Short Story Writing

Short story writing is a good way for writers to break into the publishing world of storytelling. With each published story, you can add to your finances, increase your experience and writing exposure, and add successful writing credentials to your curriculum vitae.

You may choose to submit to magazines that have a fiction section – this applies to both print and electronic options. Not all publishers will offer payment for published stories, so make sure you read their publishing terms. This is ultimately your decision if you want to pursue financial rewards as well as recognition. Writers who are well known will have a better chance of receiving payment or a better payment, but don’t be disheartened. We all have to start somewhere, and then building on that.

Remember your audience

Newspapers and magazines are read at cafe’s, on trains, in waiting rooms, and over breakfast and in short periods of time. It’s now a common sight to see people with an electronic device pouring over the screen. In some ways, people are probably reading more than they did a few decades ago, but be aware of the changes that the electronic world has brought us and the times when people are reading. When people are on the go, travelling from one place to the next, or looking for a little distraction for a short period, those people’s mindset is not geared for the big read as they are when settling in with a good book.

These short breaks are the perfect time to read a short story – maybe your short story.

Content to suit

Content is expected to be light-hearted, entertaining, and to the point. If the short story is too intense, then it could cause the reader’s attention to be lost and – unlike a book – a turn of the page or tap of the screen will serve to lead the reader away from your piece to someone else’s.

This doesn’t mean that people don’t read about intense subjects. It’s all around us and in the news daily, and this is why people delve into short stories – to get away from the real world for a few minutes and get lost in the imagination of the writer.

Surprises, twists and turns

Short stories with a surprise twist or ending used to be the normal formula along with choosing the right words and telling the story. These days, it’s more about the crafting of words and story without the twist. (I read a review recently where the critic didn’t like the story simply because it had a surprise ending.)

There are magazines that cater to all readers so writers can find publishing opportunities that suit their short stories, but make sure you read the submission guidelines and that your style fits.

A good story is one that can introduce characters, create and establish a storyline, and wrap it all up with a good ending leaving the reader feeling pleased they took the time to read it.

Humour

You can infuse your story with humour or thought provoking content. The importance of writing a short story is the ability to make an impact. Don’t underestimate the expectations of the reader. While a reader who is pressed for time will not want to be bogged down with too much reading, there’s still the expectation of being kept entertained.

Publishing and competitions

Many magazines (both print and electronic mediums) specialise in five-minute fiction or flash fiction. This is a great opportunity for writers, even those early on in their careers, to see their work published. Content is generally upbeat and easy to read. Those that are savvy, modern, and abreast of current issues will be viewed far more favourably than the traditional ‘Mills and Boon’ style of writing. When writing love stories, the happy ending can still be there, but it’s how you get there that matters.

If you’re considering writing a book containing a collection of your short stories, unless you’ve hit the big time, your book may not sell. Usually this type of book works best for well-known authors, but not necessarily for those still trying to break into the publication world or trying to make a name for themselves.

Competitions are another good source for your short stories. They help to establish your name as a writer, and the winning prize money is always a nice bonus. Some authors have made a career out of winning competitions and then go on to holding lectures, writing books on how to write short stories, and guest appearances at writing functions.

Don’t give up, keep writing and chasing publication. Hard work, skills, determination and motivation will get you there.

 

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Writing For Children

If you have chosen children’s writing because you think it’s the easiest then think again. It can be one of the most challenging, but well worth the effort when you see the smile on a child’s face and the hint of wonder in that child’s eyes. And when the youngster has heard the story a thousand times, but whose eyes still twinkle with enthusiasm to hear it yet again, then you have succeeded as a children’s writer.

Poetic license, a gift to any author, is one that children will freely give for those wishing to use it. Dr Seuss introduced us to sentences of nonsensical structure strung together while discarding convention and sometimes thought. Yet they delight both adults and children alike. Unlike most genres, writing for children is a vortex to the fantastic. However, today’s society differs greatly from past eras.

While Beatrix Potter once danced in the minds of exuberant expectation, the youth of today are far savvier to life’s mechanisations. Write with ardour, write with zest, but remember – without following some basic guidelines your wonderfully created work may well slip through the fingers of both parents and publishers alike.

As each age group has its own guidelines, the following points should be considered when deciding to delve deeper into the complex world of writing for children.

Keep It Simple

Your ideas can be big while striving to find a unique way in telling a story, but the language must be simple. Don’t use multiple words where one will do the job nicely. Pictures tell part of the story for early children’s stories, so the words shouldn’t duplicate what is already shown. For example, if you’re talking about a red ball, the colour of the ball can be shown in the picture.

Keep With The Times

Children of today are computer literate, they know how to use mobiles, and are far more technology savvy than their parents were when they were that age. Don’t underestimate the maturity of a child, but keep it age appropriate. If you are unsure of the correct terminology to use or doubt the content, then get advice first.

Keep Abreast Of Current Issues

Children suffer more health issues than ever before. They battle stress, anxiety, and depression to name a few. Some other important topics are bullying, struggling to fit in at school, and loneliness. Don’t be afraid to write about it. Children will relate and feel empathy and understanding. Parents may even thank you for the support it lends them in assuring their child.

The every-day topics could be about the first day at school, or wanting a pet, or longing for a new bike. Think back to when you were a child and what you can remember – there’s bound to be a story idea hidden in your memory.

Age Appropriateness

The most important rule is that in most cases the story needs to pass parental approval first. This can be achieved if rules are followed, and as an author you shouldn’t cross the boundaries. Never forget who your audience is.

Banned Topics

Obviously heavy romance is out. This is simply not appropriate in a children’s book.

Sex, religion, and politics are usually best left for a parent to wade through with their child when the time is right. While these are hot topics for an adult, they are inappropriate on most levels for a child.

Characters

Young children need only to be introduced to characters, while older children will enjoy a slightly more in-depth version.

Rhyming Words

Many children love rhyming words. A rhyming story has its own rhythm that children readily respond to. However, you have to be exceptionally skilled if your story is told in a poem-style, as publishers usually avoid this.

Write for Fun!
What better excuse to fling off the shackles of adulthood? Touch base with your inner youth and explore once again the sheer freedom of being a child? Let your imagination soar and, in doing so, a child’s imagination will soar also.

Suitable Language

Obviously children are not going to grasp cumbersome, difficult words. Keep language simple and pronounceable. For very young children, one and two syllable words are far more appealing. If the child isn’t at reading level and the story is being read to the child, then an occasional bigger word can be used. The reader can explain the more difficult words to the child.

Under no circumstances should swearing be permitted in children’s literature. While parents may not always know what their child is reading, if parents discover swearing in their child’s book, they might re-act in a way where the author is undermining what they are trying to teach. Do you want a mob of angry parents trying to break down your door? Best to stay on the side of caution here.

Honesty

While fiction is the creation of a writer, a story that is honest in its telling will go down far better than one filled with lies. A child will spot an untruth and will be quite unforgiving for it!

Publishers And Parameters

There are stringent guidelines when writing for children. The targeted age group needs to be stated clearly. Make sure you research the intended publisher before you submit your manuscript.

The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (US annual publication) and The Australian Writer’s Marketplace (available online only now) are good resources to find markets for your book. They offer detailed submission guidelines for hundreds of markets. The guidelines may include information, such as pay rates, where and how to submit your manuscript, as well as other relevant and important information. Alternatively, you can search the internet for online and print children’s publishers.

Choose a few markets that seem like a good fit for your work, follow the guidelines set out by those chosen publishers and submit a neat, professional manuscript. It’s recommended that you have your manuscript professionally edited before you submit anything. Publishers will toss a manuscript into the slush pile without a second consideration if it’s not presented correctly.

Children’s Writing Genres and Ages

Ages may differ between publishers, so check before submitting your story.

  • Picture Books (up to 7) – Designed with the aim for an adult to read to a child.
  • Baby Books (1 to 3) – Designed with the aim for an adult to read to a child, but may contain pop-ups or novelty books, such as lifting flaps or pressing a concealed pad to make a sound, etc.
  • Beginner Readers (5 to 8) – Used to teach a child how to read.
  • Middle Grade Books (8 to 12) – Teaching children to love reading through a large range of topics and interests.
  • Young Adult Novels (12 and up) – Based around teenagers, these are a stepping stone to novels loved by adults.

The ability to capture and conquer the enthusiasm of a child is a gift not to be wasted. The experience is an enriching one from which both children and authors can benefit. Remember, some of our most renowned children’s authors, such as JK Rowlings (author of the Harry Potter books), began with humble yet tantalising beginnings by writing and reading to their own children. Nicky Johnston started to write as a means to help her own child with his anxiety disorder. Her book Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! has reached huge audiences.

Children’s writing is a large field broken into age groups, which all have their own rules. This article is general, and writers are encouraged to focus on the rules of the age group for the intended story.

 

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Rules About Non-Fiction Writing

There are rules that apply to writing non-fiction aimed for scholastic or technical publications, newspapers, magazines, e-publication, or books.

Get Your Facts Right

Don’t presume, guess or surmise. A factual article should be conclusive of its information. There will always be someone out there that will know about the topic you’re writing and will recognise presumptions dressed as facts. If you’re writing for a publisher, then you will not only bring yourself into disrepute but also your publisher as well. That means you may not be published next time you submit your work, or at least with that same publisher.

All information needs to be researched thoroughly whether it ends up being part of the publication or not. In fictional writing, the author has to know the backstories of each character that plays a significant part in the story, whether all that information is revealed is up to the author. In non-fiction, it’s the writer’s duty to ensure the information presented is accurate and can stand up to an expert’s scrutiny.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Scholarly, science or medical articles or books require in-text citations and references. It’s wise to have professionals in the same field approve your piece and possibly get that approval in writing so you can include it in your book. Unfortunately, a newspaper article has neither the room nor the interest level to include an expert’s accolade of your work. Although, if the article is published on the internet then that may be possible if an expert posts a favourable comment at the end of the article.

Quotes

Including quotations serves to break up lengthy paragraphs, thereby encouraging the reader to continue, while substantiating your article. A quote from a professional strengthens a non-fictional piece of work. Factual articles without direct quotes or reinforcement of factual information may be viewed disparagingly. When you do quote someone, ensure you state clearly their full title and their representation.

Examples:

Dr Michael Greene of XYZ University stated that …

Dr Michael Greene, a biologist who has been studying this field for 20 years, has documented similar experiences …

Dr Michael Greene of XYZ University said, ‘…’

Note: In Australia, we do not put a full stop when shortening a word like ‘Doctor’ (Dr) if the last letter in the word matches the last letter in the shorten form.

Direct quotes must contain quotation marks. While double quotes (“ ”) are still acceptable, the single quotes (‘ ’) are the Australian preferred quotation mark.

Personal Opinions

One of the biggest mistakes authors can make is including personal opinion as the right one. Your opinion may be clouded by experience, which can sometimes be unique and not shared by others. Stick to the facts and what esteemed professionals have proved rather than your take on a subject. However, if you are a professional in the field that you’re writing about, then sharing your opinion may be valid but avoid using it as an opportunity to force your views as right and another expert’s opinion as wrong.

 

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Fiction Writing

Most writers have probably heard the advice ‘write what you know’. While this holds true, American Author Flannery O’Connor’s ‘start with anything you can make real’ approach is less stifling and opens the door to creative possibilities.

Many people who take up the craft of writing turn to fiction. Perhaps writers gravitate to fiction because everybody has a story to tell. You can create fiction from life or from your imagination. You can create fiction that tells a 500-page story or one that tells its story in a few pages.

Unlike other genres that fall within the non-fiction world (such as memoirs), writing fiction allows limitless imagination. You can invent worlds and create ordinary or awe-inspiring characters dealing with real issues, the supernatural or heart-stopping terror. But it takes more than just imagination.

Story Concept

It’s vital to have a concept or idea in mind first. Once you have this, it’s a good idea to plot your story. Remember to have an unexpected twist or two in the story; a basic structure of a beginning, middle, and end; and a thorough knowledge of your characters. Fiction takes dedication, so be prepared to spend a great deal of time on it.

Enjoy the Ride

When writing fiction, don’t make readers arrive after the crisis has happened, have them on the edge of their seats waiting for that big bang.

I watched Jessica disappear under the car.

Could become:

Jessica stepped back onto the road to take in the whole sunset over the mountains. A loose rock stole her footing just as a car hurtled down the gravel shoulder and headed straight for her. I leapt towards her, willing my legs to move faster. I shouted, but it was too late. I glimpsed Jessica’s wide eyes before her body disappeared under the moving vehicle. Her fading screams echoed through the deafening screech of brakes and the sickening thud of flesh mingling with metal; burnt rubber filled the air.

Now we can see it, hear it and feel the anguish and pain – we’re experiencing the action as it happens.

Give Life to a Scene

Read your work out loud. This will help to expose many grammar errors that can slip in or phrases that don’t make sense. It allows you to get a better feel of how your manuscript is flowing.

As writers, we learn how to describe a scene, but are you describing it efficiently?

The sun shone on the golden sand as the spume pulled away from the receding waves that struggled in the sand.

This certainly paints a picture, but is it doing enough? If we add the other four senses then it may become something like this:

A salted sea breeze crept towards the shore and mingled with the day’s humidity. The sun threw down unforgiving rays of fire that scorched the sandy beach. Rolling green waves crash upon the thirsty sand while hopeful seagulls cried out beneath the clear blue sky in search of food.

Not every setting will have something for each sense, but stop to notice the sounds, tastes, smells and tactile elements. Remember that these sort of descriptive passages have their place. They tend to slow the pace, so you wouldn’t have a full on descriptive passage in the middle of a scene where you want to create excitement or urgency.

Characters

Most novels and short stories are about a person or group of people with a goal. In many cases the events of the story dictate that goal. This can be as simple as a teenager deciding to take a job at the local surf shop, because he has a crush on a girl who works there. Everyone he meets and everything that happens in this village can be linked to the romance.

Develop your characters. Decide on the traits your characters will possess and give your characters experiences. If someone is a gentle and kind person then you may have that person help an elderly man with a chore or drive him to visit his grandson. A mean spirited person might stomp on a child’s favourite toy. Sticking a quick-tempered person, who is running late for an important meeting, in a traffic jam on a hot day has potential for the writer. The character could rant and rave, even kick the car if it boils over. It shows the character’s demeanour and keeps the storyline interesting. Use situations that stimulate emotion and create a fuller storyline. Emotions also help readers relate to your characters.

Dialogue

Make the characters believable.

A small feed store supplier whose customers are mostly farmers isn’t the kind of personality who’d say something like this:

I apologise for the delay with the arrival of your order. Our courier experienced a shipping displacement that should be resolved in twenty-four hours.

It would be more likely for this character to use language that would suit the clientele. If the customer were a farmer, then perhaps the employee would say something like this:

Sorry mate about your hay order. Somebody put it on the wrong truck heading the opposite direction, but it’ll be here tomorrow, you can count on it.

A person who had little education would speak differently to someone who was a scholar. A business person would talk differently to a rock musician. Think about who your characters are.

Add a Twist

Referring back to our story about the teenager working at the surf shop for the love of a girl could end with a happy ending, but what else could happen? Think about the possibilities. After several dates, the surfer realises this girl isn’t for him, but in his attempts to win her over he has become a skilled surfer. He competes against the best and wins. He gains popularity and a sponsor where he meets the sponsor’s daughter. You could even throw in another twist and have the readers reeling in their seats wondering what else was going to happen.

Revise, Rewrite and Edit

It’s more than just taking your manuscript from the seeds of imagination to having it actually written, it still has to be presented to readers (and appropriate publishers if that’s the way you want to go). Your story needs to be a saleable product. You may dream about being a professional writer with your books in stores all over the country. However, publishers care about their investment in a product and how well that product will sell. That’s why it’s up to you to present the best copy to a publisher.

Publishing Options

Once you have finished and it’s ready for publishing, you need to consider which publishing avenue you want. If you want to obtain a publisher, your focus turns to a synopsis. This gives a perspective publisher a clear understanding of what your story is about in clear concise paragraphs. Don’t be afraid to reveal the entire plotline to your publisher. They need to know your book is worth their effort and the money it takes to produce, market, and ultimately sell it. If they don’t think it will sell then they won’t accept it.

Unfortunately, not all good manuscripts are accepted. You may have written a worthy story, but if it doesn’t fit the criteria that the publisher is looking for or if they have already produced something similar then they may not present you with an offer.

If you want to self-publish, you’ll need a book blurb to help sell your book to readers. This publishing option means you will need to cover the cost of front cover and layout designers, editor and proofreader, printers, and marketing. While you’ll have complete control as to what your book will look like, you have to handle all the work, make all the decisions, and organise designers and printers. With the exception of printers, the rest of the workload and expense still applies if you opt for self-publishing an e-book. Self-publishing has improved writers’ dreams of being published, but whichever way you want to go, enjoy the journey.

 

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E-books and P-books

Writing for the Internet

Because of today’s technological advances and concern for our natural resources, people are adapting to a paperless lifestyle and are turning to a different forum for their content. Unlike papered media, content is now instant and interchangeable. And the demographic of those turning to the internet for their information will continue to grow. If you have made the decision to write an e-book or a paper book (dubbed p-book), consider the points covered in this article and weigh up carefully the direction in which you wish it to take.

Remember the frenzy that surrounded the release of a Harry Potter book? Bookstores opened at midnight, thousands of fans waited in line to become the first on their block with the new adventure, online booksellers were swamped with orders. Millions of people eager to have that treasured printed book. But if the Harry Potter book had been released as an e-book then that craze may never have happened, at least not in the same way. The book would have been available instantly – obtainable in the time it takes to download – and in the comfort of the reader’s own home. No midnight openings for stores, no queues, and no next-day shipping for online booksellers. And possibly the media would’ve had to find something else to talk about for five or ten minutes.

Although some people still resist the change, it appears that e-books are here to stay. What writer wouldn’t have enjoyed the success of Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet with over 500,000 downloads. Of course the eagerness to obtain this e-publication in the first 24 hours (approximately 400,000 downloads) caused the server to overload and there were additional issues relating to the encryption. It was a significant leap for e-publishing, propelled because a famous author published it in this format. Now many publishers have established e-book divisions and online bookstores have made space on their sites to handle e-books.

E-books have a number of advantages over its paper relation. The posing question is whether e-books outweigh the intimacy shared between reader and its tree-born companion. The ultimate challenge, as is usually the case with the transition from old to new, has to do with getting used to the change. In relative terms, typewriters replaced longhand as the preferred way of writing. Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi was the first typewritten manuscript. By the late 1980s, a number of writers had abandoned their typewriters for word processors.

There are people who still write longhand, they feel more connected to their writing, but many are now comfortable with the flashing cursor and cut-and-paste convenience options of their computers. And e-publishing has established itself as the preferred method of publishing.

Electronic or Paper

From a practical viewpoint, the storage capacity of e-books makes it easy on both business and leisure travellers. No more carrying around volumes of company reports, public manuals, or the five novels you’ve packed and planned to read on your next holiday.

The most attractive quality of e-books is their versatility. E-books have searchable highlights, making it easier for you to relocate important sections you’ve marked. You can take notes without running out of margin space. An electronic dictionary allows you to click on a word and get its definition. E-books can also be read in the dark. Finally, as mentioned earlier, you can download an e-book in seconds – and there are no shipping fees.

Many avid readers still say they prefer the feel of a book in their hands while they are reading. They get lost in another world between the pages. And while they may have tried reading an e-book, it simply doesn’t have the same emotional impact for them.

It’s a special time when parents read stories to their children, turning each page, allowing the children to explore the pictures and absorb the story. It turns into a learning tool as parents ask their children to find things within the illustrations or question what they think will happen next.

The Future Of E-Books

Opinions on the future of e-books vary. Some authors and publishers are anti-e-books, but there are those that welcome the technological advances. Some concern is over devices with small screens, which requires lots of squinting and scrolling. E-book readers are much more like paper books in terms of font size, but reading them can be like looking at a computer monitor for great lengths of time. Nevertheless, the technology continues to improve.

Predictions are never easy, but there is a likelihood e-books will become the dominant way to read, and the paper version will become a rarity. Many newspapers and magazines already have e-versions of their information that appears in the printed issues, and they are aware of the binding cost to produce the same information in a physical form and the distribution costs and difficulties. It’s unlikely paper publishing will disappear entirely, despite some people’s opinions. Children’s books have made a comeback in the printed version and there will be other readers who enjoy the feel of a book while they read instead of the glare of a computer screen. Of course, a hundred years from now, things will be different and the printed book may be bought as an antique. Readers’ desire to experience a good story will remain despite the format it’s presented in.

To E-Publish …

Below are some points in favour of online publishing:

  • E-books can be published without the costs associated with traditional publishers.
  • It can be almost instantaneous to publish, and without the need to print copies, bind them and distribute them, meaning quicker recognition.
  • Technology is forever moving forward so, at the very least, e-publishing needs to be accepted as an alternate forum.
  • Writers have more freedom and are not bound to the whims of traditional publishers.

Or Not To E-Publish

Below are some points in favour of traditional publishing:

  • Like music, e-books can be easily downloaded or copied repeatedly. There is no profit for the writer if one person buys it and then allows, for instance, 10 friends to copy or download it for free. Those piracy laws are there for a reason.
  • Not all readers think to search the internet for a good book.
  • Many booklovers prefer to wander the aisles of stores who sell books soaking up the unique aroma of the printed form rather than purchasing a story online.
  • The possibility of plagiarism is compounded with the ability to ‘cut and paste’, which is readily available on any computer.
  • There would be no traditional advances from royalties normally associated with a published book through a publishing house.
  • Parents will often purchase a book for their children while browsing in a shop or supermarket. When passing books lined up on a shelf, a child will visually acknowledge a book of interest, which can encourage reading.

Audience

Generally speaking, when writing for the internet, there are three crucial differences: Audience, Format, and Lifespan. It’s important to consider each of these key differences.

A writer must consider the audience. When it comes to the paper version or electronic, the basics won’t change in regards to identifying who the primary targeted audience is, but there are some huge differences in other areas.

Most people, once they have bought a magazine or newspaper, are likely to give each page a cursory read before setting the item aside. Not so with online. When writing for the internet you must always keep in mind your reader can leave with a click of a button. People don’t have a lot of time to waste, so you must remain on target and focused at all times. If the writer doesn’t deliver good content then the reader will simply go elsewhere – and fast.

Format

Another important point when writing for the internet is that many online readers are skimmers. They scan your copy quickly before committing themselves to reading the entire thing. It’s important to write clearly and concisely. Use punchy headlines and subheadings, as well as solid introductions and conclusions, as these are key points for skimmers.

Don’t try to mimic traditional print documents. Writing for the internet requires different strategies. One of the most important is the entry point. A search engine may deliver readers to any point of your information. If you have written coherent and cohesive content, then those readers might consider a more thorough read. It’s best to break longer pieces into several stand-alone sections that can work together as a whole or as separate documents.

Lifespan

While the apparent lifespan of many electronic documents appears to be short-lived, it’s not necessarily the case. Printed newspaper and magazine articles are current for a day, week or the month of their publication, so while it’s important as a writer to be fresh and current, keep in mind that your reader may access your words from the internet at some undetermined point in the future. Therefore, try not to be too topical (unless there is a specific reason for this), as you may severely date your article in the process.

Luckily, we are in a period where the decision to publish online or use traditional publishing tactics is up to the individual. So why not use both mediums for different work depending on the purpose and desired outcome.