a Non Short Story Writer
By Valerie Comer
©2004, Valerie Comer
Zette has posted the monthly challenge. As always, I pop over to the forum
and have a peek. What is it this time? Drat. Another short story. I
don't do short stories. Wait. A short story for a children's market? I've
done a few of those, way back. W-a-y back. Too far back. I should forget
March 1, later:
March Madness has also been posted. How many words am I
crazy enough to try to write in one week? Twice I've managed close to 7K in
a day and lived. Surely I can manage 21K in a week! But I have no novel to
write. I'm re-writing, and that doesn't produce new words. There's always
a back-to-school class to write, and maybe a Vision article, and the new
scenes to go in my rewrite. It might be enough. And I can always do that
short story challenge.
Okay, signed up for both. What, am I crazy or
something? It's not like I don't have plenty to do already. I have no idea
what to base my story on. And it's not like the measly words for a kids'
short story are going to help with the word count for March Madness or
anything. They'll probably be slow words. Can I delete my thread? Not
without someone noticing. I should have thought about it longer.
I rewrote a scene in Heaven can Wait today in which
Dhana's robo-cat is an object lesson for why God made people with a free
will, rather than as robots. I wonder if I could take this robo-cat and
plug it into a short story? Maybe there is hope yet.
It's not a robo-cat; it's a robo-pup! And a real dog,
and two boys who have gone exploring without permission...
I went to the library on my lunch hour to have a look at
the current Writer's Market resource guide. There are lots of places to
send kids' stories in Christian markets. But 500-700 words? This robo-pup
story will be for older kids, so can I please make it longer? Hmm, I find
four markets that will accept up to approximately 1500 words. That will
have to be the top. Can it be done?
Okay, what have we got so far? What are the boys like?
Why are they here? Why haven't their parents clued in to what their sons
are doing? Wait a minute. What are the sons doing? Hmm.
I'm in chat, and Zette says she is writing a post to ask
for Vision articles on writing short stories. I tell her that I won't be
submitting one, since this is my first short in more than ten years. She
comes back with, Why not an article on writing the first short in more than
ten years? Yeah, right. She's desperate. (Note from
editor -- Was not! Just, you know, helping her get that word count.
Really.) I can't remember what motivated me to sign up in the first
place. A pip, she suggests? She's probably right. Some of us will do
nearly anything for a pip... (Another note from
editor: Pips are little graphics for signatures at Forward Motion. It's
amazing what some writers will do to add more to their signature file. I'm
doing a research paper...)
It's time to get this story rolling! Can I weave my
lesson in without getting wordy? Do they want a lesson? Check my notes
from Writer's Digest. Yes, these markets do. But not preachy. Well,
that's good, because there are no words to spare, after all! Can I make
three scenes out of this?
Why did I sign up for this again? The pip. Right. And
now I've said I'd write the article, too. The story, Valerie. What are
those boys really up to?
A plan! I have a plan and an outline. Do writers need outlines for short
stories? Well, it's a short outline.
Isn't it ridiculous to wait until March Madness to write
this story? It will be barely a drop in the bucket compared to the total
number of words I have pledged to write. And I have that new book that's
been playing at the back of my brain, which will be much better material for
March Madness. Just get the story over with. Just write it.
March 24, 9:30 am:
March Madness starts tomorrow. Today is my last chance
to write the story before it starts. I'm going for it.
March 25, 10 am:
Hmm. I write two sentences, and discover that this story
wants to be told from a first person POV. Just try to get in a
twelve-year-old boy's head.
March 25, 11:30:
Argh. Word count 1383, and I still have to tie the thing
up. I need a break. What's for lunch?
March 25, 1:30:
1603 words. Surely I'll be able to cut a hundred words
or two? And I'm not sure it hangs together right. No, Valerie, leave it
alone. The piece needs to rest. Close the file.
It's a good thing I didn't leave it until March Madness
to write, as I just discovered that only words in one project count. Whew,
I'm glad it's already written.
March Madness is done. I just read through the short
story. I'm reasonably impressed; it has decent bones. A bit of cutting and
tweaking is in order. There's no room for Jesse to munch that apple, and
Rube's lack of ability in treading water can be tightened up. He doesn't
have to almost drown three times to get the point across.
Brushed through the story again, and sent it off for
crit. I'm not completely sure about the ending. 1500 hundred words is not
very many; you have to get every single one of them right. And I wish I
could think of a catchier title than Choices.
My critter caught a couple of places that needed first
aid, especially where I hadn't made the join seamless when I deleted some of
Rube's thrashing in the water. I took another stab at the last paragraph,
too. Heh. It is also now under 1500 words. And what do you mean I use too
many exclamation points? Not me! You must be mistaken! I don't have bad
habits like that! Er, yes. I'll have a closer look at that.
Does a short story need a cover letter? What does
Writer's Digest say? Nothing about cover letters, just to send complete
manuscript. Okay. I've had another run through the story, and discovered
that I had the word 'right' three times in one paragraph. What can I use
7, later: My first choice magazine does not
have their specific guidelines listed on the website. If I send away for
the guidelines, I won't get them in time to complete the challenge. Then I
won't get a pip. But if I use the wrong format, they won't accept the story
for sure. But what are the odds they'll buy the first story I've ever
submitted to them, anyway? At least the pip is a sure thing, if I just pop
the story in the mail. But selling stories pays better than a pip does.
This magazine pays $200-$450 for a story. That's real money. Dilemmas.
Okay, my second choice magazine does have the guidelines
posted, and they pay about $200. Guess what? Their list of themes denotes
September's theme as making wise choices! Maybe I stand a chance. Only,
their upper word limit is 1400, and I'm currently at 1483. How picky are
they? Hmm. I guess I'm off to cut more words.
8, later: 1390! I'm proud of myself. I've
set up the headers and footers and the rest of the formatting. Now to print
It's back from another crit. It seems I have a bit more
work to do. Now I've cut so many words that the purpose of the story has
gotten muddled in places. I think if I reversed some of the boys'
characteristics, it would help to clarify things. I hope.
I think it's stronger now. I'll send it out for one more
check. I've bought my American stamps for the SASE, and I've figured out
how to print out a professional looking envelope. Now I just need the final
copy to go in it.
This is it. I've had a final poke and prod at the
story. I've held my breath and hit 'print'. The words did not morph into
something new and strange when they hit real paper. Now I am folding it
into thirds. The envelope is sitting right beside it, ready to go. Dare I
seal it? Are those words really going to stay put?
I slid it through the slot at the post office. Will
every story I write be this hard to part with? The guidelines say they will
get back to me in about six weeks. Can I wait that long? Do I have a
choice? Oh, but there is instant gratification in this world. The pip! I
must go on-line and collect it. It's real. It's tangible.
Hey, I had an idea! I bet this could make a
cool short story. You see, there's this little girl and...
(Final note from
editor: I wonder if Valerie realizes that this month is the Short Story a