So I've written 40 columns here at LitReactor. At least once a year I try to reach out to the community to see if there are any topics that you'd like to see me write about in the future. Is there anything I've missed, anything topical or recent in writing, publishing, editing, etc. that is new and changing the face of the literary world? Post up your ideas and thoughts here.
Here's what I've done so far:
01. Finding Your Voice
02. Cover Letters and Briding the Gap
03. The Journey (dissecting "Rudy Jenkins Buries His Fears")
04. Research and Duotrope
05. Where Do You Get Your Ideas
06. How to Get An Agent
07. Revealing Character
08. Dissecting "Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave"
09. Writing Horror Stories
10. Balancing Life and Writing
11. Editing and Revision
12. Writing About Sex
13. Narrative Hooks
14. Dissecting "Maker of Flight"
15. Dynamic Settings
16. NaNoWriMo and Free Writing
17. Top Ten Authors You've Never Heard of Before
18. Top Ten Short Stories Ever
19. Happy, Not Sappy
20. Where to Send Your Stories
22. Best American Short Stories Anthology
23. Breaking Hearts
24. Top Ten Things Lit Journals Need to Do Now
25. The Grotesque
26. Dissecting "Fireflies"
27. Avoiding Cliches
28. What I've Learned
29. Why Write Stories?
30. Ten Ways to Evaluate Markets
31. Eight Tips for Growing Your Brand
32. Putting Together a Short Story Collection
33. Three Essential Books to Read in Every Genre
34. When is Your Story Done?
35. What is Neo-Noir?
36. Dramatic Structure and Freytag
37. 15 Unconventional Story Formats
38. What is Literary Fiction?
39. Ten Tips for Successfully Publishing Your Stories
40. Manipulating Your Readers
It can be about craft, the process, submitting, publishing, editing, you name it. Are you struggling with something? Something you don't understand? A weakness in your writing? Speak up! And thanks. I hope these columns continue to help you with your writing, and your careers.
Because I'm something of a contrarian and skeptic, I'd like to see an article on the limits of conventional wisdom: those reified mantras you see in all sorts of writing advice venues. With acknowledgement to their usefulness, it'd be interesting to see examples of how contradictory approaches may work, or examples of authors not following their own mandates (perhaps, for instance, a line in which Chekov straight-up tells us that the moon is shining).
I'd like some tips on writing that first novel, or a novel in general. I know you have a few tidbits of info in several of your columns ("What I've learned" comes to mind), but maybe a condensed list of tips for a successful/finished novel.
Always read your columns. Very useful stuff every single time.
I second the novel edits idea. I have a slag pile of a novel and it's hard to tell where to start with it. It seems to need work in 20 different directions and I get whiplash just thinking about it. And then you could expand that article into a LR class that everyone should sign up for, right??
I'd also love a piece about how to introduce speculative/supernatural elements without letting them overpower the narrative.
Or how about a piece on how to use a workshop to your best advantage?
How to run/participate in a book club geared toward writers--or how to be a critical reader?
Apropos our other conversation, the care and feeding of a book collection might be a fun one.
I'd love more detail and examples of slipstream as a genre.
I clearly have too many questions. I'll save some for later. :)
I'm going to "third" the novel writing idea ~ only I think it could be a few column actually, dealing with drafts, editing, feedback, and then the what next after you finally think you've finished.
Maybe a column on genre crossing? Not sure how well this would work because it's kind of becoming more and more popular now.
How about one on killing characters ~ as in creating the right kind of emotion in the reader to accompany the death. When to keep the death as unexpected, when is a blunt understated death more powerful than an emotional one, etc
The subtleties of unpacking characters using objects/metaphor: Unpack the character by reflecting them in how they describe other things, or by the words they choose for metaphors.
Hmmm, thats all I can think of at the moment, don't know if they are useful suggestions for you, but hey-ho.
I'd like to read essays, columns (or whatever heading is preferable) that dissect modern short stories. Those stories that writers collectively agree are excellently crafted. Those stories we all strive to write. Two that immediately come to mind are Denis Johnson's "Car Crash While Hitchhiking" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried."
Such a column could spark a great discussion, get us thinking about what it is that makes a story great; what rules were followed as well as broken that aided in its construction; the author's use of dialogue and imagery, showing versus telling, the stylistic decisions, et cetera, et cetera, et al.
Richard: And many of these stories, largely thanks to universites, are available online as full text pdfs.
Hi Richard! Long-time reader, first time commenter. :-)
You know, I love the critical reading idea, but how about analytical reading? There seems to be a tragic void in how to do that and why you should. In a nutshell, while critical reading is about finding what works and what doesn't work in a piece, analytical reading is more about finding what a piece is trying to do and why it works or doesn't work. I think it's a vital step in critical reading that most readers just skip over, and we miss the entire context of a piece by doing so. It would be sort of like saying you don't like a Michael Bay movie because there isn't enough character development. While that's a valid opinion, it isn't very practical, since character development isn't usually a focus of what Michael Bay is trying to do.
A critical reading class was part of my curriculum in college, but we started with analytical, and it dropped such a huge bomb on how I approach reading and writing.
Another idea that would help me immeasurably would be networking: how to meet other people who share an interest, where to do that, and how to slip into that community without being awkward. We writers are noted for our social awkwardness. Should I join my chosen genre's association (e.g., HWA, SFWA)? Should I go to conventions? Stuff like that.
One final idea from me would be the editing and revision process and what that actually means. I used to be a writer who would just write a first draft, change maybe a few things, and stamp it done. Having edited professionally for seven years now, I find 90 percent of my writing process is in editing and revision. A first draft is more of a hunk of clay now. I wonder if there are other writers who struggle with editing and revision as I used to. I wonder if maybe I'm being too reliant on those post-first-draft processes (how do I know when I've gotten "edit creep," and how much tinkering is too much?). And I'm wondering what you think about all of this in general, Richard.
Thanks for your column! I always find it insightful.
*looks up and sees "When Is Your Story Done?"
How did I miss that? To the search box!
Oh yeah, I like number 9 :)
What about something on successfully suspending disbelief? Could be useful for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.
Everyone beat me to the novel suggestion, Richard. I'd love to hear some tips on actual structuring. How do you keep yourself in line and sticking to a plot? Do you plot out tangible plot pots? Do you stick to some sort of structure when you write novels? I know there are "pantsers" and plotters, so I'm interested in hearing about how people keep on track.
I defintely like the suspending disbelief idea.
Not sure if you’re still in need of Storyville ideas, but here’s a writing issue that has been paralyzing my writing lately. Anybody else reading this, please feel free to chime in here too.
Good fiction, as far as I see it, should make the reader believe as if the story is real or could be real, that it could happen.
The problem I find is that first person seems disingenuous, in that most "real" people won’t tell stories that put them in an unflattering light, or if they do, they will, at the very least, leave out and/or distort details, and thus we arrive at the unreliable narrator. How can we tell a story faithfully in this regard?
One solution I can think of would be using multiple narrators, letting their stories contradict each other and writing a given story in such a way that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. Short stories, however, don’t generally have the room for such an antidote. One could also employ third person narration, yes, but this too feels like a contrivance, like an omniscent narrator, even if it is close.
Any methods or solutions you’d have to offer?
This is an old one. Though I may be curious to.
Ryan, I guess we just accept that all narrators, like actual people, are unreliable. The majority of the time people only ever tell their own glossed over truths. Even memoirs are somebody's version of events, are what that person chooses to share. So long as your narrator isn't leading to a surprise reveal or twist (knowingly or not) then I'd consider the story to be relatively faithful. Or at least to be taken at face value. And yeah I'd buy into that, we do it every day with what people tell us, new reports in the media and whatever else, so why not with a book/story.
Another way to consider approaching a narrator revealing ugly truths is the paradox of having them tell it in such a way that fits with them not painting themselves badly, but with little subtleties that play off against the readers emotions, the way somebody might tell you about something shitty they did as a teenager/when they were drunk/whatever, and they play it down, or make light of it, but even so your gut has a reaction. Create that in your reader!
The act of reading a book, or story is a solo event, so the first person narrative works well in the mindset of a one on one secret sharing, or confessional truths (however embellished or played down). In fact from that angle if it didn't get low or base or ugly, would it still feel truthful? I guess in writing its a line your have to blur. Disingenuous people are realistic.
Or maybe I'm jaded :)
On another note, I love how multiple narration can contradict and flip readers perceptions.
I haven't read all of your Storyville's yet, but what I've read has been sooo useful.
One of the things I've been struggling with, I think, is balancing the show and tell of my story. When I first started on LitReactor, I read Palahniuk's essays and they totally stripped down my writing style for the better, I became much more conscious of the actual action going on, and that that needs to be number one. But I always struggled with how much I should unpack things, and in what way? How much do I show? And what about that Big Voice stuff, how do I 'show' when the character is ranting to the reader in some way, isn't that telling?
I've come to the realization that I need to keep the Little Voice scene going as much as possible, using as much straight-forward language as I can, to show, show, show in that regard. And to do some telling in Big Voice, not necessarily about the characters' emotions, but the narrator's thoughts or opinions (first-person), peppered throughout the Little Voice scenes.
Maybe you could give your thoughts on how to balance that kind of thing. How to show AND tell effectively without slowing down the story.
I'd also like to hear your thoughts on backstory, how to salt that in without necessarily resorting to a bunch of flashback.
Oh, I just noticed this is an old thread. Oh well.
Now that you're here talking about multiple POV narrators, I may as well ask, in a short story--4,000ish words--does each POV section need to be balanced, like as much told from this character as told from that character? Or does that not matter? I'm just afraid the reader will feel cheated or unbalanced or something if I don't give each narrator as much as the others. Can the one character remain the MAIN character while part of the story's being told by someone else?
Thanks Richard, that would clear up a lot for me. I spent months and months frustrated with all of my little experiments because I was, I think, trying to show too much, to unpack everything as much as I could until there was just an ocean of all this description for people to wade through to get to the action. Only recently have I realized that to give each character their own opinions and values, I need to do SOME telling, the right telling, and only show what needs to be there. But it's hard as hell to figure out.
I just got into Stephen Graham Jones and I read one of his columns--I forget which one...the 10 Truths one maybe?--where he says it's best to keep the story in its present as much as possible, to not resort to a bunch of flashback to fill your readers in. Which both intrigued and infuriated me.
What would the distribution me for books 20 to 30K for multiple POV?
I'm this weird hating short stories, yet only seem to be able to write those situation at the moment. I'm not even sure if what I do has POV in a traditional way. (It's like a letter without being a letter, the writer is addressing the reader of the message.)
The scenario I'm specifically thinking of, would be if I guy were greeting a guest in a castle, and he is inquirer as to why he came to visit his humble abode.
Of course at the moment, I'm in a not wanting anything to do with writing funk at the moment. Mostly because I find it bizarre how famous people pretty much are able to behave how they want. Yet a humble writer like me, gets shouted down just for having an opinion. So I suppose my issue is more author platform than anything. Trying to build an "author platform" feel pointless in a way.
Baer's Penny Dreadful pulls off first person and multiple close third person beautifully :)
i think you can do whatever you want, and whatever WORKS, right?
Definitely. I'm realizing a lot of this stuff is coming and will come through constant experimentation.
Baer's Penny Dreadful pulls off first person and multiple close third person beautifully :)
GODDAMIT, if one more person tells me how good Penny Dreadful is...! Haha, I haven't been able to find it. I'm so poor I still use the library to do most of my recreational reading, and the LAPL system has KMJ and Hells Half-Acre, but no fucking Penny Dreadful. :(
Hey Richard, lemme ask you an odd question. How long did it take you to...I don't know...get comfortable making shit up and turning it into story? When did the voice in the back of your head saying, "you don't know what you're doing" finally say, "hey that's pretty good, why don't you make up some more stories? Hell why don't you make up a whole bunch of them!" This kind of occured to me when I read King's book On Writing and realized he's been at it since he was a kid. He got that akward "uhhhh...." phase out of the way a LONG time ago, and has established a level of comfort with his own ability that lets him just bang out story after story after story. Granted, I'm sure he has his brain farts, and I'm sure to a certain degree that little voice is always around, but...well, is this question making any sense?
P.S. Richard, I'm totally taking your class in January. How fast do spots usually fill up?
Hey Redd, I am totally poor too :)
But you can pick up Penny Dreadful really cheap second hand. Amazon market have lots for practically nothing but the postage cost if your willing to spend that. (And it is worth spending, the whole trilogy are great books to own and reread. I went so far as to buy both the hardback and paperback covers, its a really nice set.)
I'll probably end up doing that. So many books to buy once I get my paycheck.
I definitely will.
That's really good to know. That's part of what makes writing especially hard for me sometimes, the not knowing, though with every new project my grasp on dressing up a bunch of words as people and pushing them around seems to strengthen. But you're right, it does seem to fluctuate. So it's encouraging to hear that.
Dang, well I get my check tomorrow, maybe I'll make it. If not, next time. It seems like a great class, just what I need.
Well I appreciate the thought. I'll get my hands on it eventually! Along with Dermaphoria, that's one book I just need to own.
Thank you, I will.
I love Clevenger's books, Dermaphoria a little bit more than the Handbook. I think he's currently one of my favorite authors. Can't wait for Dermaphoria the movie, as afraid as I am that they'll botch it. As soon as the fall semester's over, I'm going to binge read a shit-load of books. For SGJ I'm going to start with either All the Beautiful Sinners or Demon Theory as those seem to be the ones I've heard most about.
Cool. Maybe I'll be able to get in there today. If there're still spots. Fingers crossed.
For SGJ I'm going to have to recommend The Ones that Got Away and The Least of my Scars
Happy reading! :)
Coool, thanks Em. I've read the short story The Ones that Got Away, fuckin twisted. Tear ducts.
Didn't know it was the name of one of his books too. Short stories collection?
Ohhh, I saw that that was the latest book club selection, didn't know that you were behind that! Do you ever stop working? Not only do you write your own stuff, write columns, publish anthologies and edit, but also have time to help out the little people. Amazing. Haha
That's super rad of you Richard, thank you. I'll shoot you an email.
Any chance you know if, as of now, there are still any spots in your class? Can't get on to transfer funds until tomorrow but my fingers are still crossed.
That's great though. It's gotta feel amazing when you finish each project.
Woo! I may just slide in yet!
If you thought the ones that got away was twisted you have to read The Least of my Scars. Just awesome! :)
I'll check it out.
One of the first ones I read by him was Zombie Sharks with Metal Teeth. Don't think I've ever read something so out there. He's a crazy writer.
Hey Richard (I know, I can't stay out of this thread!),
I wondered, have you ever written a story with no quotation marks? I just attempted this for the first time, inspired, I think, by Baer and Spanbauer, and it was kind of hard to do. Wondered if you had any thoughts on that? The trick, it seems, is placement. Making sure certain bits of dialogue won't be mistaken for action or Big Voice.
I do too, but I felt like I had to try it out.