Recipe for a Short Story

I think I read something similar to this somewhere. I can’t remember where it’s from, or if these are just my condensed notes. It might have been something from Viable Paradise. I’m really not sure, but it might help you in a pinch.

Recipe for a Short Story


  • 2 – 3 characters
  • 1 – 2 settings


  1. Beginning – The protagonist wants something.
  2. Middle – Deny it to them.
  3. End – Give it (happy ending) or don’t (sad ending).

Optional Garnish: What the protagonist wants isn’t the same thing that the protagonist needs.
Additional Garnish: What the protagonist wants is in conflict with what the protagonist needs.

I still have a tough time writing short stories, but if I need to bang one out fast, this helps.

Alternately, sometimes it helps me to think of story length this way:
Flash Fiction – A digital short, like short Pixar film before a movie
Short Story – A single TV episode
A Novel – A movie or TV season

Obviously this is overly simplified, but it helps me figure out how long the story I’m writing will turn out to be.

Do you have any tips for getting a handle on length or do you just go by gut feel?

How to Listen

Listening is an active word. It is not the same as ‘hearing’. When you hear something, it doesn’t mean you’ve paid attention, only that sound waves have hit your eardrums.

In light of all the horrible things going on lately, I’ve been thinking about ‘listening’ and how hard it can be. Once, a long long time ago, I did counselling training with the crisis center (dealing with suicide prevention, teens going through troubles). I am by no means an expert, but the bits about listening have informed the rest of my life.

These tips may almost seem too obvious, but they take practice and self-control. Really these are tips on how to be a better person.

How to be a good listener

  • Let the people who are hurt speak. Do not cut them off. Do not try to explain why what they are feeling is wrong. Don’t interrupt them. Do not compare your own pain/troubles to theirs.
  • Do not offer advice. When someone is hurting, the first bit of healing comes with acknowledging all the pent up emotions. Sometimes it’s rage, anger, frustration, sadness… whatever it is, it needs to come out. Figuring out what to do next happens when everyone is calm and composed again, not in the heat of emotion.
  • Reserve judgement. This is not about you, but you can learn from what other people are saying. Sometimes the things they will say are uncomfortable, but fight that impulse to interrupt, or turn away. Listen first, then come to conclusions after you have more information, and preferably not when you’re feeling shocked, insulted, or offended. Strong negative first reactions are usually shields that our brains use to protect our ways of thinking. If something is uncomfortable it might mean that our view of the world is changing. It’s perfectly okay to not agree when all things are said and done. Strong negative first reactions also happen when we feel like we’re being accused of wrongdoing. It’s almost primal. It may not be the case. It may not be personal. Swallow that pride with a cool glass of water, and think on things when you’re calm.

Tips that are for 1:1 interactions (Probably not Twitter)

  • You can acknowledge or try to name the feeling the person is experiencing. This helps them feel understood. If you name the emotion wrong, or get the reason for the feeling wrong, the person you’re talking to will probably correct you. (In psychology terms this is called ‘reflection’. ) For example, “You’re feeling angry and frustrated, because of what happened yesterday.”
  • The person you’re talking to probably already knows what to do next. If this is a personal problem, somewhere deep down, this person probably knows what next steps to take. They might be in denial though. You can gently try and ask them what they think they should do next, and help them sort it out if they’re confused.*
  • If you can’t handle it, or you’re worried for someone’s safety, make sure someone gets professional help, or talk to someone who can help. There are free crisis hotlines in most areas. Maybe get the person to promise to talk to a counselor or a teacher, and follow up on them to make sure they do.

Actually, the bits about letting people feel the emotion, then naming that emotion verbally, then waiting for things to calm down before taking action is also a way of diffusing toddler tantrums (kid you not).**

Everyone wants to feel like their words matter, even toddlers.

I hope this is helpful for some of you. I need to remind myself of these things too. It’s not easy to listen well, which is why I think most people don’t.

*You want to avoid becoming a crutch every time this person has a problem. It’s more useful to help someone form the skills to deal with a problem, and realizing they can.
**If you’re in Canada (or maybe on the internet) you can look up the kids show ‘The Adventures of Napkin Man’. That there is the basic premise for every episode. Maybe it’s a bit idealistic, but it’s cool to see in action and in a way that kids can understand.

June 2016 Recap

Writing Days: 9

Books Read:

  • The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by by Renée Ahdieh
  • An Ember in the Ashes by by Sabaa Tahir
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

I have news of both the strange and happy sort.

Let’s start with the happy: I finished the first draft of my current novel (the fifth I’ve written, if you’re tracking) the second week of June. I can’t believe it came together in just eight weeks. That’s a speed record! This might be because I’d been dying to write but had zero time as a new parent, or because this book found my happy writing place, or because I’ve done this a few times and I’m a well oiled writing machine. The first draft comes in at roughly 68k words, and this is fine since I tend to write sparse first drafts. I’m aiming for around 80k.

In between then and now, I took a break to breathe in some books. July is for edits.

NOW for the strangely unexpected: I discovered a podcast of the first story of mine that was ever published. I did submit it to the podcast, but the posting was delayed so I never knew if it ended up online. It did! I think it was re-recorded a second time (oddness). If you’re in the mood for a listen to a Gothic horror story, you can find Nine Nights on Tales to Terrify no 146. Never mind the typo in my name please. Never mind that I’m about 2 years late to find out.

So tell me, how was your June?

Leveling Up

Saw this on Twitter the other week and it got me thinking about the writing process. I’ve always adjusted the way I’ve written to fit with my life, but somehow I’ve always believed that eventually I’d figure it out and find what works best for me. On the other hand, deep down I know I still have an endless number of things to learn. It’s a weird contrast of thoughts, and it’s jarring my brain.

The main point of the tweet is that sitting down to do the work doesn’t alone mean progressing in craft. Butt in chair, and finish what you start, are only the beginning. Even writing a million words don’t mean mastery unless you’re actively seeking it.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think that it’s fine to relax once you’ve reached a certain point?

Dream Big. Have Confidence.

I love love love, seeing this. What confidence! I especially love the parts that Butler wrote about paying it forward.

Sometimes we can get afraid of dreaming too big, or hoping for too much, because let’s face it, rejections are plentiful if you’re a writer, but on the flipside, if you don’t dare to have big dreams, how can you ever get there? Sometimes we need to convince ourselves that these kinds of things are possible.

What kind of writer would you want to be if you had some success? Right now I’m just all hopes and wishes, but I’ll dare to dream. It’s somewhere to start.

May Stats

Writing days: 20
Brainstorming / Research / Plotting : 2

So the baby sleep count didn’t work out this month because the kiddo’s habits keep changing, and I’m so tired I’ve actually slept through some of those night wakings by accident.

On the writing front, this was my first full month at this novel, and I’m really happy with how it’s gone. I’ve slowed down since I hit the halfway mark, and I think that’s partly fatigue. I’ve been steaming through until now, so 1k a day seems like a bad day, when it’s been my target for years. Maybe I’m just getting more impatient.

The slowdown usually happens around the mid-point for me, because I know just how much work there is left to do, and how much there will be to fix in the next draft. But don’t cry for me, because I expect this by now, and I know the only way past it is to keep going.

poc-destroy-sf ALSO in happy news, Lightspeed’s special double issue: POC Destroy Science Fiction is out! My story “The Peacekeeper” is a flash piece about a malfunctioning civil android unit trying to solve the problem of war. You’ll have to buy the issue to read my story, but some of the others are available on the website, so please do check those out. So far what I’ve seen is fantastic.

So, how was your May?

Limits and Fuzzy Edges

I pretty much agree with everything in Anthony’s post about The Positive Side of Limits. In short: certain types of limits can help fuel creativity.

For me, it’s true that if I’m not given any parameters it’s harder to create. I think that’s why I like themed anthology calls, even if I’m not really a short story writer. There’s a nugget of an idea to start with, and if you know the subject, then you also know where the soft edges of the idea are. The edges are what I like to play with if I can find them. That’s where you can bring something new to a genre or a trope. Also, anthology calls have a submission deadline, and well, if they didn’t I probably wouldn’t start typing.

I often create self-imposed limits just to have somewhere to start on a story. Sometimes they are time limits, or a certain sets of ideas (like the short story exercises we did ages ago here). More often than not, when you start deep diving into one idea, oceans open up around you. There’s always more to it than you think.

Word count limits can also be helpful. Seriously. When it comes to novels, having an idea about standard word counts, or the rough word counts of books I’ve read, helps me figure out where I am in the story I’m writing and if the pacing is right.

And of course, whenever someone imposes a limit like telling me I can’t do something because I’m not capable, or because of something dumb like I’m a girl, then you know what that means… That just gives me extra motivation to try.

Creative Ink Fest 2016 – Recap

No pressure.

Creative Ink Fest was the most relaxed conference I’ve ever been to. I’m not sure if it was just because I wasn’t on any panels, or because I knew a few people there. I think a large part of it was that we were all writers (or artists) so it felt like a gathering of peers.

This is the conference’s first official year, so it was quite small, but incredibly organized (thanks to real life wonder woman Sandra Wickham). No panels ran overtime and they pretty much ran themselves. Even if I wasn’t feeling particularly social there were plenty of panels to attend, so there was never any awkward standing around. I even got a little writing done during Ink Club time.

It was also nice to reconnect with local spec fic writers. I met a few new people, and recognized a few from VCon a couple years ago.

The idea is to keep growing this festival on the When Worlds Collide model. I’m looking forward to next year and being more involved when the kiddo isn’t as needy.  It’s nice to refuel the writing fires.

Now the downside: I’m still writing a first draft, but now I’ve thought up a dozen ways I need to edit it. I know that if I do I’ll go down that rabbit hole and never climb out. BAD Theresa. STOP.

Do you edit as you go, or not until you’re done?