The amount of writing books is overwhelming. I stuck to the classics, the one’ recommended again and again. The first one I read was “Creating Short Fiction”. It discuses all the elements of a short story. The most useful part is a breakdown of one of Knight’s stories; line-by-line notes of what he was doing in the story, and why. Every single element moved the plot along, ratcheted tension, built character, with a regular cadence. This is my bible.
The other classics are King’s On Writing, Bird by Bird, Draft No. 4, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.. I’ve picked up a lot from them. Other, non-standard sources are Hugh Howey’s online (his blog and videos) guidance, The Poet’s Handbook, and reading about famous author’s writing process in The Paris Review. These sources are helpful; the hard part is to stop reading and do the hard work.
I don’t have trouble sitting down to write; I have trouble trying to improve. For example, I know I need to develop more of an ear (and fingers) for rhythmic writing; hearing the beats in a sentence and using them. Iambic pentameter. I don’t have this ear yet, and may explain why I couldn’t stand Shakespeare in high school. But, I’m willing to go back and try to understand it more.
My writing isn’t tight. In fact, when a critiquer said I had a good story but the writing wasn’t tight, I didn’t even know what the term meant. He was right, though… I am too wordy, use too many filler words, don’t express myself as succinctly as possible. Recently, another critiquer said never use the word “that”, which kind of blew my mind. But, I took her suggestion and removed it from my non-dialogue parts in the piece. And it made the writing better.
One of the first things I learned on this journey is the importance of feedback. I need thoughts on plot, interest, realism/calling bullshit, weak areas, strong parts… and a lot of help on word-smithing. I didn’t show my first story to anyone until I sent a manuscript to an editor at Reedsy. He, gently, pointed out all stories need some conflict. Important, life or death, love, power type conflict. My original story followed a guy through his day, doing fairly boring things. I internalized his advice, and the next two stories (The Inspector’s Legacy and Unfair Advantage) had clear plots and conflict. And came out okay. The following two stories, though, including my first attempt at a novella length story, are lacking. There was/is plot and conflict, but just barely. Not yet. Made the same mistake with a short story contest I just finished; only 2k words, but I focused so much on the contest ask (show how an incident in the character’s past influences them today) I literally forgot to have something interesting happen in the story. Right now it’s a flashback by a banker in a meeting. A real page turner!
Scribophile.com has been helpful. The quality of the crit varies; sometimes you get the grammar person, sometimes a gentle reader who just likes the story. I appreciate the grumpy ones who point out big issues. One critiquer highlighted every paragraph started with a character’s name and thought the piece read like stage directions. I’ve never read stage directions, but I’m sure he was 100% correct. Every paragraph started with Eileen said, Punit looked, Chen whispered. Yikes.