yeah write #67 summer writer’s grid is open: the person in the room with a problem

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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.

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Tension

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.

yeah write #67 badges

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  • Click in the upper right corner of this page on the plus symbol and the hidden widget containing the button badge codes will drop
  • Copy the code of your favorite badge, then paste that code into the HTML view of the post you’re planning to submit to the grid
  • If you’re having problems accessing those, feel free to grab the one in this post. Your backlink will be yeahwrite.me/67-open-summer or yeahwrite.me/67-open-hangout

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all your story are belong to you

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  • Read the summer FAQ page for other details: the grid is being moderated and if you’re missing an element outlined in the summer FAQ, your post will not be published on the grid
  • Let the prompt lead you, but do not include the prompt in any way in your post, not at the beginning as an intro, not at the end as a footnote. If you reference the prompt in your post, your post will not be published on the grid
  • Remember: no more than 500 words. If your post exceeds 500 words, yup, you guessed it—no publish for you
  • If the prompt takes you from thunderstorms to watching TV at your grandma’s house to how much you love Pat Sajak to the oldest person you’ve ever kissed, we want that story the furthest away in your imagination from the original prompt. Let your imagination loose
  • Keep your writing style! Do you tell stories with humor? Prose? Verse? Photos? Illustrations? Keep doing that. We’ll read Shakespearean drama on our own time
  • Cut away at everything unnecessary to your story
  • Don’t forget to badge your post
  • The grid is open for submissions and will close to new ones Wednesday at 9 pm, then voting will open for the first time in weeks!

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

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

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


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16 responses to “yeah write #67 summer writer’s grid is open: the person in the room with a problem”

  1. christina [Wed] 25 Jul 12 at 11:49 am #

    thank you SOOOO much for making me re-write mine. OMG i’m SO much more happier with the new version i could pee my pants. :D thank you thank you thank you! (boy will i feel like an idiot if i get another piece of fan mail)

    • Erica M [Wed] 25 Jul 12 at 12:29 pm #

      Ha. It was much better. Thanks for keeping after it!

  2. Guerrilla Mom [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 11:01 pm #

    Um, this was hard.

  3. Carinn @welcometothemotherhood [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 5:12 pm #

    I admit I was a little hesitant to get involved with the voting. Outlaw Mama talked me down from the ledge and I was so inspired by some of the early posts. People really raised the stakes this week!! Love it!!!

  4. Cindy ~ The Reedster Speaks [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 11:17 am #

    Eric,
    My favorite part of the summer series is the 500-word limit. I’d been doing posts up to 1800 words, thinking every one was essential to my story. For me, what helps is really thinking about first and last sentences, making sure we are coming full circle or otherwise wrapping things up elegantly, whether the problem is burned off neck hair or an eyewitness account to attempted murder. At least I hope I’m doing this, and the problem isn’t just sitting there in the room, being dull :)

    • Kim Pugliano [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 1:42 pm #

      Cindy – I love all your stuff. It’s engaging and makes me laugh. This is my first try at the summer series, but I LOVE the 500 limit and I wish someone would give me 3 prompts to choose from every day.

  5. Kim Pugliano [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 8:09 am #

    If I didn’t make the list I’ll be contacted, right? Because as of now I’m not there and I’m nervous about it.

    • Erica M [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 9:58 am #

      You’d get an email with the subject line “your yeah write submission” asking for you to rework it if it were missing an important element. We’re on the lookout this series for posts that simply list events without revolving around a central point, trying to help the writers understand that although those posts may generate great conversation, they may not be telling a yeah write story.

  6. Melisa [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 2:48 am #

    Yay, Saalon! So helpful and I’m heading back now to sharpen my pencil and make sure I’ve practiced tough love on my (exactly) 500 words (not to brag). We’re gonna need a link to the one time you nailed it, please and thank you.

  7. Dawn Beronilla [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 12:53 am #

    Hi guys!
    I love your advice like always, Saalon!
    Right now we are having some serious technical dificulties and although I think I managed to link up through the iPad, my post is not showing.
    Are they still being moderated?
    Thanks for helping a gal out.

    • Kristin [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 6:36 am #

      Dawn, yes! They are still being moderated. It may take a while, but they’ll be accepted or asked to re-work in the order they arrive.

      And let me add how impressed I am that you managed to link up through an iPad! I’m still having trouble getting my mail on my iPhone. I bow to you.

      • Dawn Beronilla [Tue] 24 Jul 12 at 10:41 am #

        Thank you so much for letting me know, Kristin!
        I see it now, so I must have done something right! ;-)
        As for the iPad thing, I have to confess that the whole situation mostly involved me quietly freaking out (so I wouldn’t wake my 3 sleeping littles) and sweating all over the place (I had just finished a 3k run) while my sweet husband did most of the work. He even accessed his flickr account to get me the picture I normally use.
        He’s my knight in shining pocket-protector.
        Haha.

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