For the last year or so, I’ve narrowed my focus to short fiction, in an effort to improve my craft on a smaller scale. I feel like this has been tremendously helpful in many aspects, and it’s produced some short stories that I’ve been very pleased with.
The last couple stories have been somewhere between eight and ten thousand words, and typically broken up into multiple installments. This has allowed me to practice writing in scenes, where three or four scenes would make up the entirety of the story itself. I’ve found that this is an effective way to have a comprehensive arc that has a clearly defined beginning, middle and end – generally speaking. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the writing methods that are outlined in The Story Grid. I won’t go into all the details, since you can refer to Google if you want to learn more about that particular method. But in short, the author of The Story Grid puts tremendous emphasis on following the “Five Commandments” of storytelling, which require that any given unit of story (scene, sequence, act, and full manuscript) contain the following five key movements:
- Inciting Incident
- Progressive Complication
There’s a lot more to The Story Grid method, but these key movements are first and foremost when crafting your story. In the short fiction that I’ve produced over the past year, I’ve concentrated on following this and other advice discussed in The Story Grid, and I’ve found that it’s helped my writing tremendously. Since my last few pieces have been upwards of ten thousand words, and at least three or more scenes, it’s been a challenge to ensure that each unit of the story has these five elements, and that the story feels complete by the end of the piece.
In the same previous blog post, I also highlighted another writing resource that I had come across in my research, which is The Write Practice. This is a website and subscription-based writing community that has a plethora of free articles and advice on the craft of writing, while focusing on the importance of deliberate practice. In addition to the forum of fellow writers, the website hosts a seasonal writing contest every few months. For a small fee, writers can enter the contest and submit a short story based on a writing prompt that is tailored for each contest. Additionally, entrants receive limited-time access to their online writing community and are able to “workshop” their story prior to the submission deadline. This allows for writers to give feedback on each others stories and improve their drafts during the work-shopping period. When I first came across their website, the Winter 2017 contest had recently closed, so I wasn’t able to enter or submit a story. But nonetheless, the prompt for the contest inspired me to write the first short story in the Joe Fletcher series, entitled The Delivery Man. Needless to say, I kept my eyes and ears peeled for announcements of the next contest.
Alas, the Spring 2018 writing contest is now here and of course, I’ve entered the competition! However, the constraints of the contest are an entirely new world for me. First and foremost, the maximum length for the submission is only 1,500 words, which is approximately the length of one well-constructed scene. Secondly, the prompt for the competition was pulled straight from the pages of The Story Grid: write a story where your character faces a “Best Bad Choice,” where neither option is a good one.
I found it incredibly difficult to combine the prompt and all of the core elements into 1,500 words or less. Additionally, I decided to write my story in first-person perspective, with a female protagonist, which is something I had never done before. But after much deliberation, I landed on an idea that eventually took shape, and was able to craft a story which hits all of the Five Commandments on some level. At the time of writing this blog post, I am currently work-shopping my story in The Write Practice online community, but I also thought it would be a good idea to post my submission here to get additional feedback. An added bonus of the contest is that each and every story, whether or not it wins or places in the contest, will be published on the website of their affiliate literary magazine Short Fiction Break. For a period of three months after publication, the magazine requires exclusivity, so I will be taking my story down from this blog temporarily during that time.
So without further ado, I’m proud to present my short story contest submission – Third Shift. Be sure to give it a read and send me any feedback as soon as possible, as the story will be removed from the blog on April 9th.