What is writing process? [Week 1 – Part 2]

Writing the Short Story - A Crafting Fiction Journey care of Griffith University

Wow, they make writing sound really, really easy this week.

The definition given for the writing process is:

“Writing is a process of reading the world (taking it in) and then producing the text of your work (giving it out).” (Griffith University, 2012, p. 6)

Simple, right?

I know it’s not that easy in practice because I’ve been writing a long time, but in a way, the sentence above is entirely accurate. Writing is about seeing the world, processing what happens around and inside of yourself, and then sharing that on the page so that your reader can experience your experiences and feel your emotions. It’s about being a sponge, taking in the world, the people, the places, the culture, the communities, and all the sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and smells of the world and then recreating those in words so that others can experience them. In a way, the process of writing is about recreating life so that it can be lived again and again.

We know this is harder than it at first sounds because there is far more to the craft of writing fiction than the regurgitation of data. There is a creative and artistic interpretation and formation that turns the barren and brittle input we gather from the world into something remarkable and sometimes even beautiful. That is because the true writing process goes through stages in our minds (intellectually), our hearts (emotionally), our bodies (physically), and our souls (imaginatively). Writing that has been through all of these stages will touch and communicate with the reader.

Writing, however, is not something we do at a desk. That is just part of the process.

Writing begins in living our lives. It begins in every experience, in our thoughts and our feelings, and in our hopes and our dreams. As we wander the world and explore, we are writing. As we give free reign to our curiosity, and take chances, and dare to be brave, we are writing.

Writing begins in life and we take our lives, jumbled up in our minds and our memories, and we play with it. When we daydream and imagine, we are writing. When we brainstorm and take notes, we are writing. When we scratch out and screw up pages, we are writing.

Because, true writing, good writing, comes over time and is carefully constructed. It is inspired, but then honed into shape and given life of its own.

And when the writing is done, then is its work is only just beginning.

References

Griffith University. (2012). CWR111 Writing the Short Story: Study Guide plus Supplementary Lectures. Brisbane, QLD: Griffith University School of Humanities.

What is a story vs. what is a short story? [Week 1 – Part 1]

Writing the Short Story - A Crafting Fiction Journey care of Griffith University

When was the last time you listened to a story? Although we don’t realise it, we listen to stories every day.

It occurred to me as I read this lecture today that one of the first things I do every day, before I settle in to some work or study, is log online and read stories. I go to Facebook, Twitter, Plurk, and my email to see what my friends, colleagues, and associates are sharing about their own lives today. Through social media I read hundreds of stories of people from all around the world, and I get a glimpse into their lives. I learn about the food they eat and the clothes they wear. They also share their more personal stories of relationships in crises or their hopes and dreams shattered, realised, or yearning. All of this is story, the story of the world around us and the people within that world.

But is this short story? No.

Short story is a specific literary form of writing where we take these snippets of the real world and pull them into a specific mold so that we can tell the story over and over again in a way that is meaningful for the readers. Instead of a glimpse into another life we create a window into the soul of our characters so that we can feel and understand the people and the world around us.

There are many literary forms and each has a unique purpose. Poetry crystallizes thought and emotion. It allows us to capture a single glitter of light and turn it this way and that, examining the minutest aspects and details so that we create the same fragment within the minds of our readers. Novels are more like an intricate stained-glass window, carefully pieced together fragments of colour and contrast in a vibrant riot of story that is complex and multidimensional.

Short stories, on the other hand, are more like mirrors. They reflect a single image or statement in a way that gives their readers a simile of the way the writer sees the world. Short stories are less complex than stained-glass windows but they allow their readers to see more than a fragment. They bring into glaring focus the imperfections of the world or force us to see its hidden beauty.

What stories have you read or heard today? How do you imagine those stories could be reflected like a mirror in a short story?

Studying Short Story Writing at Griffith University, Australia

University learning modules on a laptop computer.I’m a little scared. Actually, I’m surprised to find myself a LOT scared. Tomorrow I start my very first university writing course. After fifteen years writing for a living I’m going back to school to learn how to do it.

Actually, I’ve been back at school for almost two years now. I started Uni (after dropping out of high school back in 1997) in December 2010. Initially I started a Bachelor of Arts degree but in it I stumbled across a psychology unit and then child psychology unit that turned my attention to education so I changed to a Bachelor of Education earlier this year.

Then I got sick. I got very, very sick. After much medical testing and blood tests, more tests, brain scans, CAT scans, Ultrasounds, the works, they did finally figure out what was wrong with me and I have been on my way to healthy for the past month or so, finally. It’s great to finally be feeling better.

Anyway, because I was so sick I had to drop a unit and even last study period, despite only doing one unit in education it felt really hard to keep up because everything was so new and completely unfamiliar. I thought it was time to take a break, but I can’t take a study period off or I would lose the financial support I have so I thought, well, I know how to write maybe taking a writing course would be an easy load. I should breeze through, right? And, I’ll have plenty to share and talk about on Crafting Fiction.

Griffith UniversitySo I snapped up the Writing the Short Story unit at Griffith University. I thought, “Yay! I can finally get a handle on writing short instead of long, and maybe get some of my fiction into the local and national competitions.” That’s still the plan but today I got my first look at the course material. *jaw drop* So, much, course material. The learning modules alone are 117 pages long. That doesn’t even begin to include the weekly readings. And on top of that one of the assignments is to read and critique a book of short stories. I whole book of them!

I’m starting to realise I know a whole lot less about short stories than I thought I did. So, I come here and share this experience with you, my readers. 🙂 I know there are some fantastic short story writers amongst you and you can help me. I’ll probably need some hand holding, and some advice, and definitely some pointers.

Do you have any recommendations for short story anthologies?
Who are your favourites?

The other advantage of sharing what I’m learning week by week is those, like me, who want to learn more about writing short stories can get a near to Uni education for free. 😉 Spend the next three months with me and I’ll share at least some of what I learn along the way. We can go through this together and then I won’t feel so scared by the idea because I’ll know I’m not alone in taking a chance and stepping out of my comfort zone.

So, tomorrow, I tackle the first week of my study guide and look ahead to see what the next few months have in store.

Who’s coming with me?

Writing the Short Story - A Crafting Fiction Journey care of Griffith University

Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories: What’s the difference?

The term “short fiction” includes many different types of writing. The most popular among these types are short stories and flash fiction. A short story can range anywhere from about 500 words to 10,000 words, depending on the source of the information. Many publishing companies, especially the ones specializing in anthologies, look for works that range from 1,000 words to 5,000 words. Flash fiction usually ranges from 100 words to 1,000 words.

So, what is the difference between short stories and flash fiction? There are many differences, though they are often difficult to discern. The main difference between the two is the concept of structure.

Short stories should have a basic structure including introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Many believe that a short story is just a flash into the lives of the characters, when in reality, a short story contains the same essential elements as a novel. The difference between a novel and a short story is the depth at which the characters and plot line are explored. In a basic form, a short story needs a beginning, middle, and end, with a healthy dose of character development. 0t should tell a complete story, whether the topic is how a relationship between two people begins, the testing process of a wizard, a car accident, or perhaps even a character’s struggle to find a job. The possibilities are endless. What needs to remain constant is that there is an introduction, character development, a conflict, and a resolution for that conflict. It does not have to be a positive resolution, or a happily-ever-after, but it does need to be a conclusion which the reader finds satisfactory.

Flash fiction, on the other hand, is a “flash” into a situation. It should include one character, conflict, and resolution. The difference here is that the plot can be quite simple. For example, an evening in the life of a character in which realization is achieved. There does not have to be an external conflict in flash fiction, and the resolution can be as simple as the character making a decision they were previously having trouble resolving. There are many forms of flash fiction. Some of the most popular are stories with a word count restriction. There are those that specialize in using exactly 55 words to tell a story, all the way down to 3. These kinds of flash fiction concentrate more on hinting at the plot line, and may not even contain a solid character.

In the end, the main identifiable difference between a short story and flash fiction is the depth of which the character(s) development, plot line, and resolution strive towards. Both forms have great merit, and there are many published authors who have made a name for themselves strictly by writing flash fiction and short stories.

Joy Campbell specializes in article writing, research, short fiction, and creating helpful information for new and emerging writers.

Horror, Fantasy, And Science Fiction Editor From The Absent Willow Review

The Absent Willow Review: Tales of Horror, Fantasy, & Science Fiction

Do you write horror, fantasy, or science fiction?

What about a combination of all three? If you’re looking for publication in these genres than this interview is for you. I was lucky enough to snag a few minutes at the desk of horror, fantasy, and science fiction editor, Rick DeCost who was happy to answer some of my questions about The Absent Willow Review. The Absent Willow Review is a Rochester-based business founded two years ago by long time friends, Rick DeCost and Bob Griffin.

“Our main goal is to revive the short fiction market for this genre,” Rick told Fosters Daily columnist, Conor Makem. “When we were young, there were a few big names out there and some have slipped into oblivion. The markets for short works of horror, fantasy and sci-fi are slim, yet the interest is growing.”

Let’s find out more about The Absent Willow Review and the job of an editor from Rick.

Rebecca: The Absent Willow Review has been publishing stories online each month since October 2008. How did the magazine come to life and what inspired its creation?

Rick: Being fans of the genre we saw that the market had shrunk somewhat over the past few years. This was our way to provide another means for beginning, and established, writers to get their works out there. It’s been a real labor of love.

Rebecca: It sounds a little like The Craft of Writing Fiction which is my own labor of love. It’s wonderful to see others out there who want to create opportunities for fellow writers. The switch from writer to editor can be tricky. How did you begin as an editor and how have you honed your skills over the years?

Rick: It’s like anything else – the more you do it the better one gets.

The first few months after the magazine’s launch was a real baptism by fire when it came to honing our editorial skills. It’s now second nature when it comes to spotting the gem in the slush pile. Pulling together the stories and editing our first anthology was a wonderful experience and went a long way in further improving our skills.

Rebecca: What kind of work goes into editing an online publication?

Rick: It is actually more work than one would think. Aside from the day-to-day server activities, we are constantly uploaded new images and
editing them for presentation. On top of that, and more importantly, is editing accepted submission for publication. This includes the normal editing activates any editor must face as well as the efforts entailed in formatting for the website.

Rebecca: The internet has created all sorts of new headaches along with the opportunities for publishers. I know I face similar issues with The Craft of Writing Fiction but there is a real joy in the work too. Online Publishing is a difficult field to become established within. Many companies fall apart within months of creation. You and Bob are about to celebrate Absent Willow’s second birthday, congratulations! What advice do you have for others who might be interested in starting their own magazine?

Rick: It’s all in planning and remaining focused. Before launching the actual site there were the administrative duties that needed to be
tackled. Things like establishing the business entity, registering the domain name, purchasing hosting space, and formulating a business plan that encompassed all of the activities going forward (reading submissions, editing, site design and upkeep, as well as future plans). My biggest piece of advice would be to remain professional at all times. Especially in your interactions with authors eager to publish their work. After all, we’re really here for them.

Rebecca: Authors aren’t the only ones you’re here for. The Absent Willow Review also publishes incredible artwork contributed by a large number of talented artists. Do you accept artist submissions? What do you look for in the cover art you select for the Absent Willow Review?

Rick: We do accept artist submissions and we also actively seek out artists whose work we admire. It’s a funny thing when it comes to the artwork on the site. Although we wanted a site that was visually appealing we never expected the artwork page to enjoy the focus that it has. Art is a personal thing and we usually know immediately whether or not the piece is something we’d like to use. That being said we also try to keep good a mix of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy works in rotation.

Rebecca: With a strong horror, sci-fi, and fantasy focus it sounds like you probably read a lot of dark or complex fiction. Each month the Absent Willow Review publishes a number of new stories. What catches your eye when you’re reviewing submissions? What makes your winners stand out from the slush pile?

Rick: I really look for memorable characters. Characters are a big thing for me. I have to like the author’s voice and/or character before finishing the first page. Then there are the things such as spelling and grammar skills. When the first page is littered with spelling mistakes or run-on sentences it says a lot about the rest of the manuscript.

I also look for originality. It’s hard to be original, and I don’t mean to say that an author has to come up with something nobody has ever thought of before. That’s pretty near impossible. The one tool an author has that can set them apart is their voice and the character(s) they give life to. All in all though – it’s all about the characters. What they feel and how they react to the situation they find themselves in.

Rebecca Of the stories you’ve published, which character/s stands out most in your memory? Why do you think this character is so memorable?

Rick: Finnegan Graves (from the story of the same name) was a standout character for me. The story itself was very Tim Burton-ish and the character reflected that.

Rebecca: We recently hosted a competition about story “hooks“. How important is it that a story grips you in the first few lines? What do you think makes for compelling hooks?

Rick: It is incredibly important. As editors we can often tell within the first paragraph whether or not our readers will appreciate the work. It
doesn’t mean that stories we reject wouldn’t be good fits for another publication – it’s a very subjective business. We are fans of the genre and enjoy a good read. When you have thirty or forty manuscripts sitting in front of you it is necessary for the author to grab our attention early on. A compelling hook often entails beginning the story in the middle of the action, or perhaps putting us in an ordinary situation that
immediately has an “off” feel to it like “this seems normal but I know something is going to happen…”

Rebecca: Thanks for your time, Rick. Before we finish, is there anything I haven’t asked today that you wish I had or anything in particular you’d like to share with fellow writers?

Rick: I would like to add two bits of advice. I can’t stress these enough.

  • The first is to read. Reading enhances your skills as a writer in ways you can’t imagine.
  • The second is to never give up. As a great hockey player once said (I’m paraphrasing here),

    “You’ll never score a goal if you don’t take the shot.”

The Absent Willow Review is an online magazine that publishes short fiction, poetry, and artwork with a horror, fantasy, or science fiction edge. Check their submission guidelines and browse their published works to see if your work might be what Rick and Bob are looking for and to find out how your submission could win $50 in The Absent Willow Review Editor’s Choice Award for Published Stories.

The Absent Willow Review: Tales of Horror, Fantasy, & Science Fiction

Character Development: When Back-Story Isn’t Enough

As writers, most of us already know that solid character development is key to a solid story. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to go about making robust characters: observe the people around you, create character charts, make sure you know your character’s back-story, etc.

It’s all great advice. For instance, I love filling out character sheets because they prompt me to think up things like nervous habits and identifying marks that I might not have given my character otherwise, but that make them that much more real.

And, of course, you have to know their back-story. If Sally is a runaway in chapter one who’s been homeless since she was ten, you can’t have her talking about the wonderful new bedroom decorations her mother gave her at age eleven.

But what do you do when that’s just not giving you what you need? When all of that planning doesn’t yield a direction for your character? I have two methods I use, and I adore them both.

First, and my favorite, is to imagine what happens to them after the story ends. This is especially helpful when I’m trying to choose from a couple of story endings, but that’s not the only time I use it. It’s an easy past-time: don’t write anything down, just pick a scene in your head and follow it to its logical conclusion. Maybe it’s a love story and two of your characters end up together. What happens when they have their first child? Or your entire star-ship crew just got back from an epic space-battle; how does that impact their view of the world ten years down the road?

My second trick takes a little more time, but can still be just as fun. I write a short story (actually writing this time, not just daydreaming) that places my stubborn character in an alternate universe. I ask myself “what if Conner were born in modern America, instead of ancient Greece, and was the son of the devil?”. All of the basic character traits stay the same, but he has to interact with a whole new set of people and world rules.

Those are just two ways I help give characters more depth – and figure out how they might react in my current story when I’m stuck for ideas. What methods do you use for character development and to make stubborn characters speak to you?

Editing As You Write: The Pros And Cons

Editing as you write your flash fiction, short story, or novel.Do you find yourself editing as you write? Do you prefer to keep the writing and editing processes separate? All writers have an opinion about how and when to edit your work-in-progress. Some storytellers let their writing flow uninterrupted, leaving a trail of spelling errors and typos in their wake. Other writers prefer careful editing of their piece after each writing session (or page, or paragraph, or sentence), examining each scene or chapter carefully and fine tuning it into a work of written art.

I use a mix of both techniques. I can’t stand looking at the red squiggly lines appearing below my errors, so I quickly backspace and fix my glaring errors while writing a scene. I even enter my characters’ names into my dictionary, so I don’t have a messy document. However, larger changes, such as carving up a scene, I save until much later on. That much reworking would knock my writer’s hat off my head, leaving only my editor’s hat.

Pros of Consistently Editing

  1. You’ll finish with a more polished manuscript, which will require less editing after it is completed.
  2. You can keep track of how your plot, subplot, and story arc are progressing, and rely less on your memory.
  3. If you find a major plot hole that requires a complete restructuring of your story, you can fix it immediately and not find yourself at a dead end later.
  4. Your characters will be less likely to wander off on tangents that are unrelated to the story at hand.
  5. The story will have much more continuity, and you won’t have to search to change every instance of an incorrect fact.
  6. Grammatical errors are much easier to spot when reading smaller chunks of a story.

Cons of Constantly Editing

  1. The flow of the story will be harder to maintain when you are stopping and starting repeatedly.
  2. The critical side of you required to edit properly can bring your mood down, draining your motivation.
  3. You may pick apart a scene to pieces, so that it falls apart and is no longer usable in your story.
  4. You may forget your place in the story, and stop writing much sooner than you intended.
  5. Your daily word count may be lower, and your progress will be harder to track.
  6. If you find a problem that requires major work, you may not know how to fix it, which will halt you in your tracks.

So what’s the verdict? Each writer has their own writing and editing style. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. As long as it is actually working, then keep it up! If not, go over the pros and cons, and decide for yourself.

Weigh in on the editing debate! Which method do you find yourself doing most often? Do you have more pros or cons to add to the list? Share your editing experiences here.

Photo Credit: Nic McPhee

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Tips. Part 4 of our chat with Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky

In part 3 of our 4-part interview with Rachel Swirsky, she discussed Secrets of Dialogue, Character, and Plot. But genre fiction — science fiction and fantasy, in particular — have their own rules for both writing and marketing your work. With more than 10 years experience as a widely-published science fiction and fantasy writer, Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky shares her best genre-specific tips.

Dawn: Your latest novelette, “Eros, Philia, Agape,” plays with conventions established by Isaac Asimov’s Robot series. I don’t want to ask you that tired old question of “where do you get your ideas” but I am curious: Where did you get the idea for that specific story?

Rachel: The story has been compared to Asimov’s work a number of times, but I didn’t have his work in mind when I was writing. The major inspirations were two-fold.

I had recently participated in a flash fiction contest with open judging wherein there were a number of robot stories, which my friend Ann Leckie and I started calling coin-operated boy stories.

One in particular involved a woman who had ordered a robot as a sex toy, but she didn’t enjoy sex with it. She would have sex with it–which is, essentially, masturbation–but it read to me as this totally passive event, like she was having sex with the robot for the robot’s pleasure. I thought it was a bizarre construction of female sexuality. There’s this idea that women only have sex because men enjoy it–and that’s odd enough. But why would you masturbate with a robot if you didn’t get some pleasure out of it? Since the robot in the story wasn’t sentient, that’s like having sex for the dildo’s enjoyment. So that was the most shallow inspiration–my character was going to want her robot as a lover, not passively accept it for the robot’s benefit.

After I committed to writing a coin-operated boy story, I started thinking about something Octavia Butler said about how the American consciousness is shaped by slavery. She said it has distorted our ability to love. I chewed on that for a long time. In “Eros, Philia, Agape“, Lucian is, essentially, Adriana’s slave. He’s a coddled slave, and I think Adriana has made a sincere effort to give them freedom and make them equals. But she can’t really–Lucian’s origins are still in slavery.

I believe that people who love each other often wreak terrible things on each other through best intentions–and this is a story that involves that, too. They all love each other, but love is not a panacea.
I imagine the story as an essential moral ambiguity. There are no right choices for anyone to make; no ways for everyone to be healed; everything that happens involves pain. At least, that’s my interpretation. Others have read the story differently.

Dawn: It sounds like you follow the adage that a writer reads, constantly!

Rachel: This is good advice for other kinds of writers, too, but there are some reasons it’s a good idea for science fiction and fantasy writers that are specific to the genre. The kinds of technology and world-building that appear in science fiction and fantasy stories tend to build on each other in ways that you have to know if you’re going to write relevant material.

Technology that’s introduced in one set of stories–for instance, in stories by William Gibson–becomes foundational for subgenres, as Gibson’s did for cyberpunk. You don’t want to reinvent the science fictional wheel. Also, idea is primary to many science fiction and fantasy stories in a way that it’s primary to very few literary short stories. There’s a push toward innovation, to describing a kind of new technology idea that no one has ever seen before, or rendering an entirely new treatment of an old concept. You can’t innovate if you don’t know what the old material looks like.

Dawn: Yes, exposition is another challenge more prevalent in science fiction and fantasy, right?

Rachel: You have to build a world as part of your exposition. It’s a knotty problem. That’s why workshops aimed at mainstream writers sometimes fail for science fiction and fantasy writers. Most mainstream writers have never thought about how to solve exposition issues. They may also get distracted by things like not understanding what, say, a generation ship is, or that salamanders are associated with fire–things your audience would already know.

That doesn’t mean mainstream-oriented workshops can’t be useful to science fiction and fantasy authors — they have been massively useful for me — but it’s good to be aware of their limitations. Reading people who handle their exposition well (Orson Scott Card names Octavia Butler as a master at it, and I agree) seems to be the most useful tool.

Dawn: How can science fiction and fantasy writers market their work?

Rachel: There are a couple of websites– ralan.com and duotrope.com come to mind–that keep track of salient details of short story markets. Of course, they’re not going to do all the work for you. You have to figure out where to send.

It may be tempting to start with small markets where you feel like you have a higher chance, but don’t do it — a top-down marketing strategy is best. Aim high. Then, if the best market doesn’t take your stuff, try the second-best market.

You might start with Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fact, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Interzone, Chiarascuro, and some of the other big hitters, and then make your way into the semi-pros, the well-respected token paying markets, and so on.

It’s relatively easy to figure out who the pro markets are because the Science Fiction Writers of America keeps a list of magazines that meet their qualifying criteria. Read widely, and then submit to the magazines that publish stories you like.

I do not recommend submitting to magazines whose stories you don’t like because you figure you can do better than that and they must be desperate for quality. Either they will reject you because they don’t like the kind of thing you do and you’ll feel bad, or you’ll be embarrassed by the credit later because it will associate you with fiction you think is inferior.

You can read stories and poetry by Rachel Swirsky at:

Tor.com
Subterranean Magazine
Fantasy Magazine
Weird Tales
Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Find out more at RachelSwirsky.com


Dawn: What about networking in the science fiction and fantasy community?

Rachel: Find places where science fiction and fantasy writers hang out, on Absolute Write, or Livejournal, or the Codex Writers Group if you qualify to join it–or wherever else–and keep your ear to the ground. Short story writers talk about magazines constantly, so you’ll learn the buzz. Those are the best methods, but if you’re still looking for stuff, I also recently wrote a brief article at Ecstatic Days about some of the ways I decide where to submit my work that lists a number of smaller magazines I like.

Tales from a Science Fiction Author. Part 1 of our chat with Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky

Success stories in genre fiction are rare, but inspirational. It’s not every day we see a J.K. Rowling gain monumental fame and wealth from one big hit, then create an entire best-selling series and franchise around her ideas.

Most genre writers build up a stable career slowly, garnering publishing credits, earning positive reviews for their work, and one day, they look around and realize: “I’m a successful fiction writer.” But self-doubt lingers, because, after all, we’re writers. Then a crowning achievement occurs, something like a Hugo nomination, and it really hits home.

This is where young Rachel Swirsky, full-time science fiction and fantasy writer, finds herself today. She’s got a hefty list of publishing credits for short fiction to her name, a collection of short fiction and poetry on the horizon from Aqueduct Press and — most recently — Hugo and Nebula Award nominations.

Rachel took time from her busy schedule to talk to us in this four-part interview, with in-depth advice on how to become a science fiction and fantasy writer, how to market your work, and the craft of writing fiction and poetry.  If you’d like to learn more about Rachel, please visit Rachel’s blog.

Rachel Swirsky's Eros, Philia, AgapeDawn: Let’s start with the big news. You were nominated for a Hugo for your novelette, “Eros, Philia, Agape“. What was the process for that?

Rachel: The Hugos are selected by people who attend the Worldcon Science Fiction Convention. Attending and supporting members are eligible to recommend stories they’d like to see on the ballot, and the ones with the most recommendations are nominated. The same pool of people will also select the winner.


Dawn: Eros, Philia, Agape was published on the Tor website–is it available in print too? What was the process to have it accepted?

Rachel: [Tor Editor] Patrick Nielsen Hayden invited me to submit a few months before Tor.com was launched. I eventually sent him both “Eros, Philia, Agape,” which has been nominated for the Hugo award, and somewhat later, “A Memory of Wind,” which has been nominated for the Nebula award. Tor.com is an online magazine, so the stories were first published online. Tor.com has also made them available in a number of downloadable formats, including PDF and as audio fiction MP3s.

Rachel Swirsky's A Memory of WindDawn: Your career has really taken off in the past few years. What — besides sheer writing talent — got you where you are now?

Rachel: A big turning point for me was attending the Clarion West Writing Workshop in 2005. Our first instructor was Octavia Butler, and she asked all the students what our long term goals were. I said I’d be happy with something modest like publishing a couple of stories. She said everyone should try to shoot upwards, to expect the best from their careers. Why not try to be full-time writers?

That conversation–along with a number of others at Clarion West–helped me to look at my writing from a more professional angle. Everyone can improve their writing technique, of course, but by that point I had the basics. I needed to take myself seriously–to write, submit, and write more, to take the writing seriously as a job. Within a couple months of making that decision, I started seeing sales, and eventually those started accumulating faster.

Dawn: So you’re writing fiction full-time now?

Rachel: Yes. In 2006, I went through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a teaching fellowship. In 2008, I got married and my husband and I moved to Bakersfield, California. He works full-time as a geologist, and I write full-time. I’d like to teach fiction part-time at the college level, as I did during grad school, and hopefully that will work out in the future.

You can read stories and poetry by Rachel Swirsky at:

Tor.com
Subterranean Magazine
Fantasy Magazine
Weird Tales
Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Find out more at RachelSwirsky.com


Dawn: What are your goals now? Is a novel in the plans?

Rachel: A collection of my poetry and short stories, THROUGH THE DROWSY DARK, is coming out from Aqueduct Press at the end of May. I’m still working on a number of short stories, novelettes, and novellas–but I am thinking about novels.

A lot of writers find they trend more toward working with either short stories or novels. For instance, it’s pretty common to hear people say that novels are much easier to write than short stories. I’m the opposite; my intuitive grasp of fiction trends toward shorter lengths. Some writers never really transition from one form to the other, but there are also plenty of people who are dexterous enough as storytellers to move back and forth between the two forms, seemingly effortlessly. I’ve spent a lot of time working on short stories, and I think it will take a commensurate amount of effort to understand novels. But I’m hoping the time and effort will pay off.

The Importance of Pace in Short Fiction

Pace is one of the most important elements for any short fiction writer interested in success. When handled correctly a good sense of pace can help create a piece of written art, when mishandled it can spell disaster for a short story. Learning the difference between the two is what divides ambitious amateurs from successful writers.

Given the inherent brevity of short fiction, pace plays a more prominent role than in novels and larger texts. In order to fully tell a story within the word restricted remit of a short story, a writer must utilize their skills to keep the plot moving along at a fast clip; fast enough to keep the reader interested, but detailed enough to be comprehensive. Below are a few methods with which to ensure a successfully paced short story.

One of the most fundamental skills a writer needs in order to write a well paced story is the ability to differentiate between a story that works well as a short fiction and one that does not. Amateur writers are often so determined to tell their story that they neglect to consider the correct form of the piece. A longer fiction artificially compressed into short story loses the elements that made it a good story in the first place; as side plots, secondary themes and minor characters are cut to meet the word limit the story loses its ‘heart’. Likewise, although less common, when a single scene or flash fiction is expanded into a short fiction it ceases to be effective as superfluous elements are added to pad it out; and the pace of the important elements slows accordingly. Knowing when a piece needs to blossom into a longer fiction and when it should remain as a single scene or idea is the mark of a good writer.

Having identified a suitable story, how then does the writer maintain a pace fast enough to convey it fully in a limited word count? Where novels and long fictions are able to spend pages building up complex descriptions and imagery, a short fiction writer must have a prudent and comprehensive vocabulary. Where a novel uses many descriptive words, a short fiction uses few. Therefore those used must be suitably evocative, able to conjure up an image or describe a scene briefly but completely. Essentially in this regard a short fiction writer utilizes the same skill as a poet, paring down their work and selecting only the most powerful words. In this way a skillful writer can keep the word count down, but convey just as much meaning and impact in far fewer words than a less skilled writer with twice the space to fill.

Pace is by no means an easy writing element to master, but with practice and patient reworking of short fiction it can be a real asset to a writer and with it a story can shine.

Nicholas Cockayne is a talented UK-based writer with a BA in English and a MA in Creative and Critical Writing. He’s currently involved in Media Consulting, Marketing, and Advertising.

How do you control the pace of your writing? Have you ever considered it’s importance before?