Tag Archives: Short Story

How Many Beta Readers?

30 Aug

As I mentioned in my post about fantasy, I’m writing a short piece now for a contest. I’ve edited it based on feedback I got on that post (thank you to everyone who helped out!) and when I was happy with it, my husband read it. He had some good feedback about consistency and a change or two to make and I’ve edited again to a point where we’re both happy with it. My question is, where does this process end?

With such a short piece (500 words) I don’t want to edit the piece to death. With a longer work, I’ll ask multiple people to read it and let me know what they think. Different points will strike home with different people so having multiple beta readers is helpful. But with such a short piece, it’s hard to miss any plot element. I’m thinking of asking one more friend to read it before I submit the piece.

Are two beta readers enough for a 500-word story? What about 5,000 words? Or 50,000? Is there a point where you reach critical mass and more eyes don’t help anymore? Please tell me what you think, reader. I’m trying to find my perfect balance.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Submitting Again

19 Jan

I’m so excited to announce that I’ve started submitting to lit mags again! I finished up a short story last week and I’ve sent it out to three different literary magazines and I hope to send it to a few more. It’s been a year since I submitted my last piece which should be published very soon. (There will be a post when that happens, no worries!)

I’m excited about this piece. I’ve had a lot of people look at it and I’ve made a lot of changes since it was conceived and I think its message comes across now. It was a piece I wanted to say something with and I hope I’ve said it. I hope.

Anyway, get ready for more post about dealing with rejection! It’s that time for me again. I’ll keep submitting to new magazines when I have time. The more eyes that see it, the more likely I’ll get some solid feedback or that someone else will like it. I’m being hopeful, it probably needs another round of revisions.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

StorySlam!

3 Jan

Much like the poetry slam I went to a month or so ago, I went out on a limb and tried something new. This was somewhat similar and I’m calling it, for simplicity’s sake, a story slam. An organization called The Moth runs these events which take place in a few select cities around the country. I’m incredibly lucky to live close to two. A month in advance, the topics for each event are announced. The theme for this one was ‘home’ (they’re all about one word long). Anyone who wanted to participate could put their name in a bag and the MC drew a name. That person got five minutes to come up to the stage and tell their story. Going over six minutes affected your score and most people stuck to the time limit. When the first person finished, they drew the second name out of the bag. Ten people got to share their stories.

It was a lot like a poetry slam because of the strong emotions that the participants shared. It was a bit like stand-up comedy as well because there was one or two points in each story when we could all share a good laugh. It was a balance between acting, comedy, and a group therapy session that I can’t describe very well in words. (There’s audio on the site if you want to check it out. I was at the Ann Arbor event location.) The MC joked that clapping at the end was like giving the storyteller a big hug.

The judging was done by the audience in small groups who rated the participants from 1-10. Much like the poetry slam, the scores went up on average from the beginning to end which upset me only because I liked the first presenter. There was only one round so score inflation was just unfortunate for the first person. I think I was looking for different qualities in a story than the judges because I frequently disagreed with their scores. They seemed to like stories that pulled on their heartstrings or had a lot of feelings behind them. I liked stories that were well crafted with a solid beginning and ending despite the short length. I thought there were two in particular that were very poorly prepared. One of the presenters admitted that he’d decided that night on a whim to participate and I wish he hadn’t. I would have liked to hear some of the stories that weren’t told instead. The presenters who didn’t go were able to give a short summary of the stories we didn’t hear.

Nicole asked me if I would do it. I really don’t know. I’m not sure if I see the event as a fair evaluation of ones writing and that’s what I’d be most interested in. A caveat of the competition is that the stories much be true. I feel fortunate to say that there aren’t that many traumatic events in my life that would make people feel as deeply as the presenter who won made me feel. I also have a huge fear of being judged by people and there’s nothing worse than getting on a stage and saying “Well, my life is not that eventful but please affirm me by letting me win.”  Who would stay for the next person? No one. So I really don’t have anything to say. And if I do and even if it’s well written, if I can’t perform it then it’s a wash. My high school theater skills can only get me so far. At least in publishing you’re not always looking at the person reading your book. That would be a weird twist, wouldn’t it?

What about you, Reader? Have you heard of the Moth? What do you think of the premise? Would you perform and if you did, would you see the judgement as a reflection of the writing or the presentation? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time, write on.

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Book Review: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

19 Dec

This book is for my edge book club so look forward to a post about our meeting in early January. I think it will be an interesting discussion.

Cover image from Goodreads.com

Cover image from Goodreads.com

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I’ve never been much of one for science fiction, but our facilitator said she’d have me read a science fiction book by the time she was through with me and she succeeded. Well, I listened to it, but I think that counts still. Or, I hope it does.

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories that Bradbury wrote focusing on the human colonization of Mars. The book starts off with the four successive exploratory missions of human spacemen to Mars to see if the planet is fit to inhabit. Subsequent stories talk about human adjustment to life on the new planet from how they change it to be more like Earth, the relationship with those back on Earth, and interactions with the native Martians. In the end, another World War starts on Earth and everyone goes home, leaving a stranded few on Mars for the forseeable future as rocket technology is wiped out on Earth.

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would from the description. To me, Martians and aliens had a very 1970s feel and wasn’t something I was interested in. It goes to show how cutting edge Bradbury’s book is because it was published in 1950. (For the record, I’ve typed 1920 when trying to put a year every time. Can you tell what my favorite decade is?) This says to me that Bradbury inspired all the Twilight Zone reruns I watched as a child. Kudos to him.

I liked that the main character was the setting, Mars. It was the one thing that strung the stories together because characters changed in each one with only a few repeated. The long list of characters didn’t bother me because I approached the piece as a collection and not as a novel. This kind of answers a question I posted before about the difference between the two: It’s all about reader’s expectations for a level of consistency. I just finished another short story collection where the characters were consistent, but the setting and time were not. That didn’t bother me because I expected the setting to change.

There are a ton of popular cultures references in the stories that help make them relatable despite the futuristic setting. My favorite was the story “Usher II” which described a house built in the style of the House of Usher from Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” There were tons of Poe references in the story and I’m a fan of his work so I was laughing the whole time.

One of the themes that rang oh-so-true today was conservation of the Earth. The people of Earth were coming to Mars to get away from nuclear war and the over-population there. 60 years after it’s publication, humans are still looking for ways to avoid these problems. If, like Bradbury suggests, the atmosphere on Mars was breathable for humans, I think it’s likely we would start to colonize the planet. The ending idea is that humans hold the power to destroy our own civilization and that our advancements in technology also have the ability to cripple our technology and send it backwards in development. Wow. Bradbury was very far ahead of his time.

When he was writing this, the world was going through/recovering from World War II and the threat of nuclear annihiliation. I think Bradbury’s ending depicts the fears that people at the time had of a nuclear war. These fears continued through the Cold War era and I think are still relatable today with the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea.

Writer’s Takeaway: I love when authors are able to drive home a political point without hitting you over the head with it. Bradbury does a wonderful job. Many people write with a political agenda, but the most affective pieces are ones where the reader finds out slowly.

Enjoyable read even for someone who’s not in to science fiction. 4 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Post: Review The Martian Chronicles by Bibliophibian Inc.

Published Again!

13 Dec

I can say that for the second time, my work has appeared in print! I’m overly excited to say that my good friend and fellow Novel Girl, Nicole, has had a poem published alongside my story and I encourage you to check out Nicole’s poetry blog here on WordPress. If you’re interested in reading our stuff, it’s available in the Grey Wolfe Publishing Autumn Legends, available on-line.

I haven’t had the chance to read through this edition yet, but I see that it is shorter than the first. Shorter pieces? Fewer submissions? Fewer accepted pieces? I have no idea. I wish the pieces were arranged by some way other than alphabetically by title. Many are the outcomes of a writing prompt but are spread through the collection instead of grouped together.

I consciously decided not to send a piece in for the winter journal. It’s great to see my work in ink, but I want to see it in some other journals as well. I wrote a winter-themed sonnet a while ago and bit the bullet, sending it to my alma mater’s literary journal. I’d be very proud to be published there but I know it’s a long shot. The reading period started at the beginning of the month and I have no idea how long it will be until I hear back. If I hear back.

Reader, where are you trying to get your stuff published? Are you trying to be in a poetry book? Are you trying to publish your own book of poetry? What publication are you most proud of? Please leave a comment and let me know, I love hearing from you.

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Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Anticipation, Dialogue, and Short Stories

12 Dec

We had a novel girls meeting last Thursday and I’m just now getting around to talking about it. That should tell you how many book’s I’ve been reading and how busy the holidays have been. I forgot to take notes at the time, but there are a few things that stuck in my head and I remember well.

KK brought the next section of her WIP fantasy novel. I’m in love with her concept and was very excited to read it. Her story flashes between present day and an event that was set in motion exactly 100 years before that affects the present (yes, this is vague but I don’t want to give anything away before it becomes a best-seller). To me, there is a lot of tension to see what happens in the events 100 years before and how quickly (or slowly) they are developing because there is a deadline for something dramatic to happen. The reader starts knowing the date in modern times when the event occurs and counting the days down in the flashback would build anticipation for the dramatic turn of events. KK loved this idea and when she is done writing will be able to go back in and add dates.

This had me thinking about building tension in general. In many stories, there is a looming event; something the characters are preparing for or dreading. Sometimes the characters don’t see it coming but the reader does. In The Hunger Games (first book), it’s the games itself. In the over-arching series it’s the rebellion. For Harry Potter, we have a looming event of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire and we also have the series-wide event of the final battle with Voldemort. All of these events must be built toward, either within the book or within the series.

How do you build tension/anticipation in your works? What have you read that kept you waiting on the edge of your seat for a particular event?

We read another excerpt from my YA Historical Fiction novel. KK gave me some feedback that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside; she loved my dialogue. I see so many writers who struggle to write dialogue and it makes me feel great that someone found my writing not only believable, but good. I’ve included a sample of this below. This is a conversation between my protagonist, June, and her best friend, Marty.

“There’s a rumor that after the dance hall, you and Tony went out for drinks and you stumbled home with your arm slung over his shoulder.”

“After the dance hall, my feet hurt and I limped home with him supporting me.” She giggled.

“All right, another story is that you spend your time at the library plotting how you’ll get your revenge on Sarah Hamilton.”

“I spend our time at the library doing homework assignments and plotting with Tony how we can be a convincing couple.”

“Have you ever thought of getting back at Sarah?”

“Not particularly.”

“But don’t you hate her? Don’t you want to get even?”

June considered this for a second. “No. I’ve realized I wasn’t happy with Donny. I don’t think I was ever important to him.”

When I write dialogue, I say it all in my head and try to create it like it’s a film. I picture the characters and the space they’re in and then I have the conversation with myself. So, for the third line, it seemed natural to me that the filler ‘all right’ would be used. Marty would need a second to think about the next rumor he wanted to talk about. When Marty asks June if she hates Sarah, he starts the question with the word ‘but.’ I’m very well aware this is not proper grammar, but I’m going to argue very few of us speak with proper grammar. It’s what I would say. It’s what I picture my best guy-friend saying. It’s natural. Similarly, if I were June, I would take a second to respond to his question so I have June take a second to respond. For characters I don’t want to sound at all like me, I’ll think about what my co-worker or husband or friend might say. I’ve considered having someone read the dialogue aloud with me to see if it sounds the way I want it to.

The piece Nicole brought was a short story with two characters we’d already met in another short story. It made KK and I curious how the stories could connect and if it would be possible to make a complete story out of the character arcs. Since our fellow Novel Girl SG worked on a collection of related short stories for NaNo and I’m currently reading a collection of short stories (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury), this got me thinking about the difference between a collection and a novel. SGs work and my current book have stories that focus on different characters in each story but have an overall theme or setting. Other sets of short stories, such as Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and the ones Nicole is working on.

I want your opinion, Reader, on what makes a group of stories a collection? What is the necessary joining factor and how does this differentiate from a novel?

Unfortunately SG was unable to join us, but we did go to her place for a holiday part this past weekend. I mention it because we played a wonderful writers’ game. It’s called Storymatic and I think it would make a wonderful gift for any writer in one’s life. SG’s non-writing friends were not as enthused at first but started to realize how fun it could be by our second game. If anyone’s looking for Christmas present ideas for a fellow writer, check it out.

That’s all I’ve got for today, folks. Until next time, write on.

Published!

25 Sep

Get ready for the shameless plug because I’m published for the first time!

There’s a local independent publishing house that got suckered into publishing two of my short stories.  The journal is called Summer Legends and is available for $25 plus shipping.

I truthfully have mixed feelings about this publication.  One hand, my writing is in print and some people will pay money for it!  That’s incredible to me.  On the downside, I’m not sure how widely this journal will be circulated and what kind of appeal it will have; All the authors in it are unknowns, myself included.

I’m so excited that I was accepted, but I wonder what kind of criteria was used because there are some pieces that I feel were falling a bit short.  I wonder if this publication is something I would even want to include in a query letter because I don’t know if an agent would be impressed.

One of the nice features is that I didn’t have to pay to submit my work and received a complimentary copy of the journal.  On the down side, I wasn’t paid for my work.  I’m not particularly bothered by this because I don’t feel the pieces are the best reflection of my writing, but are still good enough that I’m not embarrassed for them to be in the public domain.  I have another short story that I’d like to publish but I’m hoping to get paid for it or at least have it distributed to a wider audience.

Okay, Reader, time to engage in a conversation.  What do you think about this publication?  Should I be proud?  Use it in a query? Look for more well-known journals in the future?  Have you ever submitted to a small journal before and what was the outcome?  Please leave a comment on any of these below and let me know your thoughts!