as a dullard who keeps to himself and eats TV dinners alone every night at the same time might not need a name that stands out, unless in either case it is meant to be ironic.
Then there’s overkill…
Too many colourful names removes the element of reality; too many dull names causes everyone to run together like shades of grey. Another way names can be detrimental is using the same first letter. If a story refers back and forth between three men named Andrew, Anthony and Alex the reader can tend to get confused about who is who. This isn’t always a story killer but it can’t hurt to change the characters to Andrew, Ben and Heath so readers can easily distinguish between who said or did what a page earlier.
10.) Finally… Just write!
Run free with the first draft; scribble or type it out with reckless abandonment. When editing, keep all rules, guidelines, tips, feedback and suggestions somewhere in your mind, but don’t destroy your original piece. If you have to contemplate too long or talk yourself into making an alteration, maybe it doesn’t need to be done. The most important rule is to write authentically. Honestly if a piece is good enough an editor will offer suggestions. If you want to follow through in hopes of getting published (maybe even paid) then go for it. But I usually keep a copy of the original version so that I can still use that edition or return to it entirely.
As writers we all hope others will want to read our work and that it may even lead to publication, but first and foremost we should write to say what we (or our muse) want to say. For me, even if it never goes anywhere at least I transferred all those words to a finished piece and that is the most rewarding accomplishment of all.