A couple of months ago, after revamping my blog to mimic a website, I started to seriously look at including samples of my writing. I researched what the experts in the Blogosphere thought about putting unpublished fiction up on a blog or website and ended up being even more confused than when I started. Seems there’s a lot of opinion on both sides of the coin and the "Don’t Do It" camp suggested that any fiction on a blog or website was actually considered published!
Well, I certainly didn’t want to have something on my blog that if, at a later time, I decided to submit would be rejected for the simple fact that it was already ‘published’. But I also felt it was necessary (in my opinion) that I did have some examples of my writing. So I came up with Friday Fiction – a day dedicated to showcasing my work.
After a few short stories, I decided to try my hand at a serialized story. This would give me focus for my Friday Fiction and I would be able to explore an idea that I didn’t think would be ‘publishable’. Something I could experiment with and not worry about the conventions that sometimes limit an unpublished author. Mickey Spencer, AC was born.
Who knew that I would learn so much about writing just from that little experiment!
1. Chapter Hooks – I write the story in short instalments so as not to have my readers groan at the length of fiction they have to read (see ‘chunk writing’ below). And I’ve learned to always end with a hook! A hook will get your readers coming back. Just like in novels when that chapter ending leaves you desperate to find out what happens and you will forgo turning off the light and going to bed, even though it’s way past your bedtime and you’re going to be a bear tomorrow when that alarm goes off. Now you don’t want to do this with every chapter ending, and you can’t have every chapter end with a murder – but think about ‘chapter hooks’ the next time you pick up your manuscript. Would a reader dog-ear the page, turn out the light and go to bed? Or would she dive into the next chapter in order to satisfy her curiosity?
2. Chunk Writing – as mentioned above, I want to keep my instalments relatively short. This has proved to be very beneficial for me as well. I don’t fret at that blank computer screen (mostly) because I know I only have to write between 650 and 800 words. I know how long it takes me, so I don’t worry about the other things to do on my "To Do" list. And I can do it in one sitting, keeping everything about the scene fresh in my mind for the next instalment. And because I end on a hook, I’m constantly thinking about how the next instalment will play out making the task of getting back to the manuscript one of eager anticipation instead of dread.
3. Go for the unusual – Really, all of these lessons-learned tie into one another. As I do chunk writing and leave the reader with a hook, the comments have proved invaluable for showing that a writer should always try to go for something different, something unexpected. What I think will happen next is usually what my readers are thinking, too. So, I like to change it up. No one wants predictable in a story. So when you end in a hook, ask yourself what is the strangest thing that could happen next. You don’t have to go there – just like you don’t have to end every chapter in a hook – but you should be willing to take your reader somewhere new and exciting.
4. Writing produces words, which produce a story – Yes, even ‘chunk writing’. Since I started my little experiment I’ve produced almost 10,000 words (at around 700 words per sitting). This is every week – if I had been doing this daily, I would now be sitting at 10,000 words in 14 days (2 weeks). In 112 days (16 weeks or 4 months) I would have written an 80,000-word draft, 700 words at a time*. We’ve talked many times before, here on The Prairies, that you can’t edit a story you don’t have written. So, write those words, create a story!
5. Keep a character sheet – Mickey Spencer, AC is a bit of a ‘Who Dunnit?’ I need to keep track of the characters that I’ve created. The client who believes her husband is cheating on her. The husband who seems like a nice guy. The homeless guy who gets free meals at the husband’s bar. The mystery woman who has been seen with the husband. The heroine. The heroine’s grandfather. The busybody, who appeared out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago and was a delight to write. See – lots of characters and I need to keep track of who they are, their relationship to everyone else, their jobs, their hours of employment…I’ve never kept a character sheet before, I won’t make that mistake again.
6. Make crib notes – Like the character sheet, the crib notes are helping me discover the mystery that is unfolding before my eyes. I’m using a plain notebook, the kind with 3 subjects. The first section is dedicated to the characters (each character has a page). The second section, my crib notes. I write a new page for every instalment and I make sure I write down the gist of the scene, any relevant dialogue, any red herrings I’ve planted (don’t want to have to go looking for them at a later date), and my scene headings (which I do as crossword puzzles). And I use a highlighter – so anything that comes up that I think might be relevant later on gets highlighted. The third section is strictly for when the computer isn’t working for me and I have to sharpen the pencil and do some longhand writing.
7. Voice – We all know I have struggled with my voice – what is it, where do I find it, how can I cultivate it! This writing has given me the freedom to explore and I’m actually finding and expanding my voice. Just having the freedom to write a story has allowed my natural voice to shine through. And as I continue with Friday Fiction, my brain has started to question what I’m writing for publication and suggesting other possible genres that would be better suited. Of course, a lot of that self-discovery has also come through blogging – but fiction wise, I have found my voice (and I like it).
8. Let it sit – Putting something up on a blog where people are reading it right away has taught me the value of letting your writing sit. If I were writing this story without ‘publishing’ it on my blog, I would have many opportunities to change my direction after letting the section sit and steep. For example – this last instalment ended with Mickey being hauled out of her car (chapter hook). She is obviously surprised, but I forgot that I had a perfect set up for her to use the Mace she bought in a previous instalment (and wasn’t that a fun shopping trip?). Had I not ‘published’ this instalment, I could go back in and edit so that Mickey maced whoever was hauling her out of her car.
Oh, well – at least I learned the lesson.
*I take no responsibility for the math figured in this blog post – I’m a writer, not a mathematician!
So, People of Blogland, any lessons you’d like to share with us today?