Writing that First Draft

Greetings, Storytellers. Diana here with NaNoWriMo looming on the horizon. Whether you’re participating in the writing marathon or not, I thought I’d give you a bit of a pep talk about writing first drafts. Gather around, and I’ll try not to scare you! Just imagine… Your fingertips rest on the keyboard. Your creative vision has […]

Writing that First Draft

5 Critical Tips for Writing Short Stories

How do you write a short story? What short story elements catch a publisher’s eye?

In my role as first reader of an online speculative fiction magazine, I have truly been blown away by all of the things that I’m learning about regarding the story selection process. So many well-written stories get rejected because they do not adhere to these 5 simple, but not all-inclusive, standards below.

1) Make everything that happens in your story matter

Eliminate extraneous details, if you say it once, it’s enough. And be concise with dialogue and descriptions, purple language and paragraphs of backstory doesn’t get brownie points if it doesn’t enhance the story/arc.

2) If it’s critical to understanding the punchline, make it clear in the narrative

The most unfortunate thing is getting a really well-written story with a fuzzy/muddled plot. Make it clear what you’re trying to say with your story, don’t veil it in mystery.

3) Foreshadow twist endings

It really sucks to read an amazing story with great characters and action and then BAM! Something crazy happens at the end that comes completely out of nowhere. While this may seem like something clever to do, it’s almost guaranteed to end in rejection. Foreshadowing is paramount to twist endings. Something in the twist needs to tie back to the rest of the story and tension build-up.

4) Avoid a setup that is too convenient or too disconnected

Too many well-written stories move the plot along in ways that feel too convenient to be believable or are too disconnected to make sense, and this eliminates the tension in the story. The solution really boils down to adequate foreshadowing. Anything can be written in a story, especially genres like speculative fiction or magical realism, but just make sure your critical plot points are adequately foreshadowed.

5) Make your character motivations clear early in the story

If I can’t connect with your character, then I honestly don’t care what they’re about to go through in the next 5000 words. Make it clear to your reader what your character wants early in the story so we can view what happens to them from their perspective and understand why they do/think/say/respond the way they do.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful in your writing and publishing journey! Thank you for being a member!

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Why You Shouldn’t Let Readers Read Your First Draft

“Hey, you like reading books, do you want to read mine?”

This might be the worst question you ever want to ask someone as a writer.

Why?

Because readers are expecting your book to be the same quality that they are used to reading. They’re expecting a fully polished manuscript: publish ready, grammar and spelling error-free, edited, streamlined, underwritten, overwritten, a killer cover. You get the picture.

So the reason why “Aunt Sal” hasn’t gotten back to you about your book is probably because, to be brutally honest, she thinks it sucks and doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.

And it probably does suck according to her standards of read-worthy manuscripts.

And on the opposite end, for those people who actually read it and are honest with you about it, it can be very hurtful to hear that the book you have poured blood, sweat, tears, and a ton of time and soul into is “boring” or “slow” or “full of spelling errors” or “I didn’t really connect with the characters” or something similar.

Trust me, I’ve been there, experienced both of these scenarios and a bunch in between too. And I’m hear to tell you:

Your manuscript doesn’t suck.

It’s just not finished yet. You have the bones, some of the vital organs, but the flesh is still inside your head, and you need to get that onto the page, because that’s what’s keeping your readers from experiencing your book the way you want them to. The way you experience it in your head.

“Well. Who do I get to read it then?”

Find a Writer.

Writers appreciate the writing process. They know what a draft looks like. More important, they know what a draft is missing.

Writers can pinpoint exactly where you need to beef it up to make it readable. They’re not looking at your manuscript as publish ready, they’re looking at it as a work in progress, and this is the most helpful perspective one can have when reading your draft.

Writers are not shocked or offended by grammar errors, plot holes, or character inconsistencies, but they are honed into them and can spot them so you can fix them. Sometimes, writers can have great suggestions on how you can rework these problem areas to make your manuscript really shine.

So, when you have “completed” your novel and you’re feeling super accomplished and wildly excited to share your masterpiece, don’t give it to a “reader” to read. Or a family member. Their feedback is unreliable, probably less than honest, they might not read it at all, and they don’t understand how to tell you constructively where your manuscript needs more polish.

Find a writer. A critique group. A freelance editor. Or a designated beta reader (they are also not expecting perfection). Each of these options vary in price from free to well over several grand, with different benefits and setbacks to each one. All of them are far more beneficial than Aunt Sal and will offer you much needed constructive feedback.

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Who is the most beneficial person to read your first draft?
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