Why Are Short Stories So Hard to Write?

Let’s talk about short story writing! On the one hand, short stories are simpler than novels because – as the name implies – they are short. On the other hand, the target is a lot smaller which means the margin for error is a lot bigger.

I’ve compiled a few of the things that I think make short stories a specific breed of difficult, and also a few notes on my personal process for writing them. Obviously, everyone’s creative process is different, but I’ve discovered that it’s actually harder to find solid resources on short story writing, opposed to long-form stories like a novel.

At the end of the day, short stories are a challenge because they don’t always (or in my experience, ever) fit the traditional three-act structure. That might sound crazy coming from someone who talks about story structure a lot, but it’s true. Depending on how short your story is, it’s probably not going to have a clearly defined first, second, and third act – at least not in the same capacity that a novel about the same topic, character or situation would. On the flipside, examining your short story through the lens of the three-act structure can be beneficial as well.

P.S. – You can find me on iTunes. If you like Plotboilers, it’d make my day if you rated and reviewed the show there!

Music: Twine by Podington Bear © Chad Crouch

Book Recommendation of Happily by Chauncey Rogers (And I Narrated the Audiobook!)

Happily by Chauncey RogersToday, I’m discussing Happily by Chauncey Rogers – a brand new YA retelling of the classic fairytale, Cinderella.  I know what you’re thinking: Why would I want to read a book if I already what happens? Well, I can promise you don’t know what’s going to happen in this one. I’ve actually had the pleasure of reading Happily about five times. Why? Because Chauncey asked me to perform the audiobook of Happily and the opportunity was too good to pass up.

While I’d love to talk about how much fun it is to narrate (and how my neighbors probably think I talk to myself a lot), what I’m really excited to talk about is how Happily’s protagonist got me thinking about females in YA literature. Spoiler alert: More often than not, they fail to fit the glass slipper of my critical expectations. Happily, on the other hand, gives readers a little bit more to think about than most fairytales – so let’s dive in!

Happily is available now on Amazon, and I will let you know when the audiobook is released!

If you like what you’ve heard on Plotboilers, drop me a rating and review on iTunes! Seriously, it means the world to get your feedback, plus it helps other people find the show.

A Wrinkle In Time Book Review

A Wrinkle In Time Book ReviewIt’s Plotboilers’ tenth episode! In honor of my longstanding “don’t see the movie before you’ve read the book” tradition, I’m taking a look at A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s a short book, but there’s a lot to talk about so I’m going to cover characters, body image, and how the story depicts religion. Most importantly, I’m here to prove it’s never too late to finish your fourth-grade reading list.

How to Create Book Reviews People Want to Read

Creating a good book review isn’t easy.  I know, I know – it all boils down to personal opinion, right? Well, kind of. The way I see it, book reviews are a balancing act between personal feelings and critical feedback. In one of my recent podcast episodes, I recommend Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Clothing of Books” but hesitated to call it a review.The reason is simple: I just gave my opinion; I didn’t offer any critical feedback about her work. As far as I can tell, that’s the biggest difference between a recommendation and a review.

I did the same thing in my 2017 Halloween episode but under different circumstances. In that situation, I had a list of books I enjoyed but didn’t spend very much time talking about them. With less real estate in the episode for each story, I didn’t have the space to analyze them critically. Hence, recommendations.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of my process, I want to clarify something: People don’t just read book reviews. They also watch and listen to them. Mine, for instance, are in the form of a podcast. That’s because I love podcasts and enjoy absorbing book reviews (and books) by listening to them. When I use the word “read,” I’m talking about principles that apply to blogs, videos, and podcasts alike. Additionally, I’ve made a handy-dandy infographic with the points outlined in this blog. Check it out and feel free to use it as a guide for your own reviews in the future! Continue reading “How to Create Book Reviews People Want to Read”

Pet Sematary Review & Static vs Dynamic Characters

Pet Sematary Book ReviewToday, I’m making up for lost time with a longer-than-usual book review and writing discussion! First up, I’m talking about Pet Sematary by Stephen King. Most of the time, I read King because I want something that’s just straight-up entertaining. In retrospect, this book actually touched on some more discussion-worthy themes than the other novels I’ve read by him. Specifically, modern traditions surrounding death and how the circumstances surrounding death can make it more – or less – horrifying. But mostly more.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about static and dynamic characters and how you can use them in your writings. It’s an interesting topic because, in my experience, static characters kind of have a reputation for being boring – but they don’t have to be! On the other hand, dynamic characters open a whole world of possibilities for internal conflict in your character. All that to say, when it comes to choosing which character type best fits your story, pick wisely.

If you’ve listened before or if this is your first encounter with Plotboilers, you can always find me on iTunes. And if you like the show, go ahead and leave me a rating and review!

Books mentioned in this Episode:

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

The Stand by Stephen King

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

It by Stephen King

 

January Update!

Ah, January. It felt like such a long month and yet, it wasn’t quite long enough for me to get my second episode published. I know, I know. Here’s my excuse: I was on vacation. Typically, I read a lot when I travel. This time, I expected to spend my Norwegian getaway in a cabin covered with a blanket of snow, sipping coffee and wine, reading the next few books I want to review for you all.

In reality, I did sip wine in a cabin. And the snow was magical. However, I didn’t get around to reading the aforementioned books. Sad face! All that to say, I’m putting off today’s episode until early next month to avoid recording lame content about books I’m not as excited to review while in a jet-lagged stupor. Until then, feel free to check out some of my older episodes and blog posts! You can find them here or on iTunes.

PS – If you recently rated Plotboilers on iTunes or left a review or did both of those things – Thank you a million times over!  

The Handmaid’s Tale Review and the Importance of Reaction Scenes

The Handmaid's Tale Book ReviewIn today’s episode, I’m reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book is not only one of Atwood’s most acclaimed novels, but the basis for the American television show by the same name. If you know anything about Margaret Atwood, you know she has a flair for dark, gritty, and utterly captivating dystopian and speculative fiction with a political or feminist slant. Sound intriguing? It is. But in order to get her ideas across effectively, it’s important to have good characters and story structure as well – and that’s exactly what I wanted to explore when I picked up this book.

Additionally, I’m taking a few minutes to talk about the importance of action and reaction scenes in novels. If you’ve ever read a book or watched a show and came away thinking “Wow, I don’t care about those people at all,” it’s possible the story failed to find its action/reaction stride. This not only applies to the individual scenes in your book (how they flow and push the story forward), but it also relates to the relationship between your book’s first and second half.

Books mentioned in this episode:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

PS – I also mention “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” but I’m talking about the movie, not the French comic book “Empire of a Thousand Planets.”

Into the Water Book Review & Plotting vs. Pantsing

Into the Water Book Review In today’s episode, I’m reviewing Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. You probably know Hawkins from her breakout novel, The Girl on the Train. But what you might not know is TGOTT isn’t actually her first book. It’s hard to not compare TGOTT with Into the Water, but I’ve done my best. On the other hand, there are some interesting comparisons and similarities between the books I found worth discussing.

For today’s “Writing Life” bit, I’m going over plotting and pantsing. If you don’t know what those are, the difference is pretty simple: Plotters outline their novels before they write; pantsers start with an idea and discover the story as they put it on the page. In reality, most people fall somewhere between these two extremes. (If you plotted every detail before you wrote, you’d technically already have a first draft – you know?) However, understanding which process is best for your next WIP is super important.

P.S. – This episode probably should have been titled “The Miracle” because, after recording it, my computer decided to completely stop workingCringe. I’m pretty sure it’s on its way out, but I was able to recover the episode audio file (and 20,000+ words of a work in progress – Whew). Just in case any of you are even remotely part of the IT industry, I’m not going to say how I got it working again – for the sake of my pride and your sanity. All that to say, if I’m a little late getting my next episode up, it means Black Friday didn’t go my way and I still don’t have a new computer. Life is full of adventures, isn’t it?

Books mentioned in this episode:

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Structuring Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel Workbook – K.M. Weiland

Story – Robert McKee

 

Halloween Book Recommendations and How to Be a Better Beta Reader

Halloween Book Recommendations and How to Be a Better Beta Reader

In today’s episode, I have five spooky and binge-worthy books for you to read this week, along with a few pointers on how to be a better beta reader.

First up: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. This was the first book I read by King, and it’s one of my favorites to this day. It’s pretty terrifying, but the final act will have you turning pages so fast you’ll get paper cuts.

My second recommendation is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. If you like paranormal anything, this one is for you. And since it’s on the shorter side, it doesn’t waste any time with scenes that aren’t going to have you jumping at your own shadow for a few days.

If you’re easily spooked, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James might be a better option. Originally published in 1898, this book is beautifully atmospheric. It also had me talking about it for weeks – so find a reading buddy to help you figure out what was actually going on in the story.

I’ve also included Unreal City by A. R. Meyering on my list. This book isn’t exactly a horror novel, but it is pretty creepy. What surprised me the most about it is the author’s ability to create startlingly intense dream sequences (they aren’t exactly dream sequences, per se, but you’ll understand what I mean when you read the book). If you’re into discovering lesser-known authors who pack a pretty good punch with their storytelling, check this one out.

Finally, I’m putting Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero on the list. I’m actually in the middle of reading it, but it shows promise so far, especially if you grew up loving mysteries as a kid. It’s not a kids book by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a playful, sarcastic tone that gives it youthful energy.

Introducing Plotboilers Podcast: Retrograde Book Review and Balancing Your Day Job with Writing

Retrograde by Peter Cawdron Book ReviewI’ve started a podcast to complement the content I post on my blog. Yay! The goal of Plotboilers is to share tips and tricks on writing, but also share cool books and ideas I come across in the writing community. On the podcast, you’ll find book reviews, book recommendations and tidbits on what it’s like to be a writer with a day job.

In my first episode, I’m reviewing Retrograde by Peter Cawdron. This book is sci-fi novel set in the first colony on Mars. I started reading it because Audible kindly recommended it to me the day it was published – but after a little digging, it looks like it was independently published in September 2016 under the title “Mars Endeavour.” I’m guessing it got picked up by a publisher after that and was reintroduced when I found it last month. Either way, the cover for the new version is way cooler so you should read that one.

In addition to the book review, I’m going over some of the ways I like to balance my “writing life” with the rest of my life (work, family, etc).

I’m planning to introduce episodes on a monthly basis, with the exception of October, which will have two episodes. I hope you all enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed making them!

P.S. – Forgive the sound quality on Episode One. Would you be impressed if I said I recorded it on my phone? I couldn’t wait for my sweet new recording gear to get here – but rest assured, future posts will be spick and span!