“Hope” is Here!

[frame align=”left”]Hope Anthology Cover[/frame]My name is Karen Henderson and I use my birth name, Karen Lee Field, as my pen name. “Hope” is a project that is close to my heart. I have wanted to do something since I lost my son to suicide in 2006. In many ways, it gave me purpose, which in turn gave me hope. So the anthology is aptly named.

In late 2010 I decided to put my plans into action and I approached writers from around Australia, telling them my story, asking for their help. I was astounded by the response!

Yesterday, Hope was launched online. The book launch is still going and I invite you to head over to the book launch and say hello. You might even win a copy of the ebook. And there’s a real possibility that you’ll win a paperback book too.

My story “Boundaries” is included in the anthology, but for me the story is not important. To me, the message of the book in its entirety is the important thing. Hope gives the reader thirteen speculative fiction stories, but it also raises suicide awareness with short ‘snippets’ of information on suicide. I urge teenagers to read the book so they are able to ‘see’ when a friend may need their help. And I urge parents to read the book so they will ‘know’ when their child may be showing signs of being suicidal. Being suicide aware may save a life. That’s what this book means to me.

I will be forever grateful to the contributors to this anthology. Together, we can make a difference.

And I think it’s important to mention at this point that none of the contributions received payment for their time or their stories. They gave these things willingly because they want to help raise suicide awareness. All profits from the sale of the book will be donated to Beyondblue and The Anika Foundation.

Here is the Table of Contents:

Preface by Karen Henderson
Introduction by Simon Haynes
High Tide at Hot Water Beach by Paul Haines
Suicide: An Introduction by Warren Bartik and Myfanwy Maple
Burned in the Black by Janette Dalgliesh
Australian Suicide Statistics
The Haunted Earth by Sean Williams
The Causes of Suicide
Eliot by Benjamin Solah
Warning Signs
Boundaries by Karen Lee Field
Indigenous Suicides
The Encounter by Sasha Beattie
Drugs and Alcohol
The God on the Mountain by Graham Storrs
Suicide Around the World
Deployment by Craig Hull
Suicide: The Impact by Myfanwy Maple and Warren Bartik
Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden by Joanne Anderton
Helping a Friend Through Loss
Blinded by Jodi Cleghorn
Myths and Facts
The Choosing by Rowena Cory Daniells
How to Help Someone at Risk of Suicide by beyondblue
Duty and Sacrifice by Alan Baxter
What You Can Do to Keep Yourself Safe by beyondblue
A Moment, A Day, A Year… by Pamela Freeman
Where to Get Help
About the Authors

And this is a summary of the stories included by some of Australia’s best speculative fiction writers:

High Tide at Hot Water Beach by Paul Haines
A man dying of a terminal disease bets his life on one last chance at survival, a chance that looks like certain death from the perspective of his family.

Burned in the Black by Janette Dalgliesh
A jaded starbeast herder, with more secrets than she cares for and a difficult task ahead, is swept into an uneasy alliance with a troubled technobard whose unique gifts could mean her salvation … or her downfall.

The Haunted Earth by Sean Williams
Not all aliens are evil, but every first contact comes at a cost.

Eliot by Benjamin Solah
Eliot hides his dark memories in the pages of journals. But there is one memory he needs to uncover once the face paint washes away.

Boundaries by Karen Lee Field
With cursed blood running through his veins and boundaries touched by magic, an escaped slave battles for life as a Freeman.

The Encounter by Sasha Beattie
A woman’s desperation finds her in a small town where she learns of a dark secret that threatens to take away her only hope of happiness.

The God on the Mountain by Graham Storrs
An ambitious scientist’s career may be over if she dare not seek the god on the mountain and confront it.

Deployment by Craig Hull
After choosing the loneliness of deep space, a woman must confront her painful past to save the life of a child.

Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden by Joanne Anderton
In the ruins of a dying magical Garden, two people from opposite sides of a dangerous clash of cultures must learn to trust each other to survive.

Blinded by Jodi Cleghorn
The past and present collide for exo-biologist Dr Thaleia Halligan when the most recent addition to her exploration team is revealed as something other than a field medic for hire.

The Choosing by Rowena Cory Daniells
In a harsh, tropical paradise, a world of scattered islands where the poor live on boats and whole tribes live the canopies of sea- growing trees, two boys set off to prove they are worthy of being called men.

Duty and Sacrifice by Alan Baxter
In endless grasslands an assasin works her way towards the biggest job of her life, and maybe the last.

A Moment, A Day, A Year… by Pamela Freeman
The Oracle ordains everyone’s role in the Yearly Round, but there are more choices to be made than anyone knows, and some of them are deadly.

It’s a brilliant book, so please help us help those in need and you can become suicide aware at the same time.

Writing Course: Fact to Fiction

Before I get started with the course notes, I have to say that this unit is proving to be extremely difficult. Today, I spent two hours attempting to answer vocabulary questions that left me feeling … well, ‘stupid’ is the word that comes to mind. My score left little to be desired and an ‘oh dear’ taste in my mouth. Not good. My notes, however, do not reflect this part of the unit. Really, if you’re having difficulty writing short stories you should consider doing a course as it’s not the same as reading someone else’s notes, it’s far better!

Fact to Fiction

Fiction is fact and imagination put together. You’ll be amazed by how many ideas for your stories come from what you’ve experienced and what you observe happening to other people.

There are two types of short fiction – literary and genre. Genre fiction has its own conventions and rules so we’ll look at literary fiction first. When you know the basics, then you can move on to genre fiction.

Ideas

Ideas come from everywhere, everyone and every situation. Yet still people have trouble coming up with ideas. Perhaps the simplest way to start fiction is to start with an anecdote.

Example: One day, after work, you are running late and have to run to the station, but it’s raining and slippery so you fall over, flat on your face, but get up and just manage to get to the station on time.

An anecdote is straightforward, often uninteresting and nothing much happens. Next you must insert something interesting.

Example: One day, after work, you are running late and have to run to the station, but it’s raining and slippery so you fall over, flat on your face, knocking yourself out for a few seconds but when you stand up again you can’t remember who you are.

Now you have a situation, a problem. Now the character has to make a decision and the reader will wonder what the person will do. Now you have the beginning of a story.

Vocabulary

Words are the writer’s only tool. It is essential to learn to use words effectively as you cannot be there to explain what you mean to the reader.

Writers should be avid readers too. It’s also important to refer to a dictionary whenever you encounter a word that is unfamiliar to you.

Story Length

Stories can vary in length, but often the length will determine where it might be published.

Length What it Means
500 words a short, short story or flash fiction
1000 words a length specified by magazines or some competitions
2000 – 3000 words the average length for literary or mainstream markets
3000 – 5000 words a popular length for anthologies, some of the best short stories fall into this category
5000+ stories over 5,000 words can be difficult to place

Problem Solving

If you experience problems in your writing then read below as there may be a simple solution.

Starting a story – If you cannot seem to start a story, then start wherever you feel comfortable, even if it means writing the final scene first. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start.

Showing not telling – This comes with experience. You will find scenes that can be better illustrated with dialogue or more descriptive words. Find beta readers to help flush out these pesky areas.

Continuing beyond the first paragraph – If you can’t seem to write beyond the first paragraph/page then you must learn to let go and simply keep writing. Don’t stop to fix errors, including typos, just write and write for a full 15 minutes. You’ll be surprised how much can be written in a short space of time.

Knowing when to let go – Striving to continue on with an idea that isn’t working for you is not recommended. Let it go and move on to the next idea, preferably one you feel passionate about.

Dialogue – If you feel you cannot write convincing dialogue, try writing a short story without it. It will mean you’ve finished a short story. It will also eliminate the problem area. Of course, you will have to master it eventually, so sit and observe groups of people as they talk. Write down their actions, facial expressions and other movements as you listen to their conversation. This will help you integrate all these things into your short stories.

Writing Course: Elements of Short Story Writing (Part 2)

You might want to read Part 1 first.

Setting

A setting doesn’t need to specify a country, it can be confined to a town, house, room, car, park, tunnel or anywhere else. The setting needs to be there but doesn’t need to take on a role. However, some authors manage to make the setting as alive as their characters.

Setting, if used artistically, can help build your characters and strengthen the plot. Think about it, an untidy bedroom tells the reader a lot about your character.

Structure

An author must make decisions on how to structure a story. Where does the story start? Where does it end? How will the story be told?

Traditional story telling follows this pattern:

  • introduce a situation
  • the situation becomes complicated, there’s a confrontation
  • the complication/confrontation is resolved

 

Time Structure

Traditional stories move chronologically through the story from beginning to end. It is often necessary to remind the reader of facts that have already been revealed, or give them other information to help them understand what is happening. There are ways of arranging your story to help you do this.

Foreshadowing helps build suspense and prepare the reader for things that will happen later in the story. For example, if the loss of a pet is going to become an issue in the story it is better to show the relationship with the pet early in the story rather than when the loss occurs.

Flashback is when the character remembers something from their past that is important to the present. It is recommended that flashbacks be used sparingly in short stories under 3000 words in length.

Sequence of Events is a story told from beginning to end but this is not always affective. However, it’s the best way to ensure the reader does not become confused.

Details and Summary

When we tell stories in real life, we gloss over the uninteresting bits and dramatise the exciting bits. This is story manipulation and it’s something writers do when writing a story.

Pace is essential. Some parts of the story might race along while others are slower and more thoughtful. Pace is controlled by word choice, length of sentences and passage content. Pace helps make the story exciting.

Plot is easily recognised in some stories but quite obscure in others. Genre stories aim to keep the reader entertained, thrilled or terrified. The traditional plot is a series of events involving conflict, which lead to a climax and then a resolution. The best planned plot is built around a well developed character.

Some questions you might ask yourself once you have written the first draft are:

Whose story is it? Whom do you most care about? Why?
Is the character’s goal specific enough for the reader to care?
Are there obstacles stopping the character reaching the goal?
What is at stake? If nothing much then the reader will be bored.
Are the events linked? Is it clear the character is in the grip of fate or is the victim of someone or something?
Is the resolution obvious, predictable or inevitable? If so, have you got to this stage in a fresh way? Does the story encourage the reader to think?
Once you get to the climax, is the story quick to end?
Has every scene contributed to the whole and to the development of the character?

Narrative

Narrative is the section of the story that is not dialogue as well as the whole of the story’s text in terms of elemental construction.

A skilful writer will inject pace into the narrative and will not include unessential details.

Never try to ‘draw the story out’ in the mistaken notion that it creates suspense. It has the opposite effect on the reader who wants the story to ‘move on’. It is also important not to rely too heavily on ‘telling’ a story as the reader will feel important facts are being glossed over and the story becomes shallow.

Elemental Construction refers to the narrative elements within a story that structure it in a particular way. This includes the choice and balanced arrangement of the following:

Location: Why here and not there?
Time: When did or will it happen?
Narrator: Who should tell the story?
Characters: How many, who are they, and how do they interact?
Length: How long should the story be?
Style: What word arrangement will be most effective?
Type of Narrative: Plot or character driven? Present or past tense? Circular or linear in its telling?

Style

Writing is generally about two things — what you write and how you write.

Style is the name given to the manner in which a piece of writing is expressed and the quality of that expression.

Style is a complex topic but here are a few basic styles and their characteristics:

Clear, lucid – simplicity of word and sentence, orderly, coherent.

Strong, virile, vigorous, forceful – exotic or exalted nature, choice of less common words, elaborate sentences.

Graceful, elegant – careful selection of words, mastery of the meanings or words, felicitous expressions, artistic structure of sentences.

Vivacious, animated, racy – concrete and picturesque expressions, spirited flow of sentences, rapid progress in narration, judicious use of dialogue.

The classifications above are not rigid. There are many ways to describe style. For example, simple, curt, crisp, vivid, urbane, lofty, serious, conversational, rambling, strained, illogical, harmonious, consistent, bombastic, quaint, absurd, delicate, light, quirky, ornate, whimsical, sensory.

Poetic concepts are also used by some short story writers. They are devices to enhance style and include things like using words commencing with the same letter, which is called alliteration, or the resemblance of sound between two words, which is called assonance.

A Writer’s Style

Style is your literary fingerprint. It allows you to sound different to other writers. It can, if you manage to develop an individual style, become so well known that readers will not need you to include you name to know something has been written by you.

Writing Course: Elements of Short Story Writing (Part 1)

The elements of short story include:

  • characterisation
  • dialogue
  • point of view
  • setting
  • structure
  • narrative
  • style

 

Creating Believable Characters

Most mainstream short stories are ‘character driven’ rather than ‘plot driven’. For this reason, it is important for fiction writers to develop their characterisation skills.

The best place to start is by reading short stories written by other writers to see how they bring their characters alive on the page. Creating characters who feel ‘real’ to the reader takes skill. The time frame is brief in short stories and there is not enough space for lengthy physical and physiological descriptions. You must learn to develop a technique that builds the character without spending unnecessary time and words in doing so.

Exercise: Write two short pieces, about 100 words each, using first person. Offer different ‘points of view’ of the same person. For example, husband and wife, brother and sister, two friends. This exercise will show you how we perceive ourselves and how another might see us in a completely different light. This is a way of also showing the reader different aspects of your characters and will give your characters more depth.

Knowing Your Characters

You, the writer, need to know your characters extremely well. You need to know everything about them, even if you don’t use everything you know in your stories.

It is best to know what makes your characters do what they do and why they are motivated to act and react the way they do. This knowledge will reflect in your writing. Most serious writers tackle this in the planning stage, prior to writing a single word.

It is useful to complete a character profile for each major character. The information on the sheet may include the following, but feel free to add what you think is important and remove those that are not.

Character’s name
Age
Sex
Physical appearance
Education
Occupation
Marital status
Family
Diction, accent
Relationships
Hobbies
Obsessions
Religious beliefs
Political beliefs
Ambitions
Superstitions
Fears
Prejudices
Strengths
Weaknesses
Pets
Taste in books, music, film
Food likes/dislikes
Allergies
Talents

Remember: If you are writing a real person into your story, you would be wise to disguise the character to avoid libel action being taken against you.

Use of Dialogue

Dialogue is important. It must sound like ‘real’ speech but must not imitate everyday speech at all. The reason for this is that real conversations contains lots of pointless chatter and short stories cannot accommodate anything that does not move the story forward and strengthen the character.

In real life, everything is said. In fiction, everything is condensed.

During dialogue, characters confront each other. This confrontation is a sharing, it is a scene, an event. It is never ideal chatter!

Point of View

Who is telling the story? Whose eyes are we seeing through? This is the point of view. Then we need to decide if the story is best suited to first or third person, although there is also second person (what I tend to write in these posts), but second person is rarely used in short stories.

First Person Subjective Narration is when ‘I’ tells the story.

The advantages of first person is that the telling can be very intimate and brings the reader close to the character. The reader is usually drawn into the story immediately and can often see the irony of situations. They also get to explore the thoughts and feelings of the character, even when the character is wrong in their thinking. First person point of view suits a quirky style of writing.

The disadvantage are that the story can only ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what the character sees and hears. The author cannot show other pieces of information that the reader may need and the reader cannot know what’s in other characters minds except by use of observation and dialogue. For this reason, first person can be limiting. There is also the danger of the story turning into a long complaint, one of self-pity, which may lose the reader’s empathy.

Third Person Limited or Subjective is when ‘he’ or ‘she’ tells the story.

Using third person limited allows the writer to leave the sight of the character to report what’s happening elsewhere. Having said that, the writer is still constrained to the inner thoughts of one character.

The advantages are that the writer can step back a little, which can give more scope. And it is acceptable to do other scenes from the point of view of another character so that the reader understands how the plot is unfolding, even if the characters do not.

The disadvantages is that the reader is not as connected with the characters as with first person. It is also easier for the writer to go off track, and ramble on a bit, and the pace can be a little slower, which means the urgency can be lacking.

Sustained Point of View

It is important for a writer to sustain the point of view they select when they start writing. If not, you will only confuse or distract the reader and that will cause a real danger of losing them. And that may damage your reputation as they may never read your work again.

Go straight to Part 2.

Writing Course: History of the Short Story

A short story is fiction. It should not be confused with true events, which is written as non-fiction. A short story is an account of what if? What might have happened.

It is difficult to determine when the first short story was written. Narratives from The Golden Age of Greece and the New Testament contain principles that are applicable to its present form. However, it is usually conceded that the short story had its beginnings with Washington Irving in the early 19th Century, when he published Rip Van Wrinkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These stories had their limitations, they progressed slowly and lacked the movement associated with a French school of writers headed by Balzac and Gautier, but they were popular.

During the last 150 years the short story has developed as a type of prose fiction. It is now distinguished from a novel only in its construction and, of course, length. The short story is constructed according to definite artistic principles. A novel permits greater character development and complex plot construction, whereas a short story does not.

Types of Short Story

There are two basic divisions for a short story — realistic and escapist. Both of these are forms of literary fiction. Then there is the “type” of fiction, known as genre. These include children’s stories, fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, adventure, thriller and detective.

Realistic: These are stories where the subject matter is closely related to events and incidents that occur in real life. The author writes details as they see them and does not gloss over events, no matter how gruesome or affronting. The characters may be based on real people, real conversations and real situations.

Escapist: Many readers don’t want to read about every day situations set in the world they live in. They want worlds of fantasy and melodramatic excitement, where they can identify with the characters but experience colourful romances, alternate words and life how we don’t know it. They want to escape their life and project themselves into these other worlds.

Four Early Short Story Writers

Four writers paved the way to what is now expected in short stories. They wrote with conviction, technical brilliance and power of expression. They are:

Edgar Allan Poe: Poe was the first person to set down specific rules relating to the construction of a short story. These rules have been adopted almost universally.

  • It must create one impression.
  • It must be capable of being read in one session.
  • Every word must contribute to the total effect, which has been pre-determined by the author.
  • This effect must be created immediately, and then gradually developed throughout the story.
  • When the effect reaches a climax, the story must end.
  • Only essential characters should be used to gain effect.

 

The Russian School (Gogol and Turgenev): In the 19th Century two Russian writers, Gogol and Turgenev, emphasised character rather than actions. Between them, they created realistic portrayals of human sufferings, passions and grief of everyday people. Gogol insisted that the short story must attempt to do one thing only, and must allow the plot to develop naturally without being forced into a conventional pattern.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Stevenson claimed a short story could be written in three different ways.

  • You may take a plot and fit characters to it.
  • You may have a character and choose incidents to develop it.
  • You may take a certain atmophere and get actions and persons to realise and express it.

 

Stevenson set out with the intentions of writing about atmosphere. He would choose a situation or setting, then select a character and start writing.

Other authors have also made big changes to the way we approach writing short stories. O. Henry introduced the surprise ending at the turn of the century. H. G. Wells looked to science and the future in his stories. Hemingway turned to stories of adventure and social conventions.

Your Own Writing

It is important to know the above as it will help you write short stories, but it is important to remember also that you must feel free to always develop your own methods. Rules are helpful, they will get you started, but they are not rigid.

Other skills an aspiring writer will need are:

  • read short stories written by other authors
  • have a good command of the English language and how to construct a sentence
  • strive to broaden your vocabulary
  • be aware of publishing opportunites
  • learn to be professional in presenting yourself and your work
  • attend writers’ workshops and readings
  • accept construction criticism
  • be prepared to rewrite until your story is right
  • persevere despite numerous rejections from publishers
  • study the market carefully

 

Your Writer’s Journal

It is a good idea to keep a journal of your writing activites. Use a notepad, if you like, or buy a student diary. However you decide to do it, make a pen and paper account of the writing you do including planning, research, networking, submission and anything else you do that is writing related. By doing this, you will see how much time you spend doing each activity and you will also find out how much time you actually dedicate to the craft of writing itself.

Example:
25/5/11
Writing – 1 hour
Planning – 2 hours
Submissions – 1/2 hour
Networking – 4 hours

26/5/11
Writing – 1.5 hours
Research – 3 hours
Networking – 6 hours

Most aspiring writers discover they spend more time doing everything else other than actually writing.

Lastly, try writing a diary, by hand. Write about your life, your moods, yours loves and hates, your family, your hobbies and whatever else you feel you want to write about. Don’t be afraid to write about your writing journey also. Write about your aspirations, your disappointments, the methods you employ and disregard. Write your diary whenever the mood takes you and you will find a new perspective open up to you.

Short Story Tips

I’m experiencing serious problems with two short stories I’m writing. One is for younger readers, 9 to 12 year olds, and the other is for readers in their late teens. The problem is the same in each story, which tells me something. The problem is actually me, or the way I write — not the story itself.

This afternoon I set about researching tips for writing short stories in the hope that the problem can be fixed. Lots of the information I’ve read today is common sense and most of it I’ve read before. Having said that, I feel a writer can forget the basics when attempting to put together a strong story. And it’s also possible to get caught up in what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Nothing really helped me until I came upon Short Story Writing Tips by Short Story Group (website appears to have disappeared). There are five tips, but I will only quote one of them:

Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn’t mean what is the plot line, the sequence of events or the character’s actions, it means what is the underlying message or statement behind the words. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.

This simple paragraph helped me to realise that the themes of my two stories have been lost in the telling. The story is fine, the author (that’s me) has lost sight of the theme. That’s the problem! That’s why I can’t fix them!

Now, armed with this knowledge I’ll be able to revise my stories again and this time, hopefully, get them back on track.

Accepted: Amunet’s Gift

I’m proud to announce my story, Amunet’s Gift, has been accepted for publication in 100 Stories for Queensland. The anthology will be published on 8 March 2011 and all proceeds will be donated to the survivors of the recent floods in Queensland. This is a great cause, so please be sure to purchase a copy of the book when it is released.

I will make an announcement when the anthology is available, with all the appropriate links.

Learning to Detach Yourself when Receiving Critiques

April Hamilton wrote a very interesting post called When Editing & Critiquing, Check Your Personal Opinions At The Door. This reminder comes at a great time because yesterday I sent one of my older short stories to a critique group for the once over.

Luckily for me, I’m not new to the game of critiquing and I’m not in the habit of flaring up when someone tells me something I don’t want to hear. In fact, if I receive a “that’s good” I feel cheated because I want to know what’s wrong and “good” isn’t the same as “great” which isn’t the same as “excellent”, so I’m wondering what needs to be done to make the story better. I want to hear the details, I encourage the reader to tell me whatever they are thinking. And just as the critiquer should view someone else’s message without trying to inflict their own opinion on them, the person on the receiving end must learn how to decipher other people’s suggestions. Because not all suggestions should be taken to heart or implemented.

Journey to Freedom is the title of the short story I have concerns with. It was originally written for a project that involved several writers, so it has had the benefit of other eyes apart from my own, but I’m still not 100% happy with it. For starters, it’s long for a short story. It comes in at almost 6,800 words and I’d like to cut it back to around 5,000 words. I’m hoping the critiques will help me work out where I’ve rambled on a bit much. I think the pace is OK, but I’m uncertain if readers will get the message behind the story, so I’m interested to see what comments are made (if any) about the theme/premise. And, of course, I want to be certain there’s no plot holes. To me, the story makes perfect sense, but what will other readers/writers think, see, not see? I eagerly await their responses.