Advice from Professional Writers (7)

**Alice Adams’s Pattern For Writing A Short Story

The ABDCE Pattern for Writing a Short Story

“The letters stand for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending.

  1. You begin with compelling Action to draw the reader in.
  2. The Background is where you … see and know who these people are, how they’ve come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story.
  3. Then you Develop these people so that we learn what they care most about. The plot – the drama, the actions, the tension – will grow out of that.
  4. You move them along until everything comes together in the Climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some fundamental way.
  5. And then there is the Ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean?”

**Alice Adams was an American novelist, short story writer, and university professor. She was born 14 August 1926 and died 27 May 1999.

She wrote 11 novels but is best known for her short stories, read in The Stories of Alice Adams.

Until Next Time,

~Mustang Patty~

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Write a Short Story

(These questions work for both Novels and Short Stories)

  1. Who are your Protagonist and Antagonist? Without these two characters, you will find it hard to get going because this is where your conflict comes from. And conflict is what we want to read about. Your Protagonist has a goal, and your Antagonist opposes that goal.
  • Can you tell your story in three lines? This is one of the best tests for your idea. Whether you call it a pitch slam or an elevator pitch, this forces you to consider your story. This is something you will rewrite several times, but try to write one before you start.
  • Have you figured out your inciting moment? This is the moment of change for your character. Remember, we don’t start with backstory or flashbacks, and you need to drop your character right in the middle of the action. Your character’s goal often comes from this moment.
  • Have you identified your first, second, and third surprises? About one third into your story, you should give your reader a surprise, then the middle should have a bigger surprise, and then near the end, you should have a big surprise or significant plot point.
  • Do you have your sub-plots in place? Besides the two main characters, you’ll have a friend character and a love interest. These characters will help you flesh out your plotline and the lives of your Protagonist, and they will provide your sub-plots.
  • How does the story end? I need to know where I am going. Some authors believe they shouldn’t know the ending, but I have to know. That doesn’t mean it can’t change.

You will be able to answer some of these with ease. Some you haven’t even considered. This list forces you to think about the whole story, and it is a starting point.

It is important to remember that you can change any of this as you go along, but it helps to get you going. It gives you direction, gives your Protagonist a goal, and enables you to find your Antagonist.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Advice from Professional Writers (6)

A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts with words of wisdom from different authors. I ‘collect’ these whenever I come across them. I will share these with you – (my readers) for October and November as I work on my outline for NaNoWriMo, as well as teaching my class, ‘Mustang Patty Teaches Writing.’ I hope you find them as valuable as I do.

I am continuing to use the information I culled from Jerry Jenkin’s* writing class. He wrote a compelling article about editing, and today I would like to share what he has to say about adjectives.

‘Alright, another one: don’t be an adjectival maniac. Trust me, only unpublished creative writing teachers and your relatives like adjectives. Good writing consists of powerful nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Let me repeat that: good writing consists of powerful nouns and verbs, not adjectives. The right adjective can help, but one too many is always too many. The great writer Sol Stein says this about adjectives: One plus one equals one half. Meaning that you should choose the best of two because using two cuts the effectiveness in half. Whenever you’re tempted to use two adjectives, pick the better one so you don’t cut your power in half. That doesn’t mean never use an adjective—just always use the best one.’ 

As I edit and work with other writers, I notice that a lot of us DO go crazy with adjectives. It is as if in our attempt to ‘show rather than tell,’ we feel we have to describe every little detail

Try to incorporate this tidbit into your writing.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

*Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, written for Tim LaHaye.

Born: September 23, 1949 (age 72), Kalamazoo, Michigan

Advice from Professional Writers (5)

A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts with words of wisdom from different authors. I ‘collect’ these whenever I come across them. I will share these with you – (my readers) for October and November as I work on my outline for NaNoWriMo, as well as teaching my class, ‘Mustang Patty Teaches Writing.’ I hope you find them as valuable as I do.

I am continuing to use the information I culled from Jerry Jenkin’s* writing class. One of his articles about editing is especially useful to me.

He goes into detail about his editing process as follows: ‘…I want to show you how I edit and rewrite my own first drafts. And then I’ll show you what would need to be done to the first page of a beginning novelist to get into shape to submit. The best way for you to benefit from this is to imagine how similar changes to your own writing will strengthen your manuscript. But first let me talk about the hallmark of this kind of self-editing and writing. And then I’ll run down a brief list of terms I use often so they won’t sound foreign to you when I use them in the trimming. 

Ok, the fundamentals to keep in mind as you self-edit are simple; in fact they’re so simple they’re going to sound redundant because they all lead to the same end. And here they are: 

Cutting is power, so tighten, tighten, tighten. And omit needless words. This is the rule that follows its own advice. Some of you will recognize, it comes right out of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, the bible of style. Imagine how much copy could be invested in explaining this rule. Yet, this rule says it all; omit needless words and you’ll be amazed at how many words are needless when we get into this editing and rewriting. 

Now, Francine Prose—how’s that for an author name—has a great quote in her book, Reading Like a Writer. Listen to this: For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous—what can be altered, revised, expanded or especially cut—is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form…clear, economical, sharp. That’s the essence of what I aim to do as a ferocious self-editor. 

Now let me quickly run through the most common terms I use in these manuscript repairand-rewrite sessions. So you’ll have a guide to refer to each time you study one. I know it’s a lot to take in, especially the first few times, but trust me—this does get easier. At first you’ll wonder, as I did when I edited like this as a young man, how will I possibly see all this in my own manuscripts? But eventually you will. If I can, you can. 

So here’s some of the terms I use. “Just say it”—avoid what I call the language of written-ese, that dialect we all tend to fall into when we over-write. A good example is church newsletter writers, when rather than just writing “Everybody had a good time,” they write “A good time was had by all.” Just say it. Showing off your vocabulary or your formal turn of phrase shows us you’re intruding on your story. Any time your reader is aware of you as the writer or aware of the writing itself, they’re not sucked into the story, which is what we want. 

Delete subtle redundancies. Anyone can spot the obvious redundancies, like past history—that’s the best kind of history, don’t you think? Or future plans? Of course, plans would be future. But the more subtle ones like “squinted his eyes,” what else would a person squint? Or “clapped his hands,” what else would he clap? “She nodded her head in agreement.” That’s a hat trick. Why would she nod her head if it wasn’t agreement? What else would she nod except her head? Not sure I want to know. 

Happy Writing!

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

*Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, written for Tim LaHaye.

Advice from Professional Writers (4)

A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts with words of wisdom from different authors. I ‘collect’ these whenever I come across them. I will share these with you – (my readers) for October and November as I work on my outline for NaNoWriMo, as well as teaching my class, ‘Mustang Patty Teaches Writing.’ I hope you find them as valuable as I do.

Jerry Jenkins*, author of the best selling ‘Left Behind’ series, gives us some advice from another great writer. ‘Dean Koontz**, the great author, says you have to plunge your main character into terrible trouble as soon as possible. Now that means something different for each genre. You may have your character hanging by his fingernails from a railroad trestle from the first sentence for a thriller or a suspense story. For a romance, the terrible trouble may mean that a woman has two suitors, and she’s trying to decide which one to go with. But still the terrible trouble has to start from the first word. There just isn’t time to ease into a story and do what editors refer to as throat clearing and setting the scene.’ 

I found this quote from Dean Koontz to be fascinating. It IS imperative to get to the point of your story quickly—especially in the short story. While it is nice to create the setting and ease into the storyline, your readers will lose interest if you take too long.

Jerry Jenkins teaches several classes through his website, and I’ve taken three or four. He is a great inspiration to other writers and me because he describes writing in great detail.

Happy Writing!

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

*Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, written for Tim LaHaye.

Born: September 23, 1949 (age 72), Kalamazoo, Michigan

**Dean Ray Koontz (pictured) is an American author. His novels are billed as suspense thrillers, but frequently incorporate elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and satire.

So, you’re ready to write something…

What are you writing? How long do you think it will be?

As the year is winding down, and with NaNoWriMo looming in the foreground,  many of us are starting new projects. One of the questions that come up, (well, at least for me,) is what are you writing? What kind of story? Are you attempting to write a novel, or perhaps you are completing an anthology of short stories?

Industry standards define writing by word count. I’ve listed the most common definitions I’ve found:

  1. The short-short story is around 1,000 to 1,500 words
  2. The short story is 2,000 to 5,000 words or longer
  3. The novella is 30,000 to 60,000 words
  4. The average novel is 80,000 words

Anything under 1000 words is considered flash fiction.

These are guidelines, and the length can be determined by the actual story itself.

Today’s blog deals with the short story, so let’s take a closer look at what it takes to write a great one.

Keep in mind; the short story is something that is much easier to manage than a full-length novel. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t need as much work – you still have to have substantial character development, a great plot, etc.

Here are some key points:

Every story has a MAIN inciting incident – in short, the something that happens either to your main character or by your main character.

Short stories usually have:

  • a single main character (the protagonist)
  • a simple plot structures
  • a clear beginning, middle, climax, and end

While there is typically no sub-plot, and any secondary characters are two-dimensional, the main character is well-developed. You need to make the reader CARE about what happens to this three-dimensional being.

Who the main character is at the beginning of the story should not be entirely the same person at the end. Something happens. Something changes. He or she gains insight or changes direction. The person grows or weakens because of a dramatic event.

The goal of the modern short story is to keep it fast-paced, with original striking descriptions or imagery, sparsely and cleverly applied.

Other than my daily warm-ups, I usually have some idea in mind when I start writing. I have to admit there are a few stories that developed into novels when I wasn’t paying attention – but I have a vast collection of short stories in my Dropbox files.

Keep writing!

until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Advice from Professional Writers (3)

Over the past four years or so, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice given from writers who have made their mark in the writing world.

Today, I’d like to share suggestions for self-editing. I know that not everyone can afford to take editing classes, but you can develop a routine to polish your work. Here is a framework to build on. (While these tips are written for polishing the novel, you can adapt them for writing the short story.)

12 Steps To Self-Editing

1. Read through

Print out your manuscript, make yourself a coffee, and grab a pencil. Read it from beginning to end as a dispassionate reader. If something glaring pops up, make the odd comment in the margin, but hold back from making detailed notes. The idea is to get an idea of the global story, the flow, and its feel.


2. Plotline

Now it’s time to interrogate the plot and determine if there’s enough conflict in the story. Look at each scene and sequel to see if you’ve unpacked the central story question posed by the inciting incident. As Sol Stein suggests, compare your most vital scene with your weakest scene. Decide if the weaker one can be recycled or rewritten.

3. Hero in the spotlight

Here we pick apart the main character. A good idea is to create a character to start from the character wheel – write a paragraph under the headings of his psychological, physical, and socio-economic make-up. Make sure that every decision or behavior he displays in the story is consistent with these trait.

4. Rattle the cage for the antagonist

The next step is to do the same for the antagonist. Make sure that he is positioned to bring out the most conflict from your main character. Nothing destroys a story like unfair odds between the hero and his nemesis. Make sure he is equally strong, if not a bit more wily than your main character. If you need to plug more into your plot, go back to step two.

5. Dust off your supporting cast

To a lesser degree, you will do the same for the other characters in the story. While they may not need the same magnifying glass, you should make sure they’re fulfilling their roles in a vivid, lively, and engaging way. A tip is to spend just 10-20 minutes on each, freewriting or brainstorming ideas to make them pop. Feed these into the story.

6. Infuse your palette

Now it’s time to look at the setting. Try to put in setting detail where it’s lacking or unclear and to cull places where you’ve been overly descriptive. Make sure you’ve used as many senses as possible to bring these to life. Take time out to research areas you’re unfamiliar with so that these parts of your book hum with authenticity.

7. Talk it out

If step six asks you to look at the manuscript with a fresh eye, this one demands you bring a keen ear. Read your dialogue aloud or record it and play it back to yourself. Does it sound realistic? It should give us information about the characters – it must tease out their individuality, their background and, at the same time, move the story forward. Read plays or movie scripts for inspiration.

8. It’s a sprint, not a marathon

Now you should look at pacing. Does your manuscript have enough white space? Try to keep sentences and paragraphs as short as possible –keep in mind that some genres allow for a more leisurely pace than, say, a thriller. If you’re getting bored reading a page, be sure your reader will be too. Be merciless. A tip is to cut every second or third word and see if the story can survive these cuts.

9. Beginnings, middles, and ends

Look at your first and last page side by side. If you can, try to bring in symbols, images, or moods that echo or contrast each other. Find a way to create bookends that will resonate with the reader subliminally.  Now go to the middle of the book – the hinge – and see if this section is a powerful enough mid-point to drive the story towards its climax. It should be a falsely high or low point for the main character and reaffirm his commitment to the story goal.

10. Become a continuity editor

Put the manuscript away for at least eight weeks, longer if you can manage it. Print out a fresh copy and look for consistency and clarity on every page, every line, in every word. Look for gremlins – a character’s eye color changing from one chapter to the next or someone encountering a tiger in Africa. An excellent way to do this is to imagine each chapter is a stage play – have you signposted your stage directions in a clear but unobtrusive way.

11. Polish it till it shines

Now – and only now, we might add – do you do a linear edit of the manuscript. You check spelling, you check grammar, you check that your formatting is consistent. It’s like dressing your book up for a red-carpet event – it needs to be flawless. A sloppy manuscript – no matter how promising – is often passed over for a mediocre story well-presented when it crosses an editor’s desk.

12. Find another eye

If you have an objective friend, freelance editors, or an online community of beta readers, give them the manuscript to read over and encourage constructive feedback. This is the time to put your ego on the backburner and be open-minded. Listen to what they say, take notes, and see if their points are valid.

After this, it’s time to make final checks and changes and prepare your manuscript for its final journey – to an agent, editor or print if you’re self-publishing.

Think of your book as your 18-year old kid going off to college or varsity. You’ve done the best you can, given them warm clothes and a stern lecture – maybe even a flurry of good luck kisses. Now it’s up to your book to stand on its own.

Advice from Professional Writers (2)

Over the past four years, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice from writers whose work impacts the writing world. Over the next few posts, I’d like to share these with you. While every rule or suggestion might not apply to you and your writing – you, like me, should discover some gems.

Here are some rules from one of my favorite writers:

Jodi Picoult is a best-selling American author who was born May 19, 1966.

She has written 25 novels, including My Sister’s KeeperNineteen Minutes, and Sing Me HomeMy Sister’s Keeper was made into a feature film of the same name. A Spark Of Light, published on October 2, 2018, was her tenth consecutive instant #1 New York Times bestseller. There are approximately 14 million copies of her books in print. They have been translated into 34 languages.

Picoult is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit, and the Sarah Josepha Hale Award. She holds an honorary doctor of letters degree from Dartmouth College and the University of New Haven.

In 2016, she joined the advisory board of Vida: Women in Literary Arts, which is a “non-profit feminist organization committed to creating transparency around the lack of gender parity in the literary landscape and to amplifying historically-marginalized voices, including people of color; writers with disabilities; and queer, trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.”

She was also a member of the inaugural Writers Council of the National Writing Project in 2013.

Jodi Picoult’s Top 3 Writing Tips

  1. Read a ton. Reading will inspire you. It will also help you find out where you belong as a writer.
  2. Write every day. Treat writing as a job. There is no such thing as waiting for the muse. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, take writing seriously.
  3. Do not stop in the middle of your first book. Finish it. No matter what. All writers go through this. It’s more of a fear of not being good enough that makes you stop. You think, ‘What if I’m not as good as I thought I was?’ Please do not allow it to stop you. If you don’t finish that first book, you’re making life difficult for yourself.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Advice from Professional Writers (1)

Over the past four years, I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of advice from writers whose work impacts the writing world. Over the next few posts, I’d like to share these with you. While every rule or suggestion might not apply to you and your writing – you, like me, should discover some gems.

(If you aren’t working on your grammar now, we will be getting to some easy lessons in grammar in July. And, please, do  not tell yourself that ‘the editor’ will correct all of your errors. A piece full of grammatical errors will never make it to the people who could possibly publish your work.)

Today’s BLOG deals with a writer who greatly influenced my writing career. He has created his ‘Ten Rules for Writing.’ I want to share them with you because we can all use inspiration from a well-known author.

Roddy Doyle is an Irish novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter who was born 8 May 1958. Several of his books have been made into films, including The Commitments in 1991.

He is perhaps the novelist most closely identified with the emergence of Ireland as a modern European nation. According to Britannica, he is “known for his unvarnished depiction of the working class in Ireland. Doyle’s distinctively Irish settings, style, mood, and phrasing made him a favorite fiction writer in his own country as well as overseas.”

He won the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke ha ha ha. His children’s book A Greyhound of a Girl was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2013.

Roddy Doyle’s 10 Rules for Writing

  1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
  • Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph –
  • Until you get to Page 50, then calm down and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.
  • Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
  • Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.
  • Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, e.g., “horse,” “ran,” “said.”
  • Do occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.
  • Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
  • Do not search for the book you haven’t written yet.

Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover bio – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.

Common Errors in Writing

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been blogging about the Parts of Speech, but I feel I need to change direction for a bit.

As submissions for my latest Anthology came in, and I read and evaluated stories, I found a lot of common errors – and so, I will be addressing those over the next few weeks.

Everybody wants to know the secret to success, and writers are no exception.

While there are a number of writers, who merely want to use writing as a vehicle to express their feelings, and then share them with friends and relatives – there isn’t a need to understand a lot of the basic concepts needed to submit work for professional publication.

Additionally, with the advent of self-publishing, many writers are slapping together shoddy work, putting into a novel, and calling it good. (After all, they are published – right?)

When I realized there were very few opportunities of being published by some big house, I realized that the only editor I would have was ME – or someone I paid. I then started taking classes on the editing process. It is amazing how much I now self-edit while I’m writing and I do my best to put my best work into a self-published novel.

Here are some tips to help writers turn out something that is polished and professional.

We often talk about all the things one must do in order to become a successful writer. From studying grammar to working through multiple revisions, from sending out submissions to building a platform, writers must wear many hats if they hope to succeed.

However, most of those tasks are irrelevant (and success is impossible) if a writer hasn’t acquired the basic skills necessary for doing the work. There’s no reason to worry about submissions, readers, and marketing if your writing habits and skills aren’t up to the task of getting the project done.

You might have a great premise for a story, but if you don’t know how to write a story—or if you don’t have the discipline to finish a story—you’ll never be able to bring that premise to life, at least not in a way that is effective or meaningful.

So it’s essential for young and new writers to develop beneficial writing practices to ensure not only that the writing gets done—but that it gets done well.

Essential Writing Practices

There are many writing practices that you can cultivate. Some will make you a better writer. Some will help you write more or write faster. It would be impossible to incorporate all of them into your writing habits, so you’ll need to choose which ones are best for you and your goals. However, some practices are more useful—and more essential—than others. Below are the writing practices that I have found to be most important for improving one’s writing and producing good work—the practices that are essential for all writers:

 Regular Reading

I’m always surprised by aspiring writers who don’t read. I mean, if you don’t read, then why would you want to be a writer? Reading is, in many ways, even more important than writing. It lays the groundwork for everything you’ll write. You’ll learn a tremendous amount of the craft from reading, and if you don’t read, it will show in your work, which will never move past a beginner’s level.

 Daily Writing

It should go without saying that if you want to be a writer, you need to do the writing. But many writers spend more time talking and thinking about writing than actually writing. Force yourself to do your writing, even when you don’t feel like it. Allow yourself to write badly and accept that sometimes you’ll write garbage. Even a short, twenty-minute writing session each day will keep your skills sharp and your writing muscles strong.

Study the Craft

You can learn a lot by reading and practicing your writing, but you can’t learn everything. There are aspects of the craft that you’ll only learn through more formal study. That doesn’t mean you have to run off to a university and take college courses, although doing so will certainly help.

You can learn the craft through local or online classes and workshops, by reading books and articles on the craft, and working with other writers (or an editor or writing coach). There is a lot to learn, and the sooner you start, the better.

 Revise and Polish Your Work

As you make your way through the writing world, you’ll hear this advice over and over: Writing is rewriting, or writing is revising. A lot of people have the misconception that we writers sit down, place our fingers on the keyboard, and the words magically flow out perfectly. That’s not how it works. The first few sentences or paragraphs are often a mess. The first draft is garbage. But with each revision, everything gets better. That’s how you produce polished work.

Get Feedback

Getting feedback can be emotionally challenging to young and new writers, who have a tendency to take it personally. Harsh criticism, no matter how constructive, can be a bruise to the ego. But you are not your writing. The criticism is not about you; it’s about your work. And without feedback, it’s almost impossible to get an objective view of your skills and the work you’re producing. Separate yourself from your writing. Take the feedback seriously and be appreciative, because it will help you become a better writer. Apply it to your work.

I’m posting this blog entry because I felt awful when I had to tell someone that their work wasn’t up to par and couldn’t be included in my Anthology. Most of these folks were self-published, and they thought their work was awesome.

They had wonderful ideas – but they didn’t have the writing skills to bring their idea to life.

Until tomorrow,

~Mustang Patty~

%d bloggers like this: