Tag Archives: Writing

Writing Redemption

As the editor of FiftyWordStories.com, I receive a lot of different submissions from a lot of different people. I publish some of them and turn down others, for a wide variety of reasons. Every time I turn down a story, I try to share my reasons for the rejection in a helpful and encouraging way.

Writing these “rejection letters” sometimes turns into an opportunity to share something that I think more writers should be aware of, or think about. Today I had one of those opportunities, and I wanted to share my response here.

I hope this response will be useful and encouraging to you, whether you’re a writer/author or not.

I wrote this email in response to a story submission that was fairly dark and hopeless…

Hi [author],

Thanks for sending this in. I hope it isn’t too closely reflective of your personal experiences…

With “dark” stories, I always go back to something one of my high school teachers told me. I showed him a dark story I’d written, based on a nightmare I’d had. He asked me where the story’s “redemption” was.

It didn’t have one.

I think this story is in a similar place. Life can be dark sometimes, and writing, as a reflection of life, can certainly go to those dark places, too. But as authors and artists, I think it’s important that we find a way to make those dark spots count for something. There should be meaning, hope, growth, or redemption of some sort in the dark things that we write, some kind of encouragement or a call to action, or even a cry for help.

This story is simply a descent into hopelessness, without any of those redemptive elements I just described. I’d like to encourage you to move beyond the darkness of a story like this and find a way to bring out a positive of some kind. Maybe that means finding something to hope in or hope for. Maybe it means calling people to come and do something to make a change or challenge the darkness. Or maybe the only thing you can do is turn it into a cry for help. (For an example of this, see Psalm 88.)

So thanks again for submitting. I won’t be using this story on the site, but I hope sending this in has allowed you to express what you needed to express, and I hope you’re able to find some redemption through your writing in the future.

Tim Sevenhuysen

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Remember when I used to write all kinds of stuff and share it on this blog?

Seems like a long time ago, but I’m finally starting to get back into some of that. The ball has been starting to roll again over the last couple of weeks…

Here are a couple of things I’ve got on the go right now:

I’ve also got some thoughts to share on a couple of movies I watched recently, so I’ll try to put that together soon.

My Authorial State of Being

What have I been up to lately? My blog hasn’t been very revealing on that front, so here’s an attempt to shed some light on my current authorial state of being.

You may have noticed that my fiction output has dropped off dramatically over the past couple of months. There are multiple reasons for that. Losing Freight ended, I completed Year Three of Fifty-Word Stories, and I took a break from the Year of Stories to recharge my batteries. Basically, the natural endings of a couple of projects coincided with some creative burnout. Any reasonable person could have seen that coming, probably: writing 12 unique posts per week (averaging over 8,000 words) across four different “franchises”, while also trying to make headway on my novel, was way too much.

I think I can improve on my current output (I’m only working actively on Special People right now), but by the time I’m ready to ramp things up again, some life circumstances may change, and the time I have available for writing may be diminished. So I don’t want to make any promises or predictions about timelines on different projects, but I do want to assure people that I intend to finish off the Year of Stories eventually, and put together Fifty-Word Stories: Volume Three, and do enough rewrites/tweaks to Losing Freight and the early Special People story arcs to make them publishable, and…

Yeah. See my problem?

I’ve also been podcasting every week (and then every other week, except for some recent inconsistencies), but I think it’s time to put that little side project to rest. The effort-to-audience ratio isn’t high enough to justify it right now.

I want to thank everyone for their support and patience while I try to get some of the big items on my to-do list checked off. I hope you’re enjoying the new Special People content I put out twice a week, and as soon as I’m able to start getting more new stories out to you, I intend to do so. Until then, I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated on my progress towards the various releases I’m working on.

Baby Watch 2012

Larissa and I are still waiting for Baby’s arrival. We’re three days past the due date now, which isn’t too significant, but we’re definitely starting to get a little antsy!

I’ve been quite busy this week. I had a new research contract come in, so I’ve been throwing myself into that, along with some publishing and book layout work for 1889 Labs. It’s a good thing I’ve built up decent backlogs on some of my projects! I’m about six weeks ahead in the Year of Stories, and the current Special People story arc runs until close to the end of May. I’m really going to need those backlogs, especially once Baby shows up.

Even though I haven’t had as much time as normal for writing this week (other than live-writing a short story this morning), I’m really grateful that I’ve had all this work to do. It takes pressure off the Grocery Fund, that’s for sure! I’d much prefer to treat the Grocery Fund as a goal rather than a necessity.

One way or another, the next few weeks are going to be very interesting. Between my “day job” work and taking care of a newborn, I’ll be finding out whether I can actually keep up with the creative workload that I’ve set myself, or whether I need to cut something back to maintain my sanity. I don’t like to back out on anything, so I’m hoping I find ways to make it all work!

The good news is that even if it turns out that I have to take a bit of a step back creatively, it’ll be because I’m earning more money to support my family, and I’d rather be writing from a position of financial stability than from a position of need.

God has a plan for how all of this will work out. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store!

Happy Easter, everyone.

Learning How to Write Conflict

One of the main reasons I challenged myself to do the Year of Stories was to force myself to practice my writing. I’ve written 11 stories at this point and released 5 of them, with February’s batch of 4 more coming out soon.

Putting together a new short story every single week means that I have to explore lots of different plot types and methods of storytelling. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far, relating mostly to developing conflict.

1. Clarify the conflict.

Sometimes I’m tempted to write a story that’s based more on a concept than a conflict. In Burns Mar the Sun-Grasper’s Hands, for example, there isn’t actually much of a conflict: the events of the story take place without a whole lot of tension, and it doesn’t really feel like there’s something at stake.

As a speculative fiction writer, I love a good concept. I love to build a story around an idea, a “what if” scenario, like I did in Diana and the Animal and A Kingdom of White. If the concept is all the story has going for it, though, then it isn’t much of a story.

Conflict and tension keep the reader reading, so that’s something I’m trying to be more intentional about creating as I come up with the ideas for my future stories.

2. Tell the story during the story.

In Discovery Two, a significant portion of the conflict has been played out in the past, and doesn’t happen during the flow of the story. Building a conflict outside the events of the story doesn’t involve the reader in what’s happening, and it’s very important for the reader to feel involved, I think.

In the case of Discovery Two, the “outside-the-flow” conflict was playing out as the backdrop to an active, “inside-the-flow” sequence of events, so I think the story reads okay because of that, but if I was writing the story again I would try to find a way to build those past events more directly into the flow of the storytelling.

3. Make the characters proactive.

Don’t let the story happen to the character. Make them an active part of its evolution and resolution. Having passive characters who simply react to a story playing itself out in front of them is the storytelling equivalent of using the passive voice to build a sentence.

Not to pick too much on one story, but Burns Mar the Sun-Grasper’s Hands is an example of the main character being largely reactive rather than proactive. I don’t think the story is terrible, but I feel like the way I constructed it didn’t allow for the strongest storytelling.

4. Resolve the conflict.

If I do all of the other steps above, building a good conflict, playing out that conflict within the flow of the story, and making the characters proactive in exploring that conflict, it will all come to nothing if I don’t resolve the conflict.

Obviously there are exceptions to this rule. Short stories are an especially fertile ground for cliffhangers, partial resolutions, and other forms of alternative plotting. But in general, a reader wants to feel satisfied with their experience when they come to the end of the story. The main questions should be answered. At least part of the conflict should be resolved.

A Kingdom of White is an example of a story that I think does this well. The overall conflict may not get resolved, but the conflict that is actually played out within the story–the character’s internal conflict–does get resolved. The larger, external conflict is left as a sort of cliffhanger. (That external conflict is something I’d love to expand into novel length, if I get the opportunity.)

Obviously I’m not an expert at applying all of these rules to my writing, not yet. I have a long way to go this year, and I expect to learn a lot more. I’m sure I’ll still see some of these weaknesses creeping into my stories here and there, but I’m growing and improving as a writer, and I hope that comes across to you as a reader.

Podcast 001

I’ve had the idea of doing a podcast in my head for quite a while, but haven’t gotten around to it for all kinds of different reasons. I don’t like to do things halfway, so I wanted theme music, and a catchy name, and iTunes availability, and a cohost, and all of the fancy stuff that great podcasts seem to have.

I don’t have any of those things for this episode, but I realized that I could either sit around forever waiting for the perfect podcasting conditions to arrive, or I could just get on with it with whatever I had at hand. So this is what you get: five minutes recorded on my iPhone and edited on my laptop.

In this first episode of what I’m hoping will become a weekly feature, I talk about the first story from the Year of Stories, Discovery Two, and about the most recent chapters of Special People.

I want to do some Q&A in future podcasts, so leave a comment if you have a question you’d like to hear me answer.

Let me know if you have issues with the audio, or if there other things you think I should cover in future episodes.

Your Generosity Leads To My Creativity

The more time I put towards expanding myself creatively, the more cool stuff seems to happen. Here’s an update on what’s been happening on the creative front recently, and a look ahead at a few things you can expect in the future.

The Diaper Fund Evolves

Your generosity has far outstripped my expectations, or even my hopes. I created the Diaper Fund hoping to raise $300 by the beginning of April 2012. Instead, you guys polished off that $300 target in three weeks. Thank you all so much for your Flare Fiction preorders and your donations!

Of course, I’m not going to stop selling my writing just because we reached that goal, so I’ve converted the Diaper Fund into the Baby Fund. New stories and anthologies will be coming out between now and April to help fundraise for a car seat, a baby monitor, and possibly a rocking chair, with anything extra that I sell going towards clothes, toys, and other small necessities.

Thank you again for being so generous and pushing me to keep writing!

Upcoming Projects

I have all kinds of ideas about what to do with myself creatively these days. Some of the ideas are only half-formed, so I don’t want to jump the gun by announcing or releasing anything prematurely. There are a couple of things, though, that will definitely be happening between now and, let’s say, February or March.

Short Stories

I have a variety of short stories that I’ll be releasing over the next couple of months, probably at a rate of one every couple of weeks or so. I’m still ironing out the exact details, but one way or another you’ll have the chance to do some interesting reading in the near future, I promise!

Print Anthology

The majority of my writing is only available digitally, but I know that a lot of people, myself included, like to read on paper, too. At some point in the new year, I’m going to be putting together a print anthology of short stories, flash fiction, and poetry, combining the contents of my existing short fiction collections with other unreleased stories and some stuff that won’t be available anywhere else.

Special People

New chapters keep flowing over at Special People, so if you haven’t been reading so far, I suggest you go catch up! SP has been a ton of fun so far, but this is only the beginning. If all goes according to plan, I should have some new multimedia offerings from the Special People universe over the coming months. Sorry, no more specific details than that yet!