[header_box_1 title=”the yeah write 2012 summer writer’s series, part 4″]

Week Four: avoiding the traps of amateur writing

This week’s prompts are at the very end of this post. Please welcome back guest editor Saalon Muyo who tweets as @saalon and blogs at Saalon Muyo. If you have any questions or need any clarification on today’s topic or prompts, please feel free to begin a discussion in comments.

If you’re here just to hang out, click here for the yeah write #67 hangout grid.



It took me a long time to figure out why I sucked at writing short fiction. Believe me, I tried to make it work. I have a half dozen unfinished shorts lying around scattered hard drives. Believe me: failing to finish stories is not one of my problems. If I get into writing something, I usually find a way to get through it. Those incomplete shorts haunt and mock me. They’re tricksy little poltergeists. Banishing them is something I’ve tried and failed to do for years.

I decided to reverse how I was coming at the problem. After all, I didn’t just have problems writing shorts. I struggled with reading them. There are a lot of shorts I love, that were influential and have never left my mind, but there are way more that I didn’t finish, or finished feeling unsatisfied. I’ve had a way better success rate with novels, even though a novel is a significantly bigger commitment. So: why? What was it about shorts that did me in?

That kind of thing helps. Thinking about your problems as a reader.  Eventually you realize exactly how you’re making the same mistakes that bother you, and everything snaps into focus. The problem with many short stories – fiction or nonfiction – is that it’s way too easy to make your stories stories short by, like, not writing about anything. Sure, you picked a character (or characters) and a setting and maybe even some emotions, but before you know it, yu pounded out a thousand words with a person in a room who has a problem and…

…Yep, that’s it. Person in a room with a problem.

When you’re writing something long, the sheer space you need to fill makes it a lot harder to write something where nothing happens. The problem stares you in the face after a few thousand words of YAWN. Short fiction lulls you in with its tiny word count and its tendency to be complete before you’ve gotten bored writing nothing. It’s so easy to be lulled that long after you’ve become comfortable as a writer in every other way, you find yourself producing stories that just don’t go anywhere. It’s one of those early-writer problems that doesn’t go away on its own. Not until you realize, like I did, that your writing resembles things you’d be bored reading.

Short doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a fully formed story. That means not just having a beginning/middle/end structure. It means tension. It means telling the audience fast what they care about and why, then applying pressure to that concern. Pressure that can only be relieved by the conclusion. If we’re going to care about that person in a room with a problem, that problem needs to threaten what you’ve made us care about. (The threat can be funny! Funny can be tense, too!)  That threat should drag you—the writer or the reader—through to the end of the story.

It’s harder than it sounds. Trust me. I’ve gotten this right exactly one time. No matter how long you’re at this, there’s always something else to make you feel like a newb.

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all your story are belong to you


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[divider_header_h3] This week’s prompts [courtesy of Tom Slatin] [/divider_header_h3]


  • What is the most annoying sound you have ever heard?
  • What is your biggest insecurity?
  • Does Never Never Land really exist?



Yeah write #67 summer writer’s series grid is open…