by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2019
“Now!” is a powerful statement. Immediacy is what brings fiction to life on the page and in the mind of the reader. You don’t have to write in the present tense, but you do have to keep the writing stripped down, streamlined, and precise.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received about strong plotting came from Weird Tales then-editor Darrell Schweitzer. He stressed the importance of asking, “Why now?” Why is the problem situation the main character faces happening at that time and in that place?
In Maeve, John Fenton has car trouble on a lonely road in the Irish countryside and takes shelter in a pub before a big storm hits. Only by being in that particular pub on the right kind of stormy night does John have the opportunity to meet the local legend known as Maeve.
In The Family Spirit, it’s Christmas Eve and Ben is meeting Janice’s family for the first time. He has no idea just how many of the family he’s going to meet, and what kind of distance some of those distant relatives have traveled to be there.
Knowing the answer to “Why now?” will get your story off to a much stronger start!
by Lillian Csernica on February 21, 2017
Opportunity cost. Cost/benefit analysis. Return on investment.
I remember these terms from my Economics and Accounting classes. Little did I know I would one day be applying them to which writing projects I chose to pursue.
So far, the Flower Maiden Saga has inspired me to write three consecutive novels. The farther I go in editing and polishing Book One for the big agent pitch, the more of the causes and consequences of the main storyline I see. The core plots for Books Four and Five have already presented themselves.
This is wonderful. I’m excited about all of it. The thing is, my first love is writing short stories. Reading short stories in Asimov’s and Weird Tales and my English Lit. classes made me want to become a writer. The first time I walked into a bookstore and picked up a copy of The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI and saw my name on the table of contents right there with Ramsey Campbell and Ed Gorman, I very nearly exploded with happiness.
Short stories are great, but novels are where the money is. I’ve heard that many times. Novels take a while to write and a while to polish and package for publication. Not so with short stories. Short stories will get your name out there and keep it out there.
These are the five main perils of writing short fiction:
- Why waste a good idea on a short story? These days it’s all about writing novels. Give the readers what they want, over and over again. Build that brand. Make more money. Fine. If that’s what you want, go for it. Bear in mind there is much to be said for the art and craft of the short story. Hemingway’s “The Killers” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” remain vivid in my mind thirty-five years after I read them in high school.
- Short stories are often just one shots. That one shot might be brilliant, but then you have to go write another story. Is that one brilliant story continuing to earn royalties or selling well as a Kindle Single? I visit various writers’ groups online, and I find the emphasis on money to be disheartening. Short stories can be built into a novel. One of my favorite fantasy novels, A Bait of Dreams by Jo Clayton, started out as three short stories that appeared in Asimov’s.
- It can be difficult to pack a complex story idea into a limited word count. On the other hand, doing so can result in a stronger story. When I wrote “Fallen Idol,” my first short story sale, I got so caught up in all the research and characters and how-to books’ advice I thought I could rise to the challenge of writing a real novel. Fortunately, I had an attack of reality. All the research and ideas imploded, resulting in a much stronger short story.
- Unless you’re selling to the top professional markets, short fiction doesn’t pay much. If you’re sending out enough stories to generate an acceptable amount of sales, way to go! That’s not easy to do, even for the Big Names. I will say that anthologies that pay up front then give you a cut of the royalties can provide some worthwhile income.
- Here’s the Peril that cuts to the heart of what it means to be a writer. Are you going to write about what you want to write about, or are you going to write what you think will sell to the markets where you want your work to appear? The Digital Age has opened up a whole lot of markets. They may not pay much. They may not pay at all. Still, you can get your words out there. Targeting a particular market is a perfectly reasonable career strategy. My first sale to Weird Tales was another day for joyful explosion.
It comes down to those basic questions we all ask our main characters:
What do you want?
How badly do you want it?
What are you willing to give up in order to get it?
When you’ve answered these three questions, you will be on your way to navigating through the perilous process of telling the stories only you can tell.
Filed under editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, Lillian Csernica, perspective, publication, research, romance, science fiction, tall ships, Writing
by Lillian Csernica on February 26, 2017
Thanks to the wonderful folks at Digital Fiction Publishing, my ghost story The Family Spirit is back in print. This story originally appeared in Weird Tales. If you know what it’s like to endure the company of the really strange members of your family during the holidays, then you will feel for Ben Harper as he meets his girlfriend’s family for the first time. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Ben sat in the armchair, rattling the ice in his scotch. Five of Janice’s weird relatives sat around him, smiling and watching him like they were waiting for him to do his trick. It was Christmas Eve. His folks were on the far side of the country, busy with his sister’s latest crisis. That left him without any real plans, so he’d accepted Janice’s invitation to spend the holiday with her family. Now he wondered which was worse, the silent tension of old grudges between people he knew and supposedly loved, or the crawling anxiety of finding himself trapped with a boring version of the Addams Family.
Of all the short stories I’ve written, this is one of my three favorites. I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Enjoy!