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Short Story Boot Camp!

Short Story Boot Camp. Day one, August 12, 2015.

I’m trying to teach myself how to edit better. Usually my editing process involves a lot of flailing around, spell checking, some conceptual thinking, and then a lot of quitting. Does not make for very good stories, do not recommend.

Right now I have 10 short stories, including 3 flash stories, 1 Novella, and 1 full novel to edit. I can write. I can produce. I can knock out words with the best.. Okay maybe with the second best of them. No one can keep up with Seanan McGuire so don’t even try. I just hadn’t figured out the editing process.

Lately I’ve been doing some more reading and thinking about writing and backing up to that conceptual process. Two things that have really sparked me is Mary Robinette Kowal’s lovely answer to a Goodreads question I posted about process.

The second is, yes you can giggle. Writing Fiction for Dummies.  What these two authors did here that’s different than most writing books was simplify some basic steps for editing that either hadn’t been explain this way before or I just hadn’t grokked the way it had been explained.

OK three things. My good friend Erin Hoffman also answered the same question I asked MRK about process that helped me tweak my ideas. [ go read Erin’s books now pls. I want her to write more. ] Erin is the most plotter of plotters in that her outline really is her first draft. Erin’s second draft is the actual word flow, her outline fleshed out. She finishes that, then edits, and third draft is what’s submitted. Her outline might take her a month or better, but from there, it’s fast, clean, and rather elegant. Much like everything Erin does. That’s how she’s taught her brain to work and I am hella jealous. I’ve come to realize that I’m the exact opposite. My first draft is an exploratory exercise so that I can write an outline from there.

Helpful hint I learned from this: What kind of writer you are will dictate what kind of editor you are.

What I’m finding out for me is that once my exploratory is done, I have to go back and do what Erin did in the beginning. I start by reading through and creating an outline, do some conceptual thinking, then apply these next few steps:

1. Storyline/concept. What is this story? What is the elevator pitch? Distill the entire story into 25 words. Does this feel right/match expectations? If not, tweak until it does.
2. Three Act Structure outline. What is my opening act structure and the inciting incident that opens act two. What is the body of act two and identify the middle inciting incident that twists the story, then the third inciting incident/disaster that forces act three. What is the climax to the story and the aftermath/wrap up.
3. Character synopsis. Who are these people? What do they want? How does the action in the story help or hinder them? Are they really necessary or can I combine characters to make the story flow better. Sometimes this happens after the next two steps.
4. Chapter by chapter synopsis. Going back through the outline and deciding what changes need to be made on a macro level. Is this incident really powerful enough? Or can I twist it harder to make my characters cry more.
5. Scene by scene synopsis based on the CbC synopsis. (these two steps are combined in a short story, of course) This is the papercut under the fingernail before slicing lemons level. For both me and the characters. Does each scene do what it needs to do to advance the action?
6. Third draft. Send to my awesome friends who have agreed to beta read.
7. Take beta reactions, read through story again, make those edits.
8. Submit. Make sales!

Back to Short Story Boot Camp. I’m going to take these concepts and 7 steps to make step 8 happen. I’m taking those ten stories and the novella and applying this new way of editing to see if the flailing stops and actual work happens. Ironically, the easiest ones aren’t the shortest ones, but the ones that make me the most excited. So I’m tackling Makewater Station first. It’s my prairie punk story with an alternate history of the US.

I use Scrivener to write with so I created a blank project just for Boot Camp. Each story has it’s own folder and the most recent copy of the text after previous edits pasted into them. I love the split screen option and side note screen to work in to keep track of characters/things/etc. And I’ve created a folder to chronicle/write blog posts in about my adventures in editing.

My goal is to make some sell-able short stories as well as figure out how to tweak my editing process in order to tackle the book. Here goes!


Epic, edited by John Joseph Adams

Next book on my finish list is the anthology Epic, edited by John Joseph Adams. I wanted this because of the first story in it, “Homecoming” by Robin Hobb. The over all theme is epic fantasy, and all the stories I read in it definitely meet that criteria.

I have a rule about Anthologies. If I read half of the stories in it, it counts as read. Not everyone will like every story in an anthology and life is too short to read stuff you don’t like. This round up, I’m going to take each story I did read one at a time.

Homecoming – Robin Hobb

I was half a page into Homecoming before I realized that I had read it before. Doesn’t matter, I’ll read anything by Hobb. If you’ve read her Live Ship Traders trilogy, you’ll recognize a lot of the background that’s being laid. It’s a beginnings story, of how the Rain Wilds were populated. I can’t say Colonized, because I don’t think they ever managed that much. You can live in a place that never submits to the colonization process and the Rain Wilds falls into this category. It’s written in diary form, but masterfully.

As the Wheel Turns – Aliette de Bodard

I’m pretty sure this is the second story I’ve read in this verse by de Bodard, but I can’t remember where I read the first. I’m thinking either Beneath Ceaseless Skies or Strange Horizons. This one picks up after the death of the mother, from three POV’s reflecting on what her death has meant to them, framed by types of tea appropriate to that POV. It is a futuristic space opera story, but in an Asian future where the culture has not been subsumed in the dry, plain Western way that most space operas are written. Regret and grief are the themes and I like how de Bodard handles them in this story.

The Alchemist – Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve not read anything by Bacigalupi before this, and I find that I regret this lack of pleasure. I do know who he is, many friends and writers I follow also follow him. Well now I’m adding to my to read list. Alchemist follows an inventor who is trying to find a solution to a nasty side effect of magic use: Brambles. As in, a plant that is called into being by the use of magic and will choke the land and poison the people living there. And when he succeeds, the result is not the one he expects. It’s a trip through the dark side of human nature, and frightening in a way.

Rysn – Brandon Sanderson

This story was a delightful light romp, very welcome after reading the Alchemist. I skipped a couple stories to come to this, and I’m glad I did. The theme within is cultural differences and respecting them, no matter how outlandish they seem to you. It’s short and simple, but Epic doesn’t always have to be world wide to still be epic.

Mother of All Russiya – Melanie Rawn

A great look into the founding of Kiev Russia. I was vaguely familiar with the founding, but from the historical and therefore male POV. Rawn tackles it from the Queen’s POV, the one who by necessity of protecting herself and her son, manages to keep her position and prove herself as not just adequate, but great ruler. With the help of a little magician.

Riding the Shore of the River of Death – Kate Elliott

This is a short story in Elliott’s “Crown of Stars” verse, which I have not read. The verse is a rigid patriarchal world, and our heroine hopes to earn her Manhood so that she would not be forced into a marriage. I really like the way she reached out to grab her own future, and not just settle for the one chosen for her.

Bound Man – Mary Robinette Kowal

Kowal’s story is a delicious juxtaposition between a matriarchal and patriarchal world, with a little time travel thrown in. A warrior called to to help, with complications. I think this is my favorite story of the book, mostly because of the way Kowal handles the culture clash and the main character Li Reiko. The character’s main strength is that she is both mother and warrior, and no need to separate the different facets of her life.

The Narcomancer – N.K. Jemisin

I’m not sure, but I think this short is from the Thousand Kingdoms verse, exploring life on the borders a little more. The main character has to find the balance between his duty to others and his vows, without breaking either.

Strife Lingers in Memory – Carrie Vaughn

The last story I read in the book tells the story of what happens after the prince and princess get their happily ever after. Very believable take on PTSD and what it takes to deal with, and that it’s a lifelong battle sometimes.

Stories by Ursula Le Guin, Tad Williams, Orson Scott Card, Patrick Rothfuss, Michael Moorcock, Trudi Canavan, Juliet Marillier, and George RR Martin are also included in this anthology, but I did not read them for various reasons. 550 pages of awesome, epic stories.