Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Short Story for the Editor, Part Five: Confines and Structure.

Today, I want to imagine there are no limits, nothing tethering us, noting holding us back. We can be whoever we want to be, do whatever we want to do, and most importantly, we can write whatever we want to write.
Today, as an exercise write whatever you want. Write as much as you like. I know we talk about fiction and this is the short story series, but write whatever you want. If you need help getting started pick a geographic place or a memory and go. There needs no structure and no rules. Do what you want to do.

A pause here for a creative endeavor.

Now, what did you do? I hope you had a lot of fun writing it and I hope it has some good (or usable) qualities to it.
Did you have one or more characters? Was there a conflict? Plot? Exposition? Is it what you might consider a short story?
Whatever it was that you just wrote, it is not ready to leave you. I hope you had a wonderful feeling with that first draft, but that wonderful feeling will not become a wonderful feeling in your reader. It certainly won't please your magazine editor either.
Since we begun with no structure, no rules, now comes the confines.
1) I love to count. A short story is generally considered 1,000 to 7,000 words. Most magazine editors cap word count at 4 or 5 thousand. At Umbrella Factory Magazine, I like the 1,000 to the 5,000 word range. Note: anything less than 1,00 words is considered flash fiction and there is a huge market for that. And your long short story, or novelette, begins at 7,000 and goes to 17,000 words. You do not have to keep the word count in this range, but this is the editor's preference.
2) If this is indeed fiction, please follow the rules. Following syntax and grammar rules just make things easy to read.
3) Format your page so it looks presentable. 8.5” x 11” (American), or A4 (everyone else). Use 1” margins all around. Use a comfortable font. I prefer Courier. Yes, it looks like a typewriter, but the real beauty in Courier is that all the characters are the same size. It's easy to read. Ariel, Garamond, and Times New Roman are all perfectly good fonts to use. 12 points please. Double space. Page numbers. Give it a title. This is the beginning of it.
4) Rewrite it.
5) Rewrite it again.
6) Rewrite it again.
7) Revise it now. I never recommend spell check, and I never use it. Spell check will recognize a wrong spelling, but not wrong usage. Be care with it.
8) Check to see that this piece has the elements of character and plot we've been talking about. If not refer to steps 4-7.
9) Read the original draft and compare it to the revised draft. Differences? I hope so. For me, I still use a pen and paper for the first draft so I have an archive of where everything began. The differences are amazing.
10) Try your piece on a reader. Writers' groups are wonderful for this workshop process assuming you have a good group. Whatever they say, it will be good advice.

These confines and structure are not meant to stifle you as a writer. In fact, I think the opposite is true. When you have to make sense of what you're writing, you will be thinking about the readers.

Good luck and happy writing.

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