Tag Archives: short story

Newspapers: more than fish n’ chip wrapping

Yup, that's me. Sorry, couldn't resist the 'boast post' - the 'Munster Express, Jan 6th, 2012.

It’s January 14th, I’ve already completed a house move (and all the cleaning, paperwork and furniture selling/dumping that entails), I’ve spent a week in Budapest and prepped for a week of OFSTED inspections. I  hope 2012 will slow it’s pace soon so I can get some headspace and start thinking again. I’ll need conjure la muse… and get some inspiration for new works.

Leonardo di Vinci used to stare at the walls in his studio until the damp patches formed scenes and figures he wanted to paint. If you look closely at some of his works, you can even see how those dark stains suggested the rock formations he conjured. Of course, you don’t so much ‘get’ ideas as you eek them out from within.

Hopefully, you don’t have damp patches around your writer’s garret. You may have yesterday’s newspaper, however. I worked as a journalist for many years and love newspapers and appreciate them as a source of ideas and stories for the creative writer. For starters, you could just take an existing story and change the setting/gender etc… to make it your own. Ideas will come to you as you work on it.

Alternatively, you could apply the ‘what if’ question. The ‘what if’ question prompts you to consider alternative endings. A good example of this question is Stephen Fry’s Making History, in which he explores a world where Hitler was killed in WWI but an even more dastardly figure comes to prominence, and wins.

The small ads section can spur the imagination. Hemmingway once said his best work was one he wrote in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. It’s clever as there is clearly a heavy back story here but Hemmingway, being Papa, does not spell it out. My point is that you could operate in reverse, search the small ads and then write its back story. Think of the tale behind a novel that ends with that small ad.

Then there are photos. Ignore the captions/related stories. Look at the photos and guess what is going on. Develop an identity for someone in the background of a picture. Give them a problem. Imagine how they are being affected by the main event in the photo. The key is to go for the more obscure shots. Obviously, if it’s a picture of 9/11, the chances are you’re not going to come up with anything too original but if it’s a picture of a man biting a dog, you may be on to something.

Go hunting, Newshound!

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Welcome 2012 And Resolution Writing Course

Revellers bring in the New Year, Hungarian style

Here in Budapest, tradition states one must eat a bowl of lentil soup on New Year’s Eve/Day to attract luck and fortune in the year to come. Last year, my friend Joska invited me to lunch on Jan 1st. He’d cooked a barrel load of the stuff and it was so cold outside we rather overdosed on the bean. Lo and behold, 2011 turned out to be a year of great fortune re my writing. I won three awards, was shortlisted for even more, had quite a few shorts published. Moreover, I set up this website and my online writing course – both of which I’m enjoying immensely and I’ve resolved to make the course my focus for the coming year.

My course, ‘Creative Writing: A Toolbox’ is a six week online one-on-one creative writing introduction. With it, I aim to help you realize your dreams of writing creatively, or improve the practice of those already writing. The course regards the tools of the craft and provides online support for your work via feedback and guidance in relation to editing, submission and markets. Each course is adapted to suit the individual needs of the specific student. There is also the option of retaining my services as a mentor/critic/coach after the course ends.

Creative Writing: A Toolbox’ is supported by written material, exercise, assignments and a weekly 45 minute one-on-one online tutorial to guide the student through the six step, six week writing course. This tutorial is usually given via Skype, though some students prefer to use email alone – that is for the student to decide.  Over the six sessions, the student is introduced to the know-how, ‘tricks’ and skills of the writer and can work on their own project, such as a short story or part of a novel – whilst, receiving online coaching, instruction, feedback and guidance from Sue.

Throughout the course,  students will receive a full professional critique of their work from Sue.

All inclusive price: €150 (introductory offer)

For more information, please contact me on : bpapartment at gmail dot com

In the meantime, if you’d like to make your own Hungarian lentil soup check here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/lentil-soup-2/

Joska eating lentil soup on New Year's Day

Wishing you all the best for 2012 – may your ships come in with your dreams onboard.

Sue xo


What Kind of Beast is This?

What sort of beast is this?

One of the questions most frequently asked in creative writing classes is “how long is a novel/play/short story/screenplay?” And, as is often the case in creative writing, the answer is that there are no rules but… there kind of are.

There is not an official cut off word count for any of the above literary forms but the publishing industry has generally accepted average lengths. Be alive to the fact that just because your word count has hit the “magic number”, it does not follow that you are finished. Apart from the fact you’ll be lobbing off at least a third in edits, you also need be sure that you have brought all the strands of your story to satisfactory conclusion, have made your point and your character has undergone some sort of change / journey / learning arc in the process. Otherwise, to paraphrase Truman Capote, your’re just typing.

What follows is a rough guide/ballpark figure for each literary form:

 Novel

The average commercial novel is 78,000 words in length; this roughly amounts to 300 A4 pages in double spaced twelve-point font. However, a novel can be anything from 45,000 words onwards. A book between 20,000 – 45,000 is usually marketed as a “novella”.

 Short Story

Traditionally, a short story is meant to be read in one sitting. Normally, this narrative form is quite pointed in its message, involves a single setting and few characters. A short story can be anything from 1,000-20,000 words.Writing short stories is a good way of building up your story telling skills, honing your craft as a writer and amassing a writing portfolio. Also, the short story is the literary form favoured by writing competitions. Such competitions usually look for stories in the 2,000-5,000 word bracket.

Flash Fiction

This is the short story’s kid brother. Somewhat akin to the Haiku, a flash fiction story often aims to capture a fleeting moment. It can be any thing between 100-1,000 words. Flash fiction is becoming very popular in competitions these days. Personally, I think this may be to save reading time for judges.

Screenplay

The standard “Hollywood” screenplay is 90 minutes long. Given the rule of thumb that one page equals one minute of movie, you should be aiming for a90-page long screen play. Obviously, this is an approximation.

 TV/Play

Likewise, the page per minute rule applies here too. Bear in mind the slot your are aiming for. commercial TV and radio stations will include advert breaks in their schedule – so a half hour comedy show might in fact be only 22 minutes long etc… If you have a slot in mind, time the duration of the actual show (excluding theme music and commercial breaks.)

 Stageplay

The page per minute rule can roughly be applied to stage plays too. If a stage play were to last an hour and a half, it should be 20,000 words long and span 90 pages.

 Poem

A poem can be as short or as long as you like. A  haiku is traditionally 17 syllables over three line. The Iliad is 25,000 lines long. For the try outs, however, you might aim for two or three verses.


grama rulz OK, innit!

Grammar - Giving your work the final hose down

Warning: You enter this grammar post at your own risk.

Once you’ve had your feedback and have chopped, pruned, rewritten and reshaped your work, you’re ready to go, right? Wrong. Next, you need to don your pernickety gloves and work on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

This type of revision is called a proofread and it is separate from the critique your friends gave re characters, story, POV, tone and structure. A proofread regards layout and correct use of language. A proofread is the final polish.

Never hand in a submission blighted by incorrect or inconsistent punctuation, bad grammar and misspelled words – thinking the story will shine through. They (the slush pile readers) will be turned off by your sloppy copy and will probably never read on into your story, so it won’t get that chance to shine through. If you’ve spent a year writing a novel, respect your work enough to spend another couple of weeks proofreading. It’s only common sense.

As you’ve probably read your own work countless times, you may be blind to copy mistakes. A keen eyed friend is invaluable here. Also you could cut a sentence sized gap in a blank page and place it over your text to check every sentence individually, with the rest of the text blanked out. This may sound painstaking but it is a very good focusing tool.

Many emerging writers are concerned about grammar, unsure of their own knowledge and application. I’ve been an English (as a foreign language) teacher for fifteen years and can recommend the following grammar self-study book (known in the TEFL world as ‘the grammar bible’): Raymond Murphy Grammar in Use. You’ll be able to pick up a cheap copy on Amazon. Spend a night or two doing the exercises, it’ll stand to you.

Also, I could wax lyrical about whether to use double or single quotes for dialogue (or to use any at all) and the difference between US and UK conventions regarding the same. However, I think the best is for you to take ten novels down from your shelf and see how the majority of them format dialogue and then apply the same convention to your work. Whichever you choose, ensure it is then consistent throughout your text.

Finally, here are some of the most common problems:

****Are you using the right “Its”?

“It’s” (with an apostrophe) is short for “it is”.

Its” (no apostrophe) is possessive (ie: the dog lost its bone).

NOTE: somewhat confusingly, when you want to use the possessive elsewhere, you do use an apostrophe: “Mary’s coat”, “John’s golf club”, “the dog’s bone.”

****Same sound, different spelling (homophones).

“They’re”, “Their” and “There”.

They’re (they are) sitting the car. They’re listening to their (possessive) music, they’ll be fine there (preposition of place) for a while yet.

****Using “done” instead of “did” and vice versa.

“Done” is the past participle of “do” and is normally used with the auxiliary verb “have”.  “Did” is the past simple of “do”.

(And if you have no idea what any of that means, you really do need to order that book).

So, you say either “I have done my homework” or “I did my homework” – and never “I done my homework,” or “he done his homework.”

****Saying “could of” rather than “could have” when using the second conditional tense or “could” as a modal verb in the perfect tense (yeah, see that grammar book).

“He could of gone to the shop,” is wrong.

“He could have gone to the shop,” is correct.

And please accept sincerest apologies for sending any of you off into a coma of boredom with this grammary post – believe me, it hurt me more than it hurt you.


Short story in Duality 6

 

Yay! My story ‘A Name in a Cave’ to be published in Duality 6 Anthology… A sweet way to wrap November.

Watch this space for more info… (and please excuse the boast post!)


Don’t be pathetic!

It was a dark and stormy night...

“Pathetic fallacy” is the posh academic term that refers to the technique of ascribing human emotions to inanimate objects, usually to reflect a character’s mood. For example, say your protagonist falls in love; you might describe flowers laughing and trees waving their branches gleefully. Or perhaps there’s been a loss, and suddenly the landscape looks bleak and there’s rain and clouds a-brewin.

“Pathetic fallacy” was very popular with the Victorian novelists – I always think of Thomas Hardy when asked to give an example. Therein, however, lies the problem – “pathetic fallacy” is a little out of fashion nowadays. This demise is partly due to the modern attention span. If you’ve ever read novels by the Brontes, Dickens, Elliot or Hardy – you’ll know all about lengthy landscape description and frankly, how dull it can be for modern readers. If you absolutely need to say how each field in the valley looked, then spread your descriptions out over the course of your work. Above all, as Elmore Leonard wrote, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

Another reason “pathetic fallacy” is no longer de rigueur in the literary world, is that it can seem a tad cliché. For example, if your protag is heading home to see his wife and there’s a storm, and they fight… yawn. Your foreshadowing’s is derivative, predictable and boring.

Still, “pathetic fallacy” has its place in the literary toolbox. It can provide emphasis for mood. I suggest using it sparingly, with caution and avoid storm/argument, rain/depression, sunny days/falling-in-love clichés.

Personally, I like to turn PF on its head and have my character see beauty in rain or trouble in sunshine or make a storm a symbol of peace. In short, my advice would be to use PF by all means, but when you do, surprise your reader.

Oh, and whatever you do, never open with a “pathetic fallacy” weather report. That’s the biggest cliché in the cliché box. I mean, it’s just pathetic : )


Launch those end-of-year ships!

Waiting for my ship to come in...

Veterans of this blog will know that I liken sending out my short stories(to magazines, publishers, employers, residencies, grants, competitions and contests) to launching ships.

Some will sink without trace, others will come back home with just token cargo (such as a shortlisting) and occasionally they flow into port laden with gold (a win). I have two such golden returns this year (the HISSAC and the Molly Keane Awards) and two further publications and a host of minor treasure besides.

But over half my fleet sunk. I tell you that not to dishearten you, on the contrary. When a ship disappears, you’ve got to brush yourself off and get on with it. Send more out and the more you send, the less you’ll bother about those you’ve lost. If you keep at it, you”ll get there.

Here’s a list of end-of-year comps – go on, launch a ship!

 

Roanoke Review

Deadline: November 8, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Roanoke Review

Website: http://www.roanokereview.wordpress.com

**

Winter Anthology

Deadline: November 15, 2011

Entry Fee: $11

Website: http://www.winteranthology.com

Prize: $1,000 and publication in the Winter Anthology

**

Writer’s Digest

Deadline: November 15, 2011

Entry Fee: $20

Website: http://www.writersdigest.com/competitions

Prize: $3,000

***

Tennessee Williams Contest

Closing Date: November 15

Prizes: $1,500

Entry fee:

Website: http://www.tennesseewilliams.net/contests

**

New Millennium Writings

Deadline: November 17, 2011

Entry Fee: $17

Website: http://www.newmillenniumwritings.com

Prize: $1,000

**

Cheer Reader

Closing Date: 30 November 2011

Prizes: €100

Entry fee: €5

Website: http://cheerreader.co.uk

**

Mary Gornall Memorial

Website: http://www.ashbywritersclub.com/

Prize: £100

Deadline: 30 November 2011

**

Ink Tears

Closing Date: 30 November 2011

Prizes: £1000

Entry fee: £4.50

Website: http://www.inktears.com

**

The New Writer

Closing Date: 30th November

Prizes: £150

Entry fee: £5

Website: http://www.thenewwriter.com/prizes.htm

**

Fish Short Story Prize

Deadline: November 30, 2011

Entry Fee: $28

Website: http://www.fishpublishing.com

Prize of 3,000 euros

**

Glimmer Train Press

Deadline: November 30, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Website: http://www.glimmertrain.org

Prize: $1,200 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories

**

Narrative Fall Story Contest

Deadline: November 30, 2011

Entry Fee: $20

Website: http://www.narrativemagazine.com

Prize: $3,250

**

Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Writing Fellowships

Deadline: December 1, 2011

Entry Fee: $45

Website: http://www.fawc.org

Fellowships for a seven-month residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown

**

Willesden Herald

Deadline: 16 December 2011

Entry Fee: £3

Website: http://www.willesdenherald.com/competition/rules.php

Prize: £300

**

Ruth Hindman Foundation H. E. Francis Short Story Competition

Deadline: December 31, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Website: http://www.uah.edu/english/hefranciscontest

Prize of $1,000

**

Boulevard Contest

Deadline: December 31, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Website: http://www.boulevardmagazine.org

Prize: $1,500

**

Literal Latté K. Margaret Grossman Fiction Award

Deadline: January 15, 2012

Entry Fee: $10

Website: http://www.literal-latte.com

**

Francis McManus

Closing Date: Friday 20 January 2012

Prizes: €3,000

Entry fee: None, but must be Irish or resident in Ireland

Website: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/francismacmanus/Francis-MacManus-Entry-Form.pdf

 

Good luck!


My Winning Story

HISSAC have uploaded my winning story to their website, if anyone is interested in having a read

 


Radio Star(t)

I know it's a TV. I don't have a radio photo (and perhaps there's that hope...)

 

I’m doing an interview with WLRfm’ s Aoibhin Fallon after 5pm today – if anyone has nothing better to do… I think you can listen online. http://www.wlrfm.com/


Words don’t come easy…

words words words

As a linguist and a writer, I love words. However, as a teacher of creative writing, I know that the mis/over use of words, particularly adjectives and adverbs, is the most common ‘fault’ you’ll find in the work of novice writers.

Insecurity will have new writers shoehorn as many descriptive words as they can get into a sentence – with the result akin to an over ‘bling-ed’ Christmas tree. The advanced writer will ‘show’ an emotion/atmosphere/interpretation without  resorting to a heavy-handed sprinkling of descriptive words.

It’s hard to ween yourself off adjectives and adverbs. Part of the problem is that there are so many words in the English language, a tongue with more word-families than any other language. This fact is rooted English having sprung from French and German, so there are English words that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French). And with such a lavish spread on offer, it is hard for the newbie writer to exercise restraint. Oh but, to improve, you must.

That is not to say you can’t enjoy words. English has magpied extensively from many languages. Most of my favourite words are ‘borrowed’ words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure of the specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, ‘hobo’ and “shanty” which come from Irish. I enjoy writing them, I love saying them – to paraphrase Frank McCourt, it feels like having jewels in your mouth. I’ve just got to be careful about over using ‘exotic’ words in my prose. It can look pretentious.

And you don’t only construct literary art from words but they also set the tone of the piece and there are certain words and phrases that are closely associated with particular genres of writing. Romance type novels I associate with “tawny” and “chiselled”. SciFi writers invent words to name their machines, planets and creatures such as “Klingons” and “Zogathons”.

Words are fun, go ahead and celebrate words – but do so in moderation…