Building a Short Story Part 2 – Results

You can see more of these exercises here.

 

For some very good reasons, these posts will be a bit shorter and not necessarily on time. I’m still teaching writing to advanced ESL students in September – these posts are helping me build a new approach, so I will work to get them finished!


From my last post:

My Story So Far

Main Problem:

An amateur stage magician learns real magic from his lover and mentor, but is unprepared for the mental cost of using his newfound power.

Conflict 1:

MC learns that his flight to New York to see his ailing mom for Thanksgiving has been delayed, but his new powers offer him a way to get to her.

Conflict 2:

MC’s lover and mentor persuades him to try, despite his reservations. Clearly she has another motive for wanting him to advance so far with his magic so quickly, but MC can’t see it through his love for her and his desire to do something great with his power.

Writing the Middle

The middle of your story starts after the main problem facing the MC has been set up, and covers everything up until the additional conflicts have been laid out. As you write, check that the conflicts build off the original main problem to make it worse. The reader should feel that the MC is under more pressure, or that their life, the life of someone they care about, or any desire they value greatly is threatened by the escalating conflicts.

Continue reading

Building a Short Story Part 2 – Raising the Stakes

You can see more of these exercises here.

In the last post, *I shared the beginnings of a short story. I attempted to set up the ‘reality’ of the magic in the story – our main character (Robert) can teleport himself, but it uses up his memory. The reader can also see how his mentor and lover (Carla) has a lot of influence over him – she’s clearly been goading him along through his magic training despite his reservations.

Now I can set up more conflicts and make things worse for my main character.

Robert wants to go back to his mother’s place for Thanksgiving. He’s planning to buy a plane ticket and just fly there, but Carla appeals to his vanity.  He wants to do much more with his magic than simple tricks – and Carla picks up on that and tells him to use magic to get to his mom’s place.

Robert is hesitant. He’s only been practicing short range teleport tricks, and he’s having trouble controlling the cost of the magic to his memory. Carla keeps pressing him, saying that the distance doesn’t matter – the magic works the same way regardless of the distance. She tempts him with a promise of more magic spells if he can prove his mastery of teleportation.

These are my complications – for this short story, I have two main complications that make the initial problem worse. For a longer story, you’ll need more complications – each one somehow relates to the initial challenge facing the main character (MC) and makes it more difficult then they realized.

My Story So Far

Main Problem:

An amateur stage magician learns real magic from his lover and mentor, but is unprepared for the mental cost of using his newfound power.

Conflict 1:

MC learns that his flight to New York to see his ailing mom for Thanksgiving has been delayed, but his new powers offer him a way to get to her.

Conflict 2:

MC’s lover and mentor persuades him to try, despite his reservations. Clearly she has another motive for wanting him to advance so far with his magic so quickly, but MC can’t see it through his love for her and his desire to do something great with his power.

Now come up with extra conflicts for your story.

If you are writing flash or slightly longer fiction, you’ll probably only need two conflicts that relate to the main problem and make it worse. Get the problems from your story’s environment, your character traits, or sudden accidents or incidents that could develop from the situation you’ve imagined. Your MC should be in a really difficult situation – and the reader should wonder just what they will do next.

I’ll share my results on Thursday.  See you then!


*Yay, I finally got links to show up blue, like they should be!

#IWSG for August – Dark Times

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Getting back into writing seems a lot harder for me now.

Last time I was putting up one of these IWSG posts, I had a crowdfunding effort relating to my writing. I ended that campaign and contest with all of 16 backers total. I simply didn’t have enough of the right kind of contacts and friends to see it through, or the knowhow to reach out to people who might have helped. I couldn’t go on with the promotion – it was taking away all my time to write.

I am thankful for those 16, and the many more who read the work I was displaying for the contest. I wish I could have done better for them. If I ever decide to crowdfund for writing again, it will be an even harder uphill battle, since everyone I know saw me fall flat on my face. But I will get the story done, along with the others I am working on.

Home life is not going well, and I don’t have a way out other than to keep working my main job I have to make a living. My wife and I are making progress on our debt, but at the cost of making any progress on our stalled relationship.

Yet here I am, still at the writing game. I’m still teaching a writing course in September – a course for ESL learners that I have adapted from my own influences and writing guidebooks. I must still have a set of materials to teach from, and that is exactly what I was preparing with my series of blog posts on writing short fiction.  I will return to the series of posts next Tuesday.

I must keep writing, even with feelings of darkness.

I don’t know how I will spread the word and get the support of friends, family, and more when I have a major project ready. All I know for now is that I must have a very good project well and truly ready. I must work out some way to get to my writing group regularly despite the hard work I must do with my family. While online critique groups are great, in-person meetings have by and far the strongest motivational power for me.

For other members of the Insecure Writers Support Group – what gets you writing through feelings of being overwhelmed, through feelings that even your best writing will not be enough?

iwsg

A slight delay while I’m crowdfunding…

This is embarrassing.

It seems my work with crowdfunding has caused me to fall behind with my pre-scheduled writing exercise posts.

The exercises will return shortly!

In the meantime, help me get the pre-order numbers up for Far Flung. Your help will help me create the best sci-fi experience I can!

pre-order far flung

#IWSG September – Writing and Apathy

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For the #IWSG folks visiting today, in my last posts here and here, I talked about apathy as it affects me as a writer.

I’ve been hit by a sort of burnout, and I’m in a position where I want to write, I even know what I want to write, and have a plan laid out, but – no motivation. Poof, gone – the drive to write (or else) isn’t coming.

I wondered in my last post if writers are any more prone to such burnouts than other professions. Well, I don’t think so, necessarily. You hear about teacher burnout all the time, and lots of people quit decent, well-paying jobs because they just can’t take it anymore.

I wrote about the paradoxes of writing that affect me now:

I have to write about other people facing problems and living their lives, but I’m shy and awkward around real people.

I have to get exercise and eat healthy food, both of which are imposing tasks to someone who needs to sit down and write, dammit.

I have to travel, explore new places and see new things to fuel my fiction, but I have a family and a tight budget.

I also saw articles like this:

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It’s clear that there is indeed a big risk of depression among writers, but I’m not so sure it’s clinical depression that I’m feeling. I’ve been depressed before, been on both Prozac and Zoloft. This … doesn’t feel like that. It’s not a crushing despair, it’s more like emotional procrastination. I’m putting it off, I’m pushing it back, and I can’t bring myself to care about writing as much as I did when I started this site.

Can anyone reading this relate?

Do you know this kind of apathy I’m talking about? It shares some symptoms with depression, and could be linked to depression, but it’s not quite as severe – it’s more just loss of emotional investment in writing or other passions.

I’m still exploring this, but will post more this month as I figure out what it is I’m actually dealing with and how I’ll work out some solutions.

 

Writing Past Apathy, Part 2

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Just a quick post today to reaffirm that I am addressing this apathy problem of mine.

Heh, I see the irony in that – one could say I don’t care enough to make a full post…

Here are some of the avenues my questioning mind has taken over the last week:

Are Writers More Likely to Get Burned Out?

You see, I think some writers may be especially prone to anxiety, apathy, or depression because of some basic contradictions that plague our work.

I have to write about other people facing problems and living their lives, but I’m shy and awkward around real people.

I have to get exercise and eat healthy food, both of which are imposing tasks to someone who needs to sit down and write, dammit.

I have to travel, explore new places and see new things to fuel my fiction, but I have a family and a tight budget.

I wonder if some writers give up on their dreams because these contradictions just seem too much.

How Much Does Diet Affect Writing?

This has come into my mind as an important question. I’m pretty sure a writer must be profoundly affected by diet and exercise – there’s a lot of research out there that shows how diet affects cognition. I love junk food (is this a thing with authors?), and the research says fast food and junk food are every bit as bad for the brain as they are for the body. In my case, I’m pretty sure now that junk food makes me more irritable and withdrawn (even on top of my usual introversion), so I’m thinking that my current frustration and burnout has a lot to do with the “fuel” I provide myself with for long writing sessions.

How Does One Keep Writing in a Bad Relationship?

I won’t blame my lack of writing recently on my bad relationship – that makes it sound like I’m not at fault. I’ve fallen into a trap – one I think is the most common trap of all. I like to blame things on my ‘bad relationship’ when there has been so much I’ve done or neglected to do that made this relationship bad. I also won’t blame myself as the sole reason for everything being bad. The growing distance between my wife and I came from things we both did and didn’t do.

While my wife and I work through this, I still need ways to write. There’s a good post here about how to keep blogging when things go to shit, and it looks like a good place to start. I also find myself writing about the problems I have with my wife in a private notebook, and I have to say, just taking constant measure of the problems seems to help a lot.

 

My next post will be the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group post for Wednesday, September 7. I think I’ll choose one of the three avenues I’m thinking about here and expand on it. Maybe the IWSG folks will have some thoughts to add, too.

Writing Past Apathy, Part 1

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Apathy, Part 1 – My Attempt to Assess and Understand

It’s a dangerous, comfortable thing. Its danger is in the relief it provides. You weather a storm of emotions, swirling in subconscious corridors, pulling apart the delicate fabric of synapses. Finally, your mind just cannot handle it. Some sort of overload, like a fuse that finally blows in the electrochemical circuitry of the brain and suddenly, the emotions no longer bother you.

Oh, they don’t go away. You should never think an apathetic person doesn’t have feelings; quite the opposite. The feelings simply stop registering. The brain withdraws, refusing to let the emotions cause more pain or stress. But with the stress, willpower, motivation, and the urge to improve can also get washed away in the numbing mental bleach of apathy.

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I find myself at my writer’s desk. The story is within, yet so are many other thoughts, a tangle of threads that seems impossible to unravel. I know what will happen next; I know what I have planned for my characters. Yet I cannot remember why.  My reasons for writing, my motivations, they can’t break through the mess of feelings or the apathy that stands between those feelings and my full awareness of them. A coffee seems good right about now. Maybe a chocolate bar. I wonder what’s happening on Reddit and Twitter now? How about a session of Skyrim or No Man’s Sky? Anything would be better than trying to pry the story out from under the layers of feelings and negative thoughts covering it.

My personal life is a wreck. My schedule has left me little time for a social life. Even when I do meet people, they aren’t my people. The writer’s club I was with now meets on a night I simply can’t get out. Those people were my support, my backup, my reason for writing. It was easy to write when I could meet them every week.

I’ve lost the in-person meetings with that group. With my kids and my wife’s full-time-plus job, it doesn’t seem like I’ll get back together with them regularly anytime soon.

My relationship with my wife is at an all-time-low. We barely talk, and when we do, it’s so that she can complain or lecture me. I know so much is my fault, and that I probably deserve the bad feelings, but it’s so hard to improve when I know exactly what our next conversation will be.

This first post about my apathy problem is my attempt to size it up, look at why I’m burnt out. I think I can sum it up like this: my apathy manifested once my mind couldn’t handle all of the feelings. My writing has suffered because I can’t meet my friends, yes, but there’s another reason I can’t write. Writing requires me to process feelings and experiences, weave them into a narrative. My desire to write is down, because my willingness to confront my feelings is way, way down.

Over the next few Sundays, I will post updates on this apathy. I will look for ways to meet people, ways to boost my writing morale, and ways to confront the relationship problems that are behind the writing problems.

For my readers, I’d appreciate if you share experiences of burnout or apathy, especially as they relate to writing. I’ll read your replies, and work them into the next post.

I appreciate any and all insights. Thank you so much in advance.


Images:

Apathy, sculpture at Canary Warf, photo by Monika Bota, https://www.flickr.com/photos/monikabota/4768246617

The Passion of Creation, painting by Leonid Pasternak – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creation.jpg