Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 29, 2012 - 8:14pm

I'm curious about the process you guys go through for short story writing. I've got two shitty rough drafts right now. I kind of like the beginning and endings, but i need a lot of help with the in-between of "showing not telling."  However this is not the stage I would want to show my work, so i feel kind of alone in figuring it out.  It's exciting to have an idea, but getting it down and the way you want it is hard. How do you handle the process between the first rough draft and getting it re-written and not thinking it's ever going to get good? By he time I post these stories I'll be feeling okay about them. I'll be happy to get criticism, but there is a period of hopelessness in there. Do others feel that?

PandaMask's picture
PandaMask from Los Angeles is reading More Than Human March 29, 2012 - 8:19pm

I feel it.

  • What I do is type a rough draft.
  • Show it to a couple certain people, whos opinions matter to me. 
  • Get feedback.
  • Then open up my story, make the edits.
  • Leave the draft there for a couple days.
  • Come back to it.
  • I open up a blank page, with the other page still open, then somewhat start the story from scratch.
  • Then I just add in the parts I like.

 

Profunda Saint-Sylvain's picture
Profunda Saint-... from Calgary, AB is reading Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series March 29, 2012 - 8:39pm

I type 1/3 of a first draft. Get frustrated. Walk away. Occupy myself with other things for 2-3 years. Find old notebook/file. Take a sentence I like. Find a bunch of words what rhyme. Turn into shitty punk rock song. The end.

(this is why I need ritalin.)

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 29, 2012 - 8:45pm

Funny Profunda, but seriously the last writing i did before just lately was way back when. I pulled out the old folders and wondered if i shoudl start back on those. (They were typed on a type writer, not a computer... that's how old.) I didn't try to finish them. But they are still there. I liked my writing in my younger days. The sentences were okay but the plots went nowhere. Oh no, kind of like today. No plot! AGGG

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 29, 2012 - 8:46pm

My best advice would be to separate your stories into scenes or sections that stand alone, and then analyze each part. Whether it's a paragraph or three pages, if it's a stand-alone scene, it probably needs as much attention as the rest. It takes the weight off of you if you edit two pages of a sixteen page story. There's less pressure when you don't have an entire story to carry and each part gets equal attention.

I use Scrivener -- it's a writing software that gives you a corkboard with notecards where you can write synopses that are tied to scenes you've written. It's been invaluable. It's the computer equivalent to writing summaries on index cards and stapling them to drafts. Nabokov wrote scene ideas on note cards and then shuffled them around to get them into a cohesive story.

If you don't want to torrent or buy the program, consider doing it on your own. Print out scenes and staple them by section or organize scenes into separate documents, not as one cohesive unit. Then go over each scene on its own and give each part equal attention.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 29, 2012 - 8:47pm

My best advice would be to separate your stories into scenes or sections that stand alone, and then analyze each part. Whether it's a paragraph or three pages, if it's a stand-alone scene, it probably needs as much attention as the rest. It takes the weight off of you if you edit two pages of a sixteen page story. There's less pressure when you don't have an entire story to carry and each part gets equal attention.

I use Scrivener -- it's a writing software that gives you a corkboard with notecards where you can write synopses that are tied to scenes you've written. It's been invaluable. It's the computer equivalent to writing summaries on index cards and stapling them to drafts. Nabokov wrote scene ideas on note cards and then shuffled them around to get them into a cohesive story.

If you don't want to torrent or buy the program, consider doing it on your own. Print out scenes and staple them by section or organize scenes into separate documents, not as one cohesive unit. Then go over each scene on its own and give each part equal attention.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 29, 2012 - 8:48pm

Also, I've found that my best inspiration comes from notebooks I wrote during my formative, pathetic early teen years. Some of my best shitty poetry became inspiration for my best shitty stories.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 29, 2012 - 8:50pm

Thanks Courtney, Panda and Pro! I just love the communication about it too. All good ideas.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 29, 2012 - 8:52pm

Yes Courtney, some good stuff comes from those years. 

PandaMask's picture
PandaMask from Los Angeles is reading More Than Human March 29, 2012 - 9:00pm

@Courtney

You double posted, just so you know.

@Cove

You just have to find a process that works for you.

There's a program called FocusWriter that is pretty helpful and free.

It takes up the entire space of your screen. This blocks out distractions. There is also a typewriter sound each time you type that you can add.

Another thing is you can use different ways to hone in on your story. You can print it out, read it out loud, or read it on screen.

I do my writing at night, when it's most quiet. I load up on coffee and tea, play some music, and see what happens. Sleep deprivation helps a lot also, but I wouldn't suggest that.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest March 29, 2012 - 9:14pm

Frankly, I have no process. I sit and start writing. Usually, it's a tiny idea, or a small scene or even a bit of dialogue that comes first. I've even created stories from titles alone. Broken Hearts, Ohio came to be because of a title I came up with. The original title was Broken Hearts and Turnpikes, but since the story stemmed from a prompt, Broken Hearts, Ohio was more fitting. However, the basic story was the same.

I've tired the notecard thing. I've tried outlines. None of these things work for me. Once I get about 300-500 words written I'm pretty much in the zone and have a general idea of where the story is going. Sometimes though, I do have to do a lot of research to find the story. Second Level Storm was that way. I had remembered Dante's Inferno and knew that there was a storm of sorts in it, I just had to find out where it was and how I could incorporate it into my story.

'Showing vs. Telling' is a tricky subject to handle. It's not a rule, just a guideline. Generally, the 'showing' part is a scene. There the parts of the book, or story, where you want to show the interplay between characters. When there's action, you'll want a scene. Describing something disappointing, moving or confounding, a scene will work better than narrative. The complexities of human behavior are best described in a scene by using action and dialogue. Narrative are the 'telling' parts of the story. Narrative works best when trying to fill in background information or moving quickly through time to connect scenes. But, make sure you move back and forth between the two for a pleasing read and to give the story life. Too much scene and the story can seem drawn out. Too much narrative and the story can feel dry or expository. 

I think all of us go through the stage of 'this sucks', but the key is to keep writing, editing and revising. Everytime I submit a story here, I'm surprised at the reviews I get. After re-reading the story so many times, I get too close to it and it begins to sound dull. 

Do what works best for you. Sounds like Courtney likes the notecard/outline process. I like the seat of the pants process. There's no right way to write a story, find what works best for you and go with it. I don't like knowing where the story is going to end up before I start writing it. Not knowing makes it more fun for me. That's just how I write.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest March 29, 2012 - 9:16pm

I do my writing at night, when it's most quiet. I load up on coffee and tea, play some music, and see what happens. Sleep deprivation helps a lot also, but I wouldn't suggest that.

- Same way Panda... Maybe that's why I'm so friggin tired during the day... LOL! But, it's worth it.

PandaMask's picture
PandaMask from Los Angeles is reading More Than Human March 29, 2012 - 9:22pm

Hahaha it's worth it, even if I get bloodshot eyes and extreme mood swings.

Yeah I do a lot of research. Just so I can get a better feel for it and I have OCD when it comes to detail.

I just try not to drown in the research, just get enough of it.

I incorporate music, books, comics, movies, and anything that might help.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest March 29, 2012 - 9:28pm

I'm the exact same way. Broke Hearts came about because of a Taking Back Sunday song and a Hawthorne Heights song. I love research and sometimes I get lost in it.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 29, 2012 - 9:45pm

I write at night too. (see the time right now). Thanks for the feedback. I start out writing and see where it is going.. It surprises me. Then if i wait a while I get an overlay that makes the story what it shoudl be. Does that make sense?  It's this waiting part that is agonizing. I wonder if inspiration will come. I think  maybe this is the artistic part, and i don' t have too much control over it. The things i try to work hard on never end up that well. The things that just come are the good things. Isn't this awesome? Even if my drafts suck now, it's pretty awesome to work on things like this.  

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 29, 2012 - 10:28pm

im training to run the music city half/marithon. i think many of the same rules to running can be applied to writing. endurance is first. solitude is another thing, and believeing you can do it is the last, or first, however you see it. i never thought i could run even five miles. i never thought i could finish a short story. we can do  more than we think.

Dave's picture
Dave from a city near you is reading constantly March 29, 2012 - 10:35pm

Now for something completely different.

I'm completely in my head until I'm ready to write it down.  It's problematic in that sometimes I forget what I think is a good idea.  I comfort myself that if the idea was that good, I wouldn't have forgot.  My War story was almost completely in my head when I sat down and roughed it while at work. 

I got about 3k words out of it, and had enough to do a lot more. 

So, on that note, my process can be fairly laborious.  I have to sit down and completely withdraw into my head, where ever my story is.  Music helps, isolation is almost required, I don't distract easily if at all if I get in the zone.

When it sucks, I read it.  I read it out loud. I take it apart and look and the pieces...I rewrite.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 29, 2012 - 10:43pm

Thanks Dave!

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts March 29, 2012 - 11:10pm

I try to make my first draft the only draft, or at least convince my mind that's what's happening. Turn off my brain and go by gut pretty much all the way through. After I finish it, I probably won't want to look at it, don't want to second guess or come to grips with how much I dislike it. Then I give in and fix all the typos. If it's okay, I'll try and send it out, maybe add/deduct a couple sentences. If I feel shitty about it, I'll stow it away and either workshop it or rewrite it completely, like a start-from-zero rewrite. I feel okay with that process.

I think mostly though I feel confident enough with my own style (not necessarily abilities, but style, yes) to know how to navigate through my drafting. After I've come up with an idea and/or the key couple lines or images I want in the story, I know what kind of story shape I want to give to it and that keys me into when to take a left turn and when to step on the gas. Other than those key images I won't really think about the other parts of the story, it's just laying down glue. Occasionally I'll think of a better way to set up something or a big part I want to add in, but usually when it comes to that I'll do one of those big start-over rewrites and do the core of the story from a different angle or with a different tone.

The turn-the-brain-off method I've found to work okay if you're prone to procrastination and hideous mood swings.

Nikki Guerlain's picture
Nikki Guerlain from Portlandia is reading Necronomicon Book Three March 30, 2012 - 4:23am

My writing process (just in case anyone cares/finds it helpful)

1. i come up with an intriguing title or bit of dialogue

2. then i come up with the emotional template (journey) i want the reader and the characters to go on

3. next, i find a clear sequence of events to build a logical context for the fucked up dialogue or title to grow from

4. next, i figure out who i want the witness to be and figure out what kind of voice/tone they are

5. next, I write a really killer first line

6. lastly, working off that first line and using 1-4 as my guideposts, I let the adventure go through my head and i transcribe into machine. at this point, i should say that i like to write where every line is supercharged but that my goal is to always paint word pictures at the paragraph level rather than sentence level. this is really important for clarity. but that's just my thing. also my thing, i think about steps 1-4 for a long time and let it stew in my head and take notes in my iphone app Evernote. by the time i actually sit down and write that first line i have an idea of where i want to go but leave myself open for surprises, and usually write my story all at once.

for old material, i look it over and screen it through this same process.

anyhoo, that's it. hope it helps.

cheers.

 

 

Matt Attack's picture
Matt Attack from Richmond, Va. is reading As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner March 30, 2012 - 4:52am

Have someone or some people take a look. People who are honest and have you're best interest at heart (and that know what they're talking about). If your work doesn't improve when they give advice, or you're not feeling it,  move on. Some people just don't click. Also, try to see if it flows. Like if it's easy and fun to write it, you might have something. Those are the biggies for me. 

Try reading some of the craft essays  if you want to hone your technique as well. 

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters March 30, 2012 - 5:03am

My process is mostly very stupid.  I come up with some sort of feeling first.  Or a word.  Most everything hatches out of a single place.  I try to keep it in my head until I get something really exciting that makes my heart go pitter patter, then I jot that down. 

In general, ideas are my strong point.  I can usually come up with fifty ideas at a time.  Executing them into a compelling story, this is the work for me. 

I write the bare bones first, just facts and dialogue - then go back and add setting.  Then I add the tiny details.  For me it's like a painting that I just keep layering paint until it's either a mess or art.  Or something in between. 

I don't really like to show or talk about my stuff until it's done.  Then I throw it to the wolves (workshop) and wait for people to show me my faults. 

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter March 30, 2012 - 6:05am

My process is pretty much the same:

- Sparked by intriguing setting/character/concept

- Write some kind of opening

- Spend a week mulling it around

- Spend another large amount of time writing a first draft

- Print out first draft and edit the fuck out of it (this is where most of the real writing occurs for me, between editing and intense walks to work listening to inspiring music.

- Like Avery, I usually don't show my work until I'm done a third draft.  I usually go to the workshop first, because by the third draft my story is pretty damn strong (most friends wouldn't pick out any flaws).  The workshop always finds something though, and then I'll spend another week or so editing again.  If I still feel the story needs more work I'll do a send round of workshopping, but usually one workshop is enough for me.

That all said and done, since WAR started I've learned that writing a short story doesn't have to take a month.  It can take a week and a sore neck and a destroyed back and my husband constantly bugging me for sex at night.  I mean, you're going to be sacrificing something somewhere.