Short Story Contest

Here is a contest some of you writers out there might want to chance. It’s run by Owl Canyon Press. There isn’t any cost to enter. The stories must be in English. The catch is to use only 50 paragraphs total and each paragraph must have at least 40 words. There isn’t a maximum word count. Owl Canyon Press also provides the first sentence and the 25th sentence. Interested? Go to http://www.owlcanyonpress.com to enter and further instructions.

Let’s see how clever and wise you are.

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Mystery Writers Info

I found out about the NW chapter of the Mystery Writers of America while I was at the PNWA writing conference. For those who are writing mysteries and thrillers, this a great bunch of people that have organized meetings for mystery writers. You can join on Facebook without any fees. I went to their meeting last night. They had Criminal Judge Sean O’Donnell as a guest speaker and I was glad I went after hearing him speak. He was a prosecutor during the Green River Task Force. The killer was Gary Ridgeway that murdered many young girls, especially street walkers, by choking them, then raping them after they died. During one of his killing sprees, Gary had his sleeping eight year old son in the car! When one of the detectives asked Gary what would he have done if his child had woken? He answered, “Well, I couldn’t have any witnesses, so I’d kill him.”  Ridgeway also posed his victims after death. He did this because he didn’t want rigor mortis to set in, so he could defile and have sexual acts with the bodies. He was one sick-o!

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Anyway, for those writing crime mysteries, Mr. O’Donnell said in King County of Seattle, the prosecutor and ME come with the homicide detectives on a case. The Coitus program for DNA kits didn’t exist in the 70’s & 80’s. One detective made Gary Ridgeway chew on a piece of gauze to get a sample of his saliva. They saved it all those years until those tests were available and linked him to some of the murder victims. Smart!

Plot Elements

I attended the PNWA conference and one of the speakers was Cherry Adair. She talked about plot. For a good plot it must have these elements: story goal, scene goal, and black moment. A story also needs these 7 things:

  • a succession of significant events with consequences
  • things characters do, feel, think, and say
  • a way of looking and doing things
  • deciding what’s important and showing it to be important
  • showing what matters to your main character
  • one or more characters have something vital at stake
  • something happens

Cherry also suggested not to bog down the opening with details and descriptions, but open with a bang. In other words, start novel with first crisis. There must be some kind of struggle for your main character for the reader to care. The first quarter of the book is the buildup. The middle is the emotional journey and always in trouble. The last act ties up everything. Give characters choices. The main character must grow in some way by the end of the novel. Each scene must have a motivation, goal, and conflict. The higher the stakes the longer the scene.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the point of the scene?
  • What does the reader need to know?
  • What does your main character have to find out?
  • What backstory do you want inserted?
  • What is the time and place?

Emotion, thought, decision, action moves the plot. Define the character’s needs and create obstacles.

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Filtered

Are you trying to make your writing stronger, but don’t know how? Here are some tips. Get rid of all those filtered words and make your character’s POV come alive for the reader. These words include:

  • decided
  • entered
  • noticed
  • looked
  • felt
  • heard
  • saw
  • started to
  • smelled

I know I’ve used these words myself. Every writer knows the rule, don’t tell but show, but for novice writers it may be hard to figure out. Use your five senses and the reader can visualize your story. Drop all the adverbs and use stronger verbs. For example instead of Mary looked up at the stars, try The blue glow of the stars illuminated the moon. Instead of impatiently waited, try I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Get the picture?

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Guidelines of a Critique Group

Are you wanting to join a critique group or start one of your own? Here are some guidelines established by the PNWA. The goal of the author is to improve your story. The author must be open to change their characters, story, changing the direction of their plot, and even the emotional arc. A critique group is not a means to hear praise. Although every writer longs to be loved and appreciated for their writing, we must be open to hear how to improve and make our stories better.

Before you begin, establish the size of your critique group. Three to six is an ideal amount. It gives everyone a chance to read their piece and time for the others to critique.

Establish a time to meet. Once a week is best, but at least once a month. Also determine which day of the week and the time.

An ideal critique group is a mixture of gender and a variety of genres. Diversity is the key. You want many view points.

Bring only one copy of the scene or chapter you want to share. The author reads it out loud to the others. This stops the others from reading ahead and correcting grammar issues. You want them to pay attention to your story and give genuine criticism. Don’t defend yourself or characters. Listen to what the group has to say about improvement. You don’t have to agree, but write down their suggestions.

As the listener, you should take notes. Always start with something positive to say about the reader’s work. Otherwise, all the author will remember is negativity.

Good luck.

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Determine Your Dramatic Elements

Ask yourself, why do you want to write this story? What is your passion? What theme do you want your readers to take away from your story? What is the premise of your story? Describe it on one sentence using the what-if formula. What if a flawed protagonist encountered a problem and had to overcome the flaw to solve the problem?  Whatwoman-hand-desk-office.jpgis one flaw that prevents your protagonist from solving his or her problem? Later, you can give other flaws to your character, but the main flaw is what you will structure your story on.

The Dreaded Comma

I don’t know about you, but I find the comma a mystery in itself. Everyone is good at something. Those that are great at grammar, may still have issues with the dreaded comma. Where does it go? How do I know I placed it in the right spot. Here is a simple guide.

  • Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by a conjunction such as and, but, for, so, and yet.
  • Use commas after introductory clauses, phrases, and words that come before the main clause.
  • Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that aren’t essential to the meaning of a sentence. Use one comma at the beginning of a pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.
  • Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases, and clauses written in a series.
  • Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun.

The comma is a valuable punctuation device, because it separates the structural elements of sentences into manageable segments, and it gives the reader time to take a breath when reading a long sentence.pexels-photo-920377.jpeg