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Category Archives: Short Story Collection

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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Making Your Short Stories Sparkle and Sell

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

If you want to lift your short stories above the mediocre there are many things you can do. One of these is to be original in your story and in your characters. Readers like something different in their plot and eccentric characters can be a big draw whether you are writing commercial or literary fiction.

Three of us commercial fiction authors – Rosemary McCracken, Madeleine Harris-Callway and Sharon A. Crawford – who write both crime novels and short stories will be discussing why and how we do it. We will cover how we get story ideas and how much is from real life and how much from imagination. A couple of us have series characters in some of our short stories and in our novels, so we will discuss how we deal with time lines. Is it difficult going back and forth from writing novels and short stories and what the heck is the difference in how you write each?

Then there is marketing your short stories. Each of us has unusual ways we market our books (both the short stories and the novels).

And this panel will not be just the three of us talking. We are open to lots of  q and a.We want to get a real conversation going on short story writing. Here are the details about this upcoming panel being held by the East End Writers’ Group Wednesday, June 29, 2016.

Making Your Short Stories Sparkle and Sell

Do short stories come from real life, imagination, or both? How do you market short stories? For June’s East End Writers’ Group meeting join fiction authors Rosemary McCracken (shortlisted for the 2014 Derringer Award), Madeleine Harris-Callway (finalist for 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel), and Sharon A. Crawford (author of the “Beyond” mystery series) for a discussion on writing and marketing short stories.  Copies of authors’ books available and there will be  networking and food at 9 p.m.

Time and Date: 7 p.m. to 9.30 p.m., Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Location: S. Walter Stewart library branch, 170 Memorial Park Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I am doing a guest blog post on Rosemary McCracken’s blog Moving Target about libraries and how they were and are important to me in my writing career, then seguing into this upcoming panel which is held at a library. There is a serendipity for me about this library branch. You’ll find this and more when my post is up on Monday, June 27 at Moving Target.

Meantime you can check out the panelists:

Rosemary McCracken http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/

Madeleine Harris-Callway http://mhcallway.com/

Sharon A. Crawford http://www.samcraw.com

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

That’s my short story collection – Beyond the Tripping Point – book cover at the top of this post. If you click on the book cover, it will take you to my author profile on amazon.com

 

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Turning winter weather into fiction

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

If you’re like me and hate winter with a passion, don’t just moan and groan about it. Write about it.

Not necessarily your hatred for the season itself. But set your story in winter. Take some of the weather highlights as white fodder for your stories. Follow news stories on the weather on TV or online from various media outlets. One of the best sources is The Weather Network. Both on TV and online, they feature stories in video and text (online) formats about some of the extremes in winter, as well as amusing incidents.

For example, this week, a motorist parked his car beside Lake Erie in south western Ontario. Then we got a flash freeze and snow. If you can’t imagine what happened (no the car didn’t fall into the lake, check out the story here). From that you can let your imagination run wild with story ideas. Maybe there is a dead body in the car – froze to death or murdered before and left there to die? Somebody in an emotional turmoil – failed relationship, terminal illness, etc. – decides to end it all. Somebody wants to save their body for posterity to come back in a later century and finds a unique way to “preserve” his or her body.  Or? Well, you get the picture.

The main idea is to take the actual story, not copy it, but use it for inspiration for your story. And be original.

You can also do the opposite of what is written. In my story “The Couch” from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012), I took a theme from many private eye stories – the PI who is having trouble making ends meet. (If you want a recent TV series on that one, watch the British series Case Histories). My story had a young, mid-20s PI who had just the opposite happening – too many clients. So my story took this dilemma and spun out a tale of how this PI tried to reduce the number of clients. It wasn’t that straightforward as the story has many twists and turns and a surprise ending.

And that’s all I will tell about “The Couch.” If you want to read it (warning, short plug coming here), you’ll have to read “Beyond the Tripping Point.” Click on the book cover below for one place it is available besides the usual Amazon (yes, it’s available there, too)

And use that blizzard keeping you indoors for time given to write your story.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Beyond the Tripping Point Cover 72dpi

 

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