Mary Robinette Kowal’s Story Organization

This was a cool gem I found on Reddit:

Mary Robinette Kowal gives a rundown of how she turns an idea into a story idea! I’m always interested in seeing how each author does this. I’m going to go through her steps to see if it helps me. Starting out as a writer means learning all the rules and then internalizing them to make them your own.

One of the things that is hardest to learn is that you need to trust your own instincts — not as a writer, but as a reader. Basically that moment when you think, “I would love to read a story about…” is a moment when your brain is offering you inspiration for a story you could write. Even niggling side thoughts like, “it would be cooler if” can be the seed of the story.

The seed isn’t the problem, it’s developing it into a story idea that’s the tricky bit. Here’s an exercise to try.

  1. Write down a gee whiz idea.
  2. Where would this gee whiz idea happen? That’s your general scenic location.
  3. Write down characters who would be there.
  4. From that list, which ones do you want to spend time with?
  5. What does each have at stake?
  6. Pick the one who has most at stake ie the most to lose. That’s your main POV character.
  7. What do they want? Brainstorm for 3-5 minutes and, then bold the idea that excites you.
  8. Why can’t they have it? Brainstorm, then bold the idea that excites you.
  9. What is their plan? Brainstorm, then bold the idea that excites you.
  10. Write 1- 3 sentences summing up your decisions.
  11. Identify what kind of MICE conflict it is.
    • A. Trying to escape – milieu
    • B. Questions –idea
    • C. Crisis of faith/self-doubt – character
    • D. Things happen! – event
  12. Where does that mean the story needs to begin? Or, what MICE Quotient frame goes around it gets.

So that gives you a basic story beginning, but something that is only a single thread is often dull.

Now we need a second plot thread. Typically, if you pick the same MICE Quotient element, it winds up being just a conflict in the main plot, not a second thread in its own right.

  • 1. Try to find a different MICE element to introduce.
    • A. Milieu – What problems exist with your MC’s environment?
    • B. Idea – What questions does your MC have?
    • C. Character – What challenges your MC’s self definition?
    • D. Event – What disrupts your MC’s status quo?
  • 2. From the list, try to pick something that is not the same kind of MICE thread as your primary conflict. This will be your secondary conflict.
  • 3. Write 2-3 sentences summarizing your decision.
  • 4. Weave that into your previous set of decisions and that gives you a very basic frame for a story.

There are other tricks and this is definitely not the only way to go from idea to story, but it’s an exercise that can help you sort things out while you are learning to develop your instincts.

 

Writing, Raising Kids, Working, and Sanity

Albert_Anker_Mädchen_Kaffee_trinkend

Albert Anker

Brigid Kemmerer has a great piece up at Writer’s Digest that told me everything I needed to hear.

I started writing this article by staring at the screen for five minutes, trying to think of a good comparison for my life, so I could be witty and demonstrate my writing chops. But you know what? I’m too tired, because my 17-month-old was up in the middle of the night, suddenly terrified of his baby monitor.

And you know what else? You don’t need me to tell you how busy I am. If you’re a mother or a father, you’re busy too. We’re all busy.

But just so you have a frame of reference, here’s my life:

  • Four kids ranging in age from 1 to 18.
  • A wonderful husband who likes to set eyes on me every once in a while.
  • An active writing career, with five full length novels published since 2012 (and more to come!)
  • A full time job (40 hours per week) in the financial services industry.
  • A caffeine addiction. Seriously. Someone pass the coffee.

If you’re an aspiring or published author in the same boat (or even if you’re just a parent who loves reading checklists), I’d like to share some of what works in the Kemmerer house to keep everything running smoothly.

Read the rest here.

Honestly, it put the wind back in my sails. I’m in a constant writing-editing-revising circle, shortlisted here, rejected there. My third baby is due in May, and I’m juggling that, two toddlers under five, a job, and a few night classes.

After reading Kemmere’s column I took some time to finally finish revising a story at a coffee shop for two hours. And all was ok again.

 

Need Beta Readers? Join Critters. Do It.

hemingway_writing_pubDomain

Hemingway, being a boss

I sometimes have panic-attacks about my writing: What if I really just suck and will never make it since I can’t go to fancy workshops like Clarion? I don’t have the time or the money, so am I sunk?  What if I’m just some delusional Millennial that thinks pure gumption will get me published?

Well, maybe those things are true, but what can happen is that previously unknown authors can score agents, or self-publish (with a great marketing plan) and make it. I think that the way to do this is to become a critical reader so that I, in turn, can become a good writer. I’ve written about getting beta readers before, but that can be a haphazard process if you’re just trolling forums and trying to get people to read your stuff via email. I do that for sure, but it’s probably better to submit your work to a secure, private group dedicated to critiquing writers.

Well, that’s what Critters is. I can’t believe it took me this long to join, but it’s been a great experience. I know the common objection to joining groups like this is, “Well, what if I end up just reading bad stuff?” I’ll argue that reading bad work is actually good for a budding writer. Can you articulate why it’s bad? Do you know enough about plot, characterization, POV, theme, setting, and structure to give a good and incisive review of someone else’s work?

That’s something that goes beyond good grammar and usage.

I’ll share a testimony from Matt Dovey here. This was sent out to all Critters members in an email with updates:

Matt Dovey, who sold his (Critter’d) short story, “This is the  Sound of the End of the World” to Flash Fiction Online. {A space opera in 992 words! It should be up in March, which will make it my first publication, just ahead of WotF32. The revisions requested by the editor were both things critters had brought up and I’d decided against, so let this be a lesson: listen to your critters, people!}

Dovey dropped some advice in a forum I was reading about how great Critters was for him as a writer, so I’m grateful he did that. Community, support, and a chance to get so good you get published? Sign up. You know you want to!

Disappointed

PAPER
I know rejection is part of writing, and most days it doesn’t bother me much. Getting shortlisted is pretty flattering, albeit tantalizing, so when a story I had really high hopes for was rejected this weekend after being held for three months, I was disappointed.

I’m not depressed, or wallowing in self-loathing, or really anything serious. I just feel like I should be able to say out loud: Darn, thought I had it. I’m a little bummed.

So, back to it.

picture credit: Jonathan J Bohndus 

The Submissions Directory all Writers Should be Using

Grinder
If you’re in the submission slush like I am, and you don’t have the cash to buy the Writer’s Market directory or pay for membership at Duotrope, then here is the answer: The Grinder!

Their mission as stated by them:

The grinder is a submission tracker and market database for writers of fiction (non-fiction and poetry coming soon!). Use our extensive and powerful search engine to find a home for your work. With new features being added periodically we hope to provide a permanent and stable home for your submission tracking.

We believe the value of our product lies in its availability and as such The Grinder is and always will be free to all users for all features.

The searchable database allows you to pick genre (Fantasy? Sci FI? Horror? Lit?), Pro/Semi-Pro markets, and gives the details of writer’s experiences. If you’re looking for new journals/ magazines this is a necessary stop!

The Best Rejection Letters EVER

rejectedCome now, we all know the secret to good writing is ignoring your novel manuscripts and blogging about writing instead (data backs this up; don’t test me.)

When you get a form letter form an editor, you’re hosed. Walk away and have more drinks than you might have been inclined to have initially.

When they take the time to write something like, “this really didn’t hold my interest,” go bite a wood plank in half and vow to send them passive aggressive letters when you make it big.

Recently, I have been getting nicer rejections. One said, “This is great story and you build a wonderful mood. We can’t use it in this issue, but we want to see more from you!”

INDEED? Well, I will crack you open, then. Half of getting a short story published is figuring out what the editor really wants, like figuring out a puzzle.

My latest rejection read: “We very much enjoyed this story, especially the setting, but it lacks ‘x’ element and that is what we want in our anthology. We wish you all the best.”

HOT DAMN.

I like you, mister editor. I will send you kittens.