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Category Archives: Short Story Collection

Writing fiction from reality

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4Sometimes writing fiction from reality can make a stronger story. And I am not referring to the “reality” of so-called reality TV shows. I’m talking about your personal experiences.

There is a catch, though. You are writing fiction so you need to change charactes’ names. You might also want to change places and timelines. One of the most important points is that because this is fiction, you can change what happens – in fact you can use what happened in your life as the seed for your story and go from there.

One of the short stories, Porcelain Doll, in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) is taken from a regular occurrence in my childhood – but a pleasant one. So I did a “what if?”

My late father worked for many years as a timekeeper for one of the railway companies. Mom and I had free travel passes on that railway line and the competing railway. That was how we travelled to visit Mom’s relatives and to other places each summer.

So, I took that travel and the approximate time and created a “What if?”

What if the dad was a bully?( My Dad wasn’t.) and the mom was a doormat scared of him? (My Mom wasn’t.) What if the dad also bullied the daughter? (My dad didn’t – he used to call me his princess.)

So, I extracted a few facts from real life – a family of three who annually visited a grandfather on a farm, the mom knitting, the dad obsessed with the train service, and what the train ride was like at that time (early to mid-1960s), and the daughter’s obsession with reading Agatha Christie mysteries and dolls. Here the resemblance gets more than murky.

What never happened on a train in real life (at least not on any trips I took), occurred here – from playing poker for money, a prize doll (hence the story’s title), murder, disappearances, the aforementioned bullying – and the aftermaths. Story is told going back and forth between the present (1989) and the past to move the plot along to a startling conclusion.

With this use of my past I could get the feeling of being there on a train ride in the late 50s and early 60s including some little known facts such as the trains actually had a separate coach for smokers and you couldn’t smoke in any other coach, a somewhat novel idea in the days before smoking and non-smoking regulations across the board. My dad smoked back then. There was also the train route and where you would have to change trains – although I kept it to the same route I changed the location where the grandfather lived. So, I had feelings and remembrances of these train rides.

What I didn’t have was how the little girl in Porcelain Doll would react and act to what happened. That was pure fiction and that is where I had to get inside Sarah’s head. And…

No, I’m not telling you anymore. This is an example to give you an idea how you can do it. If you are stuck for a story idea. I think Porcelain Doll is a stronger story because of my past experience. Certainly others who have read it have said so.

If you want to read Porcelain Doll and the 12 other stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, you can click on the book icon at the top to get more information about the book.

What personal experiences have you had that could be turned into fiction – with a lot of well, fiction in them?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Same old same old to twisted plots

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4If I saw one more TV mystery where the cops found the dead body in the trunk, I was going to do more than scream. And I did. I wrote “The Body in the Trunk” (from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012). Instead of a body being found in the trunk the story deals with getting a body into a trunk and the why behind it. I also, as I often do with these stories, wrote it as a satire, in the noir black vein.

At one point I was also getting bored with reading mystery novels where the main character, a private investigator seemed to be continually broke. So, in “The Couch” I created a young (mid-20s)  private investigator who has too many clients. The story, also a satire noir black, deals with how the PI tries to downsize the clients – first using standard legit means, and when that doesn’t work, turning to crime. The payback is unexpected. “The Couch” was first published in an anthology, before being published in Beyond the Tripping Point.

So if you hit writer’s block on creating a new plot – take a twist on an old one, but one that is overused to the point of boredom.

And let your creativity loose.

You never know what will surface. It is just criminal. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that).

Cheers.

Sharon

And as usual, click on the book icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books.

 

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Writing fiction from anger

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection. Click on it for publisher's website

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection.

Do you get angry at the crap that happens in your life? Some stupid motorist running a red light nearly hitting you when you cross the street? You or a family member keep getting sick or suffer a serious injury? You get a lot of “junk” phone calls and/or emails? Some utility has messed up your bill? Your garbage isn’t being picked up but all your neighbours’ garbage is? And customer service for the latter two is rude and unhelpful. You get the picture. You feel a swirl of emotions and often anger is at the core. Maybe you even want to kill the person causing the problem – or making it worse.

Don’t do that.Instead  write about it. I don’t mean a play-by-play of your situation – but fictionalize it. One way to do this that can work very well is writing a noir satirical short story.

I do that all the time. Many of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point are based on something bad that happened to me or someone else or something that really makes me see red, purple, and blue. Examples from BTTP include The Couch, For the Love of Wills, and No Breaks.

Currently I am writing a short story about something I have been (and still am) inundated with – telemarketers. Usually I ignore them or pick up the phone, get sarcastic and tell them off, then bang the phone down. But many of these telemarketing calls are also scams and are computer-generated, so you get a recording – which if you don’t pick up the phone will actually go to your voice mail.

So, I’m writing about telemarketers and two women’s revenge of one telemarketing company. But as I write mysteries, it is not that straight-forward. The characters are not me or anyone in particular in my life. However, I have used one tactic that I did in No Breaks – two female friends, but not the same two friends. And I make it humorous, quirky and yes sarcastic. Does the telemarketer get just desserts? I’m not telling – that will come out whenever the story gets published.

To get started on that you need to develop your quirky characters. One or both are victims of the problem and one is usually not so smart or sophisticated as the other. It works better to tell your story from the point of view of the victim who isn’t as savvy as the other one. And you need a villain or two – and if writing a mystery you need some red herring type of villains. Depending on your story you might need a police officer. In my telemarketing story I do have a police detective Larry Hutchinson, who made his first appearance in “For the Love of Wills” in Beyond the Tripping Point.

You also have to develop a plot – based on your characters and their situation.

As regular readers of this blog know from previous posts, I am a seat-of-your-pants plotter. I take my characters, my idea, figure out a few plot developments and then run with it. I let the characters (particularly the POV one) take over, along with what happened to me in real life – which is also in my mind.

I also keep focusing on how much fun I am having with the bad guys getting their come-uppance.

Of course, the plot isn’t that straightforward – like real life it gets messy and goes on tangents. But in the end if the baddies get their come-uppance, that is good. Because in real life that often doesn’t happen.

As an old boyfriend once said, “Life is not fair.”

That’s why we have fiction – to at least right some of these wrongs.

And as usual,if you click on the book cover at the top of this post, you can link to more info about it and Beyond Blood.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Finding gold in partly written short stories

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection. Click on it for publisher's website

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection.

One of my 2017 writing goals is to write more mystery short stories and submit them to contests and magazines for possible publication. As I’m registered to attend Bouchercon 2017 (in Toronto, Canada in October), I decided to enter their short story contest for possible publication in their short story book for the event.

I checked my files of unfinished short stories. The one I was thinking of needs too much work to make the January 31, 2017 deadline. Not a problem, I thought. A check through my other short-stories-in-the-works unearthed one that has been written and rewritten many times and shows a lot of promise. Of course it needs more rewriting, but there is time for that. Only one problem – the theme for the Bouchercon 2017 short story contest is travel and my story doesn’t even cover travel, unless you count travelling across a parking lot and inside a commercial building.

However, I am not one to give up – just change course if necessary. I decided to scrap the Bouchercon contest –  after all, I should be able to arrange to have my two published (so far) Beyond books there to be sold and I will be doing a lot of learning and networking there. So, I decided to focus on this one story and also did a big Internet search of possible markets. I have had short stories published in anthologies and also my first Beyond book – Beyond the Tripping Point – is a collection of 13 of my mystery short stories, five of them published first elsewhere and eight new. And who knoews? If I get going on writing and rewriting short stories, there may be another collection down the road. I already have on story published before that is not in Beyond the Tripping Point.

My point here is if you are stymied about what to write for a short story, don’t go crazy trying to think of  new plot with new characters. Check out stories you have already started. You might just find a gold mine there.

And as usual, if you click on the book cover at the top it connects you to more information about my books.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Writing the right story beginning

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

If you have ever started to read a novel and became bored by the end of paragraph one, it might not be that the story is dull. There is a good chance that what you are reading isn’t really the story’s beginning.

One story beginning, particularly with novels, that has me yawning is the big character background story. Or the big travelogue of a city or a town. As my old journalist and creative writing instructor would say, “So what?”

You can start with character or setting or both together. The trick is to bring in something about your story. Something that will grab your reader. You need a good lead (or “lede” as it is sometimes spelled), as we old journalists call it.

I was a freelance journalist for 35 years and writing a good lead for my articles was very important. Otherwise it was impossible to write the rest of the story. The lead lets the reader know something about what the story is going to cover and teases them in to read all the details.

So when I write fiction or edit other authors’ fiction, I always pay attention to the lead. Sometimes the lead is hidden a few pages later or even a few chapters later. One author’s novel’s actual lead was a chapter near the middle. She needed to pull out that chapter and a few after it and bring them to the front. And then do some rewriting.

Rewriting, of course, is always necessary when writing fiction and ho-hum leads can be fixed then.

Off the top of my head here is an example of a bad story beginning.It is made up and not from any client’s fiction or any of mine.

Ellen was born in 1960 in the town of Crystal, the third in a family of four siblings. Her mother was an Osborne before her marriage to James Clark. She was a shy child who didn’t say much in school but she always got good grades. Her mother was also quiet and her father spoke in a loud boisterous voice. Ellen’s two older siblings, Daniel and Robert, teased her. Her younger sibling, Gail got on better with her brothers.

And on and on ad nauseum.

Do we really care about Ellen and her family?

Let’s see what we can do with that beginning – if we want to get some family background in and make it relevant to the story. If we want to make the reader care about Ellen and her family and read on. Something like this:.

Ellen Clark had always been shy and withdrawn. Until now. If her older brothers, Danny and Robbie, could see her now, they would be sorry they spent her childhood teasing her. They would be proud of her for what she just did for them, for her, and for the rest of the family. Especially Gail. Poor Gail. Best friends with Danny and Robbie had not helped Gail.

Ellen smiled as she looked down at her feet and what lay there.

Or something like that. Hey, I write mystery fiction. Anyway, let’s compare the two story beginnings. We still have Ellen, her shyness, her two brothers and the fact that they teased her and her sister Gail hanging out with the two brothers. We don’t mention Ellen’s birthday year or the town,  or her parents names or their main traits. That can come later. We have woven in a few things to tease the reader in. What did Ellen do just now? How did she go from being shy and withdraw to taking some kind of action. And what about Gail or the parents? What is lying at Ellen’s feet? Or should that be “who”?

This is the type of lead to draw in the reader. Even if you are not writing a mystery, a story needs some suspense, which could  very well be about the relationships in that Clark family. Or it could be something else – whatever your imagination conjures up.

I’ll end with the beginning of one of the short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point as it does have some family background woven into it. And I’ve used another technique to start the story and then pushed into the family background.

“The police can’t find her, Ms. Bowman,” Robin Morgrave says.

Rosemary Morgrave has gone missing and I’m putting on a brave smile for her twin brother. Robin sat on the other side of the desk in The Attic Agency’s third floor office. Only my twin brother, Bast, nodding, stops me from losing it. Ever since David, my seven-year-old son, was abducted last August, I’ve been living in Panicville.Sure, we got him back, but how much of him returned? He follows  Bast around like an investigator-in-training. His brown eyes stare right through my soul.I wish he’d just say how he feels. But since his return, David hasn’t opened his mouth except ti swallow liquids and food. He doesn’t even cry. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, published  by Blue Denim Press, 2012).

You can pick it apart and try to guess what will happen in the story. Or you can read it. If you click on the BTTP icon at the top of this post, it takes you to my Amazon profile as well as to information about Beyond the Tripping Point and the novel (with the same three characters) Beyond Blood.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

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Using fictional characters’ inner thoughts for character development

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

We’ve all read fiction where the characters come across as superficial. I’m not referring to their traits (and superficiality may well be one of them). Instead, I’m referring to characters that don’t evoke a strong reaction from the reader, characters that  don’t connect in some way to the reader, characters that leave the reader thinking “Who cares?”. Chances are fiction with characters that the reader can’t seem to get into means that the writer doesn’t really know their characters. The writer didn’t get inside each haracter s’ head.

Getting inside your protagonist’s or antagonist’s head is key to understanding them and bringing them to life to your readers. Here’s a short excerpt from my novel Beyond Blood to illustrate this.

Chapter Twelve:

David:

He had woken up to cold and darkness. Beechnut. Where was Beechnut? He was lying on his back and tried to sit up but his arms were stuck in front of him and his feet were stuck together. Shadows seemed to come at him.

“Mom … mee,” David said. “Mom … mee. Where are you? Mom … mee, I’m scared.”

No answer. Where was he? Where were Mommy and Uncle Bast? Where was Debbie? They’d been reading Alice in Wonderland. Then he had gotten hungry and run downstairs to the kitchen with Debbie after him. It was a game they always played. When he’d heard a noise in the basement he’d run down there and seen one of Mommy’s friends playing the game, so he’d chased after … and then … he couldn’t remember. His head hurt and he felt a little sick. He tried to move his hands again, but couldn’t. They were still stuck together.

Where was he? His toes hurt. His teeth hurt and he was so cold.

“Mom … mee. Mom … mee.” Now he was yelling.

A door burst open and something thudded in.

Oh no, a monster. Coming after him.

“Mom … mee. Mom … mee. I’m scared.”

He heard a click and a bright light blinded his eyes.

“Pipe down,” a voice shouted at him from above, or was it beside him?

“Who are you? I want my mommy. I want Beechnut.”

Instead he felt something heavy and sticky cover his mouth. The bright light clicked off and footsteps receded to the doorway, and then he heard a door slam.

In darkness and alone, David began to cry, his sobs muffled by the tape over his mouth.(From Beyond Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press,2014).

It is probably obvious that David has been kidnapped and that he is a small child (he is six). Here the reader finds out how David feels about this from first discovering he is not at home and his Mommy is not around. The reader can feel for David, can feel his fear and despair.

Of course not all characters get kidnapped. Some fall in love; some are con artists, etc. The writer needs to convey all this to the reader and getting inside the character’s head is one way to do this.

There are other ways to develop characters. I will be teaching a workshop on Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction next Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the S. Walter Stewart library branch in Toronto, Canada. If you are in the area and want to attend, it is free. The library prefers you to register first (call 416-396-3975) , but you can just show up at 6.30 p.m. Workshop runs to 8 p.m. Here are the details about it.

Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learn how to show, not tell, to develop credible characters and make their dialogue sing. Uses excerpts from Beyond the Tripping Point and Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford to illustrate. Writing exercises and some writing critique.

Facebook Event

Location:
S. Walter Stewart Library Branch (auditorium)
170 Memorial Park Ave.
(Coxwell Ave. and Mortimer Ave. area)
Toronto, Ontario

Time:
6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

And if you are interested in reading more about developing characters but can’t make the workshop (for obvious reasons such as you live in another part of the world), you can click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top and that will take you to my publisher’s website where you can see my profile and where my books are available online and elsewhere. I didn’t do the usual link to Amazon because they have the incorrect price for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. It is not $94.36. I have contacted Amazon about this error so hopefully it will be corrected shortly.

It would be nice to get that much from a book, but who will buy it at that price? Somebody with big fingers on little keys maybe entered the amount?

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Insights on Author presentations and readings

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Last evening’s East End Writers’ Group presentation on Making Your Short Stories Sparkle and Sell drew a full house of authors and readers (some are both) at the S.Walter Stewart Library Branch in Toronto, Canada. Rosemary McCracken, Madeline Harris-Callway and I got everyone involved in why and how we write and that included lots of questions from the audience. We had a real dialogue of sharing information and stories on writing fiction and getting it published.

And then Rosemary reminded us all that we should each read from one of our books. I had forgotten all about reading as I was so engrossed in the conversations we were all having.

Just as well Rosemary got the reading ball rolling. Because afterwards, a fellow in the audience who is also a writer came up to me and said that he likes to hear authors read. He compared it to musicians performing and said that what else can authors do to preform except read.

I was surprised. Because it has been my experience that too much author reading can make the audience yawn with boredom.

His words made me rethink the whole presentation situation. Perhaps we should have more reading time. Perhaps we should do more author readings. There are a lot of those in pubs, cafes, and yes library branches in Toronto. I’ve done some of those readings myself and also with other authors.

I think the boredom factor might have something to do with how the author reads. If they read in a quiet inside voice, if they read with no expression, if they are not animated as they read, if they don’t have inserts about their stories and writing them between reading excerpts, maybe they lose some connection with the audience.

The purpose of authors reading (besides hopefully selling some book copies) is to engage the audience, to bring the audience into their stories, to live with their characters for a time, to take the audience out of their own lives and into someone else’s, and to just listen and love the words, their flow, and the story being told.

Wise words from someone in the audience.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

And as usual, if you click on the book cover at the top it takes you to my amazon profile and my two Beyond books.

Sharon A. Crawford reads from her Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford reads from her Beyond series

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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