Three months ago, give or take, I decided I wanted to improving my writing skill set. Given the scope of that statement, I had a hard time figuring out where to start. I began by attending two writing groups. One of them, Group Muse, focuses on larger short stories which we print and share for critical comment and feedback. It is a more formal group, but the depth of the feedback is incredible and the people are very thoughtful and kind. The other, the Coffee House Writer’s Group, a group that was started in LA, then brought up here by Elizabyth Burtis. This group is a bit less formal and we read, out loud, shorter stories for immediate feedback. Reading out loud is an excellent tool to hear some of the problems with my writing, although I haven’t been able to avail myself of the opportunity as much as I’d like. They are also a wonderful group of people.
So, I realized that one of the things I’ve struggled with over the years is having a clear plan on how to structure a story, how to begin the process of crafting a novel. This felt like a good place to start on my journey. I’ve spent some time reading books and discussing the concepts with people who have been kind enough to share their experiences. I also signed up for a $35 Kick-Starter Story Analysis from Larry Brooks at http://www.storyfix.com for feedback on the conceptual basis for the first book in my Marid Djinn Trilogy, THE PERSEPOLIS SCROLLS (it’s a working title). Plus, his two books STORY ENGINEERING and STORY PHYSICS really hit home for me. Some people may be turned off by his strategy toward planning stories, but it fits very well with my planning and design background and made tremendous sense. Luckily, the feedback I got from him was insightful and useful and has already made the story that much stronger. His thoughts also helped me find the backbone of a story arc that, at least conceptually, will be the spine of the Marid Djinn Trilogy. Pretty exciting stuff.
Anyway, a few days ago I met with a new friend Curtis Chen (from Group Muse), and our conversation came around to the process of writing short stories versus novels. He asked, “Do you want to write short stories or novels?” It was a good question. Like most novice writers, I have had stories kicking around in my head for most of my life, but I lack the skill or, as I am learning, a voice that one really needs to explore novel length stories. I like the idea of having the space to craft, and tell, a larger story.
It doesn’t mean that I won’t take the time, or make the effort, to write short stories. Actually, that realization has helped focus me on understanding WHY I should write shorter stories – flash fiction and the like – and how I can use those experiences to not only hone the voice I need for writing longer works, but also to explore and refine the process of crafting sentences within the context of telling stories.
That discussion with Curtis also inspired me to try something I’ve not done before: set a hard writing goal. I admit I am totally, blatantly stealing the idea from Curtis…hell, he’s been doing it for five years for crying out loud. Hence the launch of 505. The idea is that I will write one story post every week that consists of no more than 505 words. Why 505? Because…why the hell not. 512 is Curtis’s idea (think computers; 512 bits (or words)) and he is only 2 shy of completing his goal of 256 consecutive weeks. Very impressive, when you think about it. I’ve spent some time on ficly.com and the length of 1024 characters has gotten too constraining. I feel like I need a little more space to explore the process of crafting scenes.
My intent is to find an image or a prompt, and write a story based on that idea. One thing I mentioned to Curtis was that prompts had felt like cheating to me in the past. I thought, “Why do we need something to prompt our creativity?”. I see the fallacy of that now, and the thought of trying to mine the depth of my creative well for a new idea each week would be nearly impossible.
So, this is my first prompt. Just for fun, I’ll use the image of the California 505 that heads this post as my prompt. At the end of my first story, I’ll add an image, a phrase, or some other idea that will be the prompt for the next story. We’ll see what comes of it.
On Monday, August 20th, I’ll post my first story written from that prompt, then I’ll continue to do so for 52 weeks. One year. I can do this for one year, right?