Sunday, 21 December 2014

Creative PROCESS - Short Stories

The more prolific I've been getting, the more settled I am getting into a particular process of writing that works for me.


Summarize like a madman. Here are the characters and this is the plot - what happens in the story. I'll tinker with the mechanics and milieu to make it as interesting as possible. This is the stage where I'll often decide the style and intent of the story. I keep working on this until I come up with an interesting potential ending.


The next draft is to develop the characters, by asking what kind of character would get him or herself into a position like this and why. All the stories I'm writing these days are about relationships. Sometimes parents and children, sometimes siblings, sometimes lovers and sometimes more than one of the above. Creating realistic relationships with a few lines of dialogue is just about the most fun in fiction writing. The quirkier the characters, the more fun this part of the process is. Very often, relationships will change during this stage. Sons turn into daughters, parents turn to children, friends become partners.


This is where I try to find and pull out the beating heart of the story - the pivotal moments from these lives that I'm trying to capture. The characters very often won't be aware that these moments are pivotal, but the writer needs to find them and display them to the reader in the most entertaining and emotionally affecting way possible. The ending should be an epiphany of some sort - to either the reader of the character or both.


Edit down to the elements that are essential to caring about the characters telling the story. Add some bells and whistles, make sure the voice is consistent and compelling...and then polish.

At least - that's my idealized process. It sometimes goes off the tracks or stalls at one of the stages while I work shit out. These elements have been common to about six of my last seven stories.
If it helps anybody else write their stories, then it's worth sharing. Meanwhile I'll be watching and trying to learn from my favourite writers.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Back in the Hotseat Again

I’ve been in workshops for most of my writing life – and have always considered them an important, if not essential part of the process. But a few months back, I quit – and I've been sending out a lot more stories ever since.
I was a member of the workshop off and on for about eight years. In the late 90's, I found it very helpful, but when I went back this last time, I found that it was discouraging me from writing more than encouraging me to do it. I wrote over a dozen stories over the past four years, and after the critiques, I didn't have the confidence to send any of them out. Since leaving, I've rewritten most of them, have eight in circulation and am writing a new story every week or two. There were a number of unexpected benefits to having a bank of unmarketed stories. It affords me the chance to hit the market with much more impact than I would have done otherwise (two sales in six months and I'm pretty pumped on most of the others).
This was not my game plan! I was going to be finishing novels and getting them on the market - but the ones that went to the workshop may be undermined for a good long time.
Which is fine, because I have two other stand-alone novels poised to cross the finish line.
The sudden dearth of readers has forced me to change a number of habits. I make sure that the people who do read it are folks I trust. They are good readers and I believe them to have my best interests at heart. This was true about my friends at the workshop as well, but the situation is much more under my control now...partly because I’m very specific about the feedback I ask for.

And because I do have so few readers and the ones I have are busy people, I am often forced to make my own judgement calls about my stories. This was a major step forward for me! It's forced me to learn to read my own work more critically and to take more personal responsibility for what I write - both good things. While it's nice to have good first readers - we are ideally our own best first readers. I've had to learn how to tell when a story is ready. Sometimes setting it aside for a week can give me enough objective distance and sometimes it can't. I will often do a major rewrite when a story returns from the first market I send it to.

My self published collection was more an affirmation to myself that I am a good fiction writer than an attempt to crack the market. Although it succeeded in making me more confident about my work, it also gave me a look at the 2014 marketplace and made me realize that I need to reestablish myself as a writer worth paying attention to – which is the reason that I went back to writing stories before getting the novels out there. I was disappointed that my new stories didn’t draw attention last year, but that is just making me work harder this year. I’m hoping that at least one of them will get some serious award or “best of the year” consideration. Even a couple of nominations or honourable mentions would be a great start. Since I was enjoying that level of success before I took my hiatus and I know that I’m a better writer now than I was then – it should be possible. Then again, the market has changed a lot in 15 years. And with all the emphasis on diverse voices (which is a very good thing BTW), old white guys like me have to work that much harder.

The countdown has begun. The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir comes out in March. Soon I will know whether changing the title of my story to “Nunavut Thunderfuck” was actually a good idea!