What Exactly Is A Short Story And How Do I Know If I Am Writing One?


I hope you are enjoying the prompt for your first short story. Remember it is due on 15 February 2017. 

You can find the previous post and the prompt instructions here: 10 Awesome Reasons For Writing Short Stories. This week I will be discussing some theory.

What exactly makes a short story a short story? 

The answer is simple, according to Google, and comes down to word count:
 

I don’t exactly agree that a novelette must be light, romantic or sentimental. It may just be that it is more common in the romance genre, so please don’t limit yourself. 

A novel is 40 000 or more, but I’m just going to deal with the shorts in this series. In the months to come we will be experimenting with different lengths. Some stories will be typical short stories, others flash fiction, and some will be longer. 

How do I know which one I am writing? 
When I start writing a short story I ignore the word count. I simply use the prompt and I write. The ideas come out of that. Sometimes I have a cool idea, but I don’t reach 1000 words when I need 3000 words, for example. There are times when you can stretch and add scenes, but that depends on your story. 

Sometimes you’ll have to bomb the story if your word count doesn’t work out, but save it, because you can use it for something else if you love it. We’ll discuss expanding and reducing in detail in a later post. Don’t get hung up on your word counts before you start. Just write and explore your story, it will seem stilted or contrived otherwise. You can hammer it into shape later.
The most important part of this post I want you to keep in mind is the description of the short story: a fully developed theme. The word count might be reduced, but that doesn’t mean we want less story. It is still a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Happy Short Story Writing.

If you are interested in learning how to improve your creative writing skills, join us for Writers Write - How To Write A Book. If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts

 by Mia Botha

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Short Story Challenge – 10 Awesome Reasons For Writing Short Stories


You are invited to a short story writing challenge...

I have been writing a lot of short stories lately and I have been having so much fun. So, I have decided to make it a year-long project. I am going to write one short story per month. Do you want to join me?

Why short stories?

Because they’re awesome, but also because:
  1. You can hone your craft: A short story is the perfect place to practise and to hone your craft. We all have strengths and weaknesses as writers. Some writers excel at dialogue, but suck at setting and description or their plots rock, but their characters are flat and predictable. A short story offers us the opportunity to improve our weaknesses and have fun with our strengths.

  2. There is less pressure: When we write novels, we need to keep our wits about us. We need 60 coherent scenes, in the correct order that shows us the story. With a short story there is less pressure.

  3. Your prompts can be published: Every writer needs to practise and a daily prompt is great, but when you turn that prompt into a short story you have something to enter, publish or stick up on the fridge. Prompts tend to remain in our notebooks; short stories become something you can use. Don’t stop with the prompts though. They help you find ideas. 

  4. They give you a break: Writing a novel is as challenging as it is thrilling. There are times when the words flow and the story works, then there are times when they don’t. That is when you write a short story.

  5. The reduced word count makes you work hard: Novels have space, short stories don’t. If you over write, this is a great way to shorten and strengthen your writing. When you must count, and evaluate each word, it changes the way you write. 

  6. They give you deadlines: There are hundreds, if not thousands of short story competitions. Use them to work towards your goals and deadlines.

  7. They are good for setting short-term goals: When we write novels, they can take months or even years. Short stories offer an opportunity to set short-term goals to keep us motivated and invigorated for the long-term goal achievement. 

  8. You can deal with back-story: Writing short stories is a great way of getting to know your characters. Put them into a situation that you haven’t thought of before or that isn’t included in your book and see what they get up to. Or write that important event in their childhood that shaped them and changed their lives. You won’t necessarily use it, but it’s a great way to layer and explore character.

  9. You can experiment: This is my favourite part about writing short stories. If you always write in third person, try first or even second person. If you have never written fantasy, give it a go. If a scene from your novel isn’t working, change characters and write it as a short story from another character’s point of view. 

  10. They allow you to brainstorm: Use a short story to explore a theme or an alternative ending to your scene or story. Change viewpoint, gender or genre. There are no rules. The short story is a brilliant tool. Use it.
I hope that I have convinced you that short stories are valuable. It would be awesome if you would like to join me for this adventure.


How it will work:

  1. I’ll be writing a series of posts about the craft of short story writing. These will be published once a week, on a Wednesday(mostly).
  2. On the second last Wednesday of every month I’ll post the next prompt and my short story. That gives you roughly four weeks to write your story. 
  3. You will be welcome to share your story, as well as comment on each other’s stories.
  4. The word counts will vary every month, but more about that next week. 
  5. The goal is to have 12 short stories at the end of the year and a seriously improved skill set.
Please remember: This is not a competition. It’s about discipline, productivity and learning. Not all my stories will be great, but they will, at least be written. 

The Prompt: 

Our first prompt is: The List. 
Word count: 1500 words.
Deadline: 15 February 2017. Post your story as a comment on my short story post on that day. 

NOTE: Some competition rules state that stories must be ‘previously unpublished’. Don’t share your story if you do not want it published or if you are planning on using it for a competition.  

Look out for my next post on short stories: What Exactly Is A Short Story?

If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts

 by Mia Botha

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Why Getting An 'F' For Your Writing Is A Good Thing

Remember when getting an F for your writing was the worst thing that could happen to you? Turns out, it’s not so bad anymore. Actually, it’s a good thing. 

Today we are busy, busier than we have ever been and this has taken a toll on our reading habits. We tend to scan more, picking out lines and words here and there.

According to the Nielsen Eyetracking Study, we read in the shape of the letter F. We read most of the first paragraph, go down, read a bit of the middle paragraph, and then glance down again keeping to the right of the page. You can read more about it here: 8 Powerful Takeaways from Eye Tracking Studies  

This should help you decide where to put your most important information. We are often told that your first sentence should be the most important and the first paragraph the most important paragraph. If you consider the f-shaped reading pattern it makes sense. 

Look at these heat maps:

How can you change your writing to create the F? 

  1. Use the Inverted Pyramid. This is an old journalistic tool. Start with the conclusion and then add the explanations. The most important information must go first. This will also help you with SEO. Read The One Essential Email Trick Every Business Writer Should Know
  2. Write in Plain Language. Shorten your sentences, simplify your word choice and reduce sentence length. This will aide scanning. Read Why You Need To Write In Plain Language
  3. Make sure you have lots of white space. White space is a design principle; the absence of text draws your eye to the text. It does not overwhelm the reader. Read Why You Need White Space When You Write (And 5 Ways To Create It)

Good luck and I hope you get an F. 

If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

 by Mia Botha

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Writing Prompts For January 2017

If you're unsure of the benefits of writing every day, and if you would like to make the most of your writing prompts, please read Mia Botha's post How To Use Writing Prompts

Do you want a daily prompt?

Remember that you can send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to our mailing list.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. Writing Prompts For December 2016
  2. NaNoWriMo: A Writer's Checklist For The Final Stretch
  3. 10 Ways To Help Writers Reach Their Word Counts

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Writing Prompts For December 2016

'Write. Sometime, someplace, every day, honour your writer-self and spend some time writing.' ~Judy Reeves

If you're unsure of the benefits of writing every day, and if you would like to make the most of your writing prompts, please read Mia Botha's post How To Use Writing Prompts

Do you want a daily prompt?

Remember that you can send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to the mailing list and you will receive a daily prompt.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

NaNoWriMo: A Writer's Checklist For The Final Stretch

This is it. Week four of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You are so close. Hopefully you are nearing 40 000 words. This is the final stretch. 

By this time, you have replaced caffeine with green tea, just because your brain is screaming at you and your mother should have brought over a casserole by now, because three weeks of only eating cheese nacks is going to get you killed.  

But before all is lost here is little checklist to get you through the end of your story: 

1. Have you written 50 000 words?

If you have, it is time to proofread. You may find you’re missing a few words. You need those.  

2. What is the story goal? 

This helps you to figure out if your story makes sense. The goal can change, but your character must still fight for it. 

3. Did your protagonist achieve his/her story goal? 

Your character can fail or they can achieve their goal. For example, they can lose, but still get the girl. Whatever happens, it’s up to you. Figure it out so that you know where you are going. 

4. Have you tied up the subplots? 

We don’t want to get to the end of the story only to remember you left the girlfriend tied up in the jungle somewhere. Go save her ass. 

5. Have you tied up all the loose ends?

The same goes for clues, other characters and red herrings. Remember Chekov’s gun. Make sure it has fired. 

6. What kind of ending does the story have?

Simply decide if your ending is happy, sad, or ambiguous? 

7. Have you put the champagne in the fridge?

This is obviously the most important point. Even if you can’t tick anything except 50 000 you deserve to celebrate. You have achieved something amazing. Give yourself some time to celebrate. And then get some sleep. 

Good luck for the last stretch. You are so close.  

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

    NaNoWriMo – 10 Ways To Help Writers Reach Their Word Counts


    Fight The Fatigue In Week 3

    It’s week three of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Well done, you are half way there. You are also probably exhausted, over-caffeinated, and sick of it. But chances are, if you are this far, you are going to make it. Just keep going.

    This is obviously a numbers game. You have never spent as much time watching the word counter at the bottom of your screen, right? Be careful though, the numbers are deceptive. This is a good time to take stock. You should have over 25 000 words by now.

    Five Tips For Under-Writers

    Are you nearing the end of your story, but you still have a week’s worth of writing left? Do you feel like you are running out of story? It might be a good idea to steamroll through your first draft, even if you are few words short and then go back. 

    Once the story is done ask yourself the following questions:
    1. Have I added setting detail?
    2. Have I described my characters?
    3. Which scenes can I dramatise?
    4. What are my subplots and have I explored them enough?
    5. Write a list of the scenes you have. Decide which ones need additional time.
    Five Tips For Over-Writers

    Are you racing through your story, inching closer to your goal, only to realise that very little is happening in your story? Do you have a huge cast, plenty of setting and description, and too many internal monologues? NaNo is an exercise in quantity, but there is no reason why you can’t have a good dose of quality as well. Work as fast as you can to hit 50 000, then re-evaluate.
    1. Write a synopsis. This will help you to focus on the story as a whole. Keep it under 500 words. Use this template: How To Write A One-Page Synopsis
    2. Identify your protagonist, your antagonist and your story goal.
    3. List your characters. Do they each have a purpose? 
    4. List your settings. Sometimes we have too many settings. Can you reduce the number of settings (and also your descriptions) to ensure that you focus on the story and not the numbers? But remember the goal is obviously to hit 50 000 asap.
    5. Delete modifiers, qualifiers, most adverbs of manner and unnecessary adjectives.  
    Good luck. You are almost there.  

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email  news@writerswrite.co.za  for more details.

     by Mia Botha

    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

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      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

      NaNoWriMo – Don’t Quit In Week 2

      You are now half way through week two of NaNoWriMo. (I hope you've been using our calendar.) You should have around 17 000 words. This is where the enthusiasm wears off and the ‘what the hell was I thinking’ kicks in. Whatever you do, don’t quit. 

       4 Ways To Power Your Way Through Writer's Block

         1.  If you are behind 
      Take a deep breath. You can catch up. You need to make a plan to spend more time writing. Send the kids to Grandma. Book a golf game for your husband or better yet, take yourself somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. You need a big session to catch up. Once you have written as much as you can, recalculate your daily word count for the rest of the month and adjust accordingly.
         2.  If you are stuck 
      Even if you have planned your writing you may still be stuck, and if you didn’t plan you are probably adding new characters and new settings on every page, but very little is actually happening in the story. Take a step back. Remind yourself what your story is about. 

      Write a three-line description of your story using this formula to keep you focused: 
       
              [Character’s name] + [inciting moment] + [story goal] leads to [intriguing question

      For examplePaint It Black by Janet Fitch
      Josie’s boyfriend commits suicide. She wants to find out why, but that means dealing with his crazy controlling mother. Should Josie let herself be lured into a life of riches by the woman who destroyed the man she loved?

      For example: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
      After her divorce from Tom, Rachel becomes obsessed with Megan, a woman who she sees from the train every day. When Megan goes missing Rachel is determined to find her, but can she remember what happened during her blackout? 

      In short ask yourself, who wants to do what and why? Then print it out, stick it to your wall and when in doubt go back and ask yourself if you are answering the question. [Read: 3 Lines That Will Help You Write A Better First Draft]
         3.  If you are going crazy
      Yes, this can happen. Do not underestimate the task at hand. It is huge. You need to take care of yourself. Don’t neglect your diet, your exercise and your sanity. Make sure you spend enough time away from your writing. In short, once you have hit your daily word count get away from it for a while.
         4.  If you hate the writing
      This can also happen. The shiny new idea has become dull. Remember almost every writer hates their story at one point, but don’t stop. You’ll love it again, but you have to write through it.
      Try these:
      1. Rewrite a big scene from a different character’s viewpoint.
      2. Jump ahead to a scene you are excited about. You don’t have to write scene for scene.
      3. Rewrite the character biographies.
      4. Write the ending. You can always change it again later.
      Happy NaNoWriMo. You can do it. 

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

       by Mia Botha

      If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

      ~~~

        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

        6 Ways To Shorten Your Sentences And Improve Your Writing

        Long sentences can be dangerous. When our sentences are too long, we tend to lapse into the passive voice and we risk making tense and punctuation mistakes. 

        Run-on sentences also distract the writer and the reader. We tend to veer off course and forget the purpose of our communications. They also force the reader to work harder. 

        Six ways to trim the fat

        1. Use readability statistics. Activate this on your computer and it’ll do the counting for you. Remember you want to work with an average number of words. It is also important to vary the length of your sentences.  [Read: Why You Should Care About Readability Statistics]

        2. Count the commas. If you are not listing items, and your sentence has more than three commas, you should consider splitting the sentence. 

        3. Cut unnecessary conjunctions. Conjunctions join sentences. Find them and decide if you can remove them and make two sentences instead of one. 

        4. One thought per paragraph. We tend to read the first sentence in a paragraph and then we scan the rest of the paragraph. If you introduce second and third points later in the same paragraph, your reader may miss them. 

        5. Remove redundant words. We add words that don’t add value. If you can remove a word from the sentence and it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence you don’t need the word. [Read 19 Examples of Redundancy]

        6. Reduce your word count. Challenge yourself to cut 1/4 of the words. This will force you to evaluate each word. Do not cut crucial information, though. Make sure you have answered the 5Ws and H. 

        You will be able to structure your message if you plan your communication. The Inverted pyramid will help you decide what needs to go first. Think about what you want to say and what you want your reader to do after reading the message.  

        Happy pruning. 

        If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme

         by Mia Botha

        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

        Stay On Track With Our NaNoWriMo 2016 Calendar

        November is novel writing month - NaNoWriMo - and the goal, if you participate, is to write a novel of 50 000 words in 30 days.

        You have to write 1 667 words a day if you plan to write every day of the month. It is a big commitment, but it is also a great exercise in discipline. Here is our 2016 calendar to keep you on track.

        If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.