Short Stories Can Help Your Novel

 

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Short stories are not as great as novels. No question. Writers who produce great books rarely produce great short stories. The only exceptions to this rule I’ve found are Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, and H.P. Lovecraft. I’m sure there are a few others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write short stories. Because it’s difficult to write a good one, writing short stories helps you grow as a writer. That’s not the only benefit.

There are many ways short stories can make your novel better. The short stories you write before attempting a novel make you better at writing beginnings and endings. The short stories you write while writing your novel can be used on a short story blog to show samples of your writing and promote your novel. Short stories that are related to your novel have several uses I’ll describe below.

Short Stories as Writing Practice

Read any book or article on how to become a novelist and you will be told to start by writing short stories. The first thing you will notice is that it takes a long time to write just a few thousand words. Writing short stories gives you some time to learn to write faster before attempting a 100,000 word book.

Another advantage of writing short stories is that you will get practice at writing beginnings and endings. A good opening will hook readers into reading more. A good ending will leave them wanting more. The best place to fail on each is in short stories. Master opening hooks and satisfying endings with short stories and you’ve done a lot for your future manuscript writing efforts.

There are other skills you could use practice with too. Writing dialog, description, and narrative are all different challenges. Find a reader who’s willing to review your writing and tell you what they did and didn’t like. You’ll also want to practice editing. After re-writes, the best way to improve your writing is editing. That means cutting what isn’t necessary. It can mean adding, re-writing, and re-arranging too, but cutting is what will give your stories the biggest boost. The rule is: Cut big, then small.

Short Stories as Fiction Samples

Share your short stories by selling them to magazines or post them on a blog. There are several sites that offer free blogs as long as you don’t advertise anything except your own books. I use wordpress.com. Blogger is also popular.

When you put your work out there where people can read it, some are going to be looking for your books.

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Crime Writing in America – Legal Issues

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Earlier, I posted the article Crime Writing in Canada with plans to quickly follow it with “Crime Writing in America”. Sorry for the hold up. I haven’t had good luck finding special legal issues for crime writing published in America.

America has more freedom than Canada because of the first amendment right to freedom of speech. I could find no laws against publishing “crime comics”, stories where the theme is crime, or the suggestion that all criminals be either dead or in prison by the end of the story. That makes stories published in America more realistic.

Publish in America and your main character can be a successful criminal in a story centered around crime with the main characters still alive and free at the end. Sure. You’re free to have all that in your novel, but would you want to? Would you buy a second novel from an author who wrote something like that?

Common sense is as good a censor as the law. We all like to see characters suffer for bad behavior and prosper for doing good. But enough about how lawless of a story you might want to write. What about the laws that apply everywhere, even with freedom of speech?

Hate Literature

Laws against hate literature are nearly universal. I think this is mainly a non-fiction issue. Nobody wants to waste their money on hate literature.

You may have a group in a work of fiction that hates another group because of race, gender, religion, or some other politically incorrect category. As long as they’re the antagonists and are going to get what’s coming to them in the end, that shouldn’t be a problem. If they’re the heroes of the story, you’re heading into trouble and your problems go deeper than just your story.

The remaining issues apply to every kind of writing. They’re all to do with people and corporations protecting their intellectual property and their image.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work word for word without giving them credit. It depends a lot on how much you copy. If every sentence was subject to copyright, you couldn’t say “It was a hot summer’s day” because somebody has written that in a story already. Probably hundreds of someones.

Plagiarism applies if you copy an entire article or story or substantial parts of one. But what if you wanted to use “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen” as the first line in a chapter as a way to suggest you’re writing about a dystopia like George Orwell’s “1984”? It’s not a substantial portion of the novel, but the line is so distinctive it may qualify as a trademark of sorts. That’s the next issue.

Trademark Infringement

If you decide to put a Starbucks Auto Repair in your novel, you’ll be committing trademark infringement. The name “Starbucks” is an established trademark and, if your book is successful enough for them to notice, you can be sued. But maybe your book will be a flop and everything will be okay.

Trademark Dilution

If your characters like to meet at a Starbucks instead of a Starbucks coffee house, you’ll be committing trademark dilution. I see this in a lot of published novels, so I’m guessing companies aren’t too worried about this issue. The reason trademark dilution is a problem is that the Starbucks corporation wouldn’t want Starbucks to become the generic name for all coffee houses. It doesn’t seem like that could happen, but Kleenex facial tissues would disagree.

When you have a runny nose, you need a facial tissue. Kleenex is one brand among many. At one time “Kleenex” was used in place of “facial tissue” no matter what the brand of facial tissue. That was brand dilution and Kleenex facial tissue had to sue writers who used their brand name as the generic name. Now nobody in a novel uses a Kleenex unless it’s a Kleenex facial tissue.

How do you decide what to use? You don’t want to always need to say “Starbucks coffee house” and “Kleenex facial tissue”. That can be clunky looking. You could make up your own brands or just use the generic names. There’s nothing wrong with characters stopping at a coffee house or wiping their eyes with a tissue. You can also get permission to use company names. I suspect that’s why we see characters stopping at Starbucks and other trademarked companies without the generic name following. Some trademarks are distinctive enough to be safe from dilution.

Libel

Anything negative you say about a product, company, or person can be libelous. This is a problem in non-fiction because the book is your opinion.

In fiction, it’s not a problem that a character says libelous things. It’s the opinion of a fictional character. It may be a problem if the narrator says libelous things, but the narrator isn’t necessarily the author. Narrators can be fictitious too.

Is that every American law on writing and publishing?

It might be. If it isn’t, at least it’s a start on things to look out for in your writing. I think most of us writing novels have little to worry about, but there are those few look-outs.

Article by Ivan Izo.

Choosing Your Future Novel

Choosing Your Future Novel

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A novel takes a long time to write, possibly years. You want to be sure you have enough story. There are steps you can take to better your chances. Let’s get started.

First, work on developing the central characters and places. It’s better to have too much story behind each than not enough. You don’t need to use every idea, but it’s good to have lots of ideas.

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Multiple First Person and the Evil You

Multiple First Person and the Evil You

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Multiple first person is one of the most difficult points of view you can use in a novel. You keep saying “I” and that makes you think of yourself as the same person while you write both first person stories. They can sound like the same person to your readers too. That’s not good. The first problem is that the first person narrator should not be you when you write fiction. After getting around that problem, you need a way to make sure that your two first person narrators are different variations of not you.

Let’s start with a bit about who the first person narrator really is.

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Crime Writing in Canada – Legal Issues

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There are Canadian laws that make it tough to publish a crime novel in Canada. I’m not a lawyer, but any time I hear of a law that affects what I’m allowed to write or publish, I make a note of it. This is what I’ve learned so far.

Crime Comics

In Canada, it’s illegal to publish a “crime comic”, which is defined as “any magazine, periodical or book which exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially the commission of crimes, real or fictitious” (Section 207 of the Canadian Criminal Code). Many kinds of novels include at least one crime. The key word here is pictorially. If there are no pictures, there’s no problem.

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How to Hook Your Readers with Cliffhangers and Story Tension

How to Hook Your Readers with Cliffhangers and Story Tension

You want your readers to love your book so much they can’t put it down. How do you keep them hooked? A combination of cliffhangers and story tension will do the trick.

Cliffhangers are questions that will be resolved in a later chapter, usually the next one. The last line of the previous paragraph was a cliffhanger. You have heard of cliffhangers before, but what is this “story tension” idea? You had to keep reading. You already know that cliffhangers are a normal part of any writing. There is a coherent idea or story that will naturally flow from one paragraph to the next. The end of a chapter is the end of a scene. By implying a continuation, you encourage your readers to move on to the next chapter right away. There are several ways to do this, but first a quick look at story tension.

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Preliminary Documents for Planning a Novel

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Some experienced writers say you shouldn’t have any plan for your novel except the one in your head. This is called seat-of-your-pants writing. “Pantsers” come up with a story idea, sit down, and write until it’s done. If you begin your manuscript writing life with this method, you’ll have several book attempts that fall short on length. With practice, you will learn to imagine a book-length story and the method will work.

If you want your first book to be full length, you need a plan. What are the documents you need to prepare before writing your book?

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How To Use Pulp Fiction Methods For Quality Writing

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We all know pulp fiction is dead. The magazines have dwindled down to a handful and there are no new ones starting up. How dead is pulp fiction?

Pulp fiction books are alive and well in the action genre and any other genre that allows you to write an action packed story. They are better written now. Book publishers pay more than magazine editors. Thorough revision is the norm now, but there are still pulp fiction elements driving the stories forward.

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Prolific Revision – An Alternate Caidin Method

Prolific Revision – An Alternate Caidin Method

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In my first article about imitating the prolific writer Martin Caidin, Prolific Writing Using Caidin Methods, I made the assumption that Caidin did no revision at all. He said the way he wrote books was to sit down and write them in one draft and that’s what he sent to publishers.

The Caidin Methods article encouraged you to practice his method with articles and short fiction by writing several versions without looking at previous versions when writing the next one. Eventually you would develop the ability to write a good article or short story in one draft. I still believe that is a great writing exercise. But, I also see another way to write in one draft and have no revisions; prolific revision.

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