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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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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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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Research Sites

A good part of writing is research.  The internet is a good source, but isn’t always reliable. Researchers know to follow up internet resources. Look in their bibliography where they got their information and the listing of books. If a writer writes a non-fiction book, they usually have to provide a proposal that entails a bibliography as proof of information. Here are a few research sites:

loc.gov    Library of Congress chronicles American newspaper collections, catalog of manuscript collections, American Memory collections, and digital images of America’s past.

http://www.hti.umich.edu/m/moagrp    This is a digital library of the 19th century which includes 10,000 books and 50,000 journal articles.

http://www.castlegarden.org    NY Castle Garden is the immigration center with a database of 11 million immigrants from 1820-1892 when Ellis Island opened.

http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss    Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System- this site includes background on the social, economic, political, and military aspects of the Civil War.

http://www.usgs.gov/pubprod    This is the US Geological site that has 57 printable maps for ancestral places.

http://www.archives.gov/     This is the National Archives & Records Admin. site. It contains useful information from genealogy to White House tapings.

http://www.newspaperabstracts.com    This site hosts pages of abstracts and extracts from historical newspapers.

Many states have their own library systems for history but an invaluable portal to the world’s non-virtual library is the WorldCat with more than 1.5 billion items in libraries around the world.   Look it up @ worldcat.org.

There are numerous genealogy sites that are also helpful for research.old-letters-1082299_640