Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beginnings and endings

My latest study: How do short stories begin and end?

I'm reading my latest Asimov's with this question in mind. In the best stories, what is it about the first few sentences that catches my attention? And how does the writer wrap up the story in the last couple of paragraphs?

The first part of that is easier for me than the second. I've had beat into my head over at the Hatrack writers forum that the first 13 lines of a story are critical, that you must catch the attention of the editor or reader before he/she gets to the end of the first page. Otherwise, they might not go on to the second. That is, of course, what is called the hook.

The latter part is the one I'm really focusing on. What I've learned so far is that stories don't need a long, drawn-out, explain-everything conclusion. The most recent story I read, by Jack Skillingstead ("Human Day") ended in such a way that you're left without a resolution to one of the most pressing questions of the whole narrative. And it works. I suppose the trick, overall, is simply to leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction.

That's easier said than done. For any given story, I'm usually told in critique that it would end just fine about two or three sentences earlier than what I've written. So I usually end up chopping off the last paragraph, and ta-da! The critiques are right.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy day

I found out this afternoon that I received an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest for the first quarter. Yeah! I didn't expect that, especially on my first time entering the contest, so I'm on cloud nine.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Three things I do to improve my writing

1) Write. Duh.

2) Read. And while I read, I analyze. What did the author do that I liked? What worked? What didn't? How is the story organized and paced?

3) Critique. I joined a critique group to get feedback on my own work (which is, as I've said before, my least favorite part of the process), but I learn so much more by critiquing other people's stories. In the almost-year that I've been part of Critters, my critiques have gone from "I don't know what the hell to say" to "I have way too much to say."

On a side note, I picked up the audio version of Janet Evanovich's "Plum Spooky" at the Post book sale today. I've never listened to an audio book before and I'm looking forward to it.