This week, I’m going to do a little bragging. I help to Admin a small on-line writing group. Last October, we initiated a new feature in that group that we call the Friday Flash Fiction Challenge. It began with a specific weekly challenge to write a 500-word story on an assigned theme, from a specific point of view, etc. Stories were due the following Thursday at noon and the winner received their choice of a writing related Amazon eBook from a list we provided. A consolation prize of a professional edit of their story was also offered to another entry.
Members wishing to participate must adhere to Shunn Short Story manuscript formatting, must stay within the allowed word count and write a story with a beginning, middle and end. They may submit at any time during the challenge by attaching their story to a PM to any of the admins. The stories are then rated by each admin on a 20-point scale with 5 points each for format, meeting the challenge, grammar/punctuation and overall story quality.
Using the scores, we determine a winner and runner-up. We then send out acceptance and rejection slips to each entrant, keeping to the format of a standard rejection or acceptance letter as seen in the industry. Each entry gets feedback from the admins as well.
Our idea was to help our members get over the fear of submitting their work, encourage them to write regularly, and give them the closest approximation to the actual writing/submitting process that we could.
Our little project has evolved over time based on the needs of the group and the admins. We now allow 750 words to give more space for a complete story and two weeks between challenge and deadline. We average six or seven submissions per challenge.
Over the last nine months, the average scores awarded by each admin have steadily risen from an average of 15 or 16 to high 18s and 19s. Our most recent challenge resulted in 8 entries and the combined score from four admins for the top 5 stories covered only a 3-point spread.
In the first nine months of our little challenge, no less than 3 stories have been accepted for publication or published in traditional magazines and e-zines.
The point to all this bragging? Practice really does make perfect, and short or flash fiction is an incredibly fast way to improve your writing skills.
Think about this. A novelist will write an average 100,000-word book with a single beginning, middle and end and will spend anywhere from a month to several years on it. A writer who writes flash fiction, will do all of that in less than 1,000 words and can, if they wish, complete several each week. They learn to tighten their writing, choose each word with care, develop a cohesive and complete plot, characters and setting. There’s no room for fat, so they learn to gleefully kill those darlings with no remorse.
Many writers will tell you that the best way to become a professional writer is to write. That may, in fact, be true. But what one writes can greatly speed the process. Even for experienced writers, whipping out a flash fiction piece between chapters in their main work can be excellent practice and a nice break.
SPECIAL BLOG EDITION
Today I want to do something completely different with my blog. Why today? Because today marks the birthday of a man who I, in my self-proclaimed learned opinion, consider to be one of the finest American humorists of our times.
Richard Armour was born on this date in 1906 in San Pedro, California. He attended Pomona College, likely because he had the foresight to realize that I would later be born in Pomona. After completing his studies there, he went on to obtain his doctoral degree from Harvard in English philology. Really. Look it up.
He taught English at both Scripps College and Claremont Graduate School and wrote several scholarly pieces on Bryan Waller Proctor and Samuel Coleridge. He also wrote multiple volumes of light verse.
What he is best known for are his multiple volumes of fractured history where he takes a light-hearted look at various historical themes and offers a somewhat twisted yet mostly truthful look at them. Some examples are:
“It All Started with Eve” a look at famous women in history in which Napoleon writes to Josephine, “Do you miss me? I hope the enemy artillery does.”
“It All Started with Stones and Clubs” his history of warfare, and
“It All Started with Marx” his history of communism where he has Lenin remarking “The tsar is a tsap.”
So, to celebrate, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m announcing a contest, the object of which is to write a Flash Fiction Story (up to 1,000 words) in the irreverent style of Dr. Armour. The topic can be anything in history or nature which should be addressed seriously but with a definite tongue-in-cheek style. Facts may be generously embellished or exaggerated at the author’s discretion, but the narrative should take the overall tone of a serious academic approach. Footnotes are welcome and may be created in whole or in part from the author’s imagination. Such footnotes will not count to your overall word count.
This contest will run until midnight PST on August 18, 2017. I regret to inform you that entries will be limited to residents of the United States because – postage for the prize. However, entries from outside the U.S. will be read and, hopefully, laughed over. Entries should be in TNR 12pt or Courier New 12pt type with one-inch margins, page numbering in Shunn format at the top right corner of 2d and succeeding pages. Feel free to retain or omit your name from the body of your entry. Our panel of scholarly judges will pay no attention either way. Trust us.
Entries should be emailed to email@example.com by the deadline of the contest, or later if you don’t want them considered.
PRIZES: At last, we come to the important part. One winner, chosen by scientific, occult operations of an extraordinarily random nature will receive a precious volume of Dr. Armour’s work. Good luck.
As some of you may have guessed, I’ve been super busy during the last couple of weeks. Much of my time has been devoted to editing jobs of various lengths and genres. I thought that this week I would discuss some of the recurring problems I find in many manuscripts. To be clear, this is not taken from any one or two works I’ve edited, but is rather a synopsis of items I’ve found in multiple manuscripts form multiple authors. I hope that you will find it helpful in self-editing your work.
The bane of many writers seems to be the lowly comma. Maybe this is because most works will have a lot of them. This is in no way meant to be a representation of all or even most cases where a comma is required, but rather a few of the places where they are most commonly missing.
Commas in Direct Address:
“A comma is used to set off names or words used in direct address and informal
correspondence…” CMOS 6.38
Most of us, when we write a letter, are pretty good at remembering the comma after the salutation. “Dear Milly(comma)” comes naturally, but this is not the only time this rule comes into play. Let me give a few examples of where it might appear in dialog:
“Yes, sir.” In this case “sir” is direct address and needs the comma.
“I’ll be right there, John.” John is being directly addressed, so we need a comma.
“If you will follow me, gentlemen, I’ll see you right in.” Even though it is in the middle of the sentence, we still need the comma, but we need one on each side of the direct address to completely set it apart.
“Darlene, do you have those reports ready?”
“Why do the elves dislike us so, Grandfather?”
In formal correspondence, the comma after the salutation is usually replaced with a colon. “Dear Mister Secretary:” or simply “Secretary Mattis:”
Commas with Appositives
“A word, abbreviation, phrase, or clause that is in apposition to a noun (i.e., provides an explanatory equivalent) is normally set off by commas if it is nonrestrictive—that is, if it can be omitted without obscuring the identity of the noun to which is refers.” CMOS 6.23
Wow! What a mouthful! Obviously, we need some examples to understand this one.
“Your editor, Mr. Menefee, did a wonderful job with this manuscript.” Mr. Menefee could be omitted from this sentence and it would still make perfect sense and retain its meaning. Therefore, we need to surround him with commas. Think of it like this. If Mr. Menefee wandered off and got lost, this sentence would still be complete and we probably wouldn’t miss him. So we put a corral around him with our commas to keep him where he belongs.
“My prize pig, Mister Ziggy, won a blue ribbon at the fair.” Again, we need to put a corral around Mister Ziggy so he doesn’t become someone else’s bacon.
“Debbie’s husband, Mike, is a writer.” Do I even need to explain that no one wants their husband wandering off?
“Our president, Donald Trump, is…” I’ll let you fill in the rest, but we still want him to stay where we put him.
Now for the tricky part. If “the word or phrase is restrictive—that is, provides essential information about the noun (or nouns) to which it refers—no commas should appear.” CMOS 6.23. Here are some examples:
Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is a literary classic. In this example, Hemingway’s novel could refer to any of his works, so the title provides essential information to understanding the sentence.
Zayat Stables’ horse American Pharoah is the most recent Triple Crown winner. Again, Ahmed Zayat owns a lot of horses so the name is essential and gets no commas.
Comma After an Introductory Word or Phrase
This is where there is an introductory word or phrase beginning a sentence. Common examples would be Yes, No, Well, However, Well then, By the way, and Nevertheless.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, you might say that he’s all hat and no cattle.”
“However, we will not take responsibility for any injuries resulting from misuse.”
“Well then, why should we care?”
“By the way, what did you say your name was?” Helpful hint: Never use this at the end of a date.
“Nevertheless, we shall expect payment promptly.”
Yes, your editor should and will catch these common mistakes. However, he or she will charge you either by the hour or an equivalent amount by the word. Do you really want to pay for work that you could have easily done yourself?
Even the best editor will miss something occasionally. The more cluttered your manuscript is with these simple corrections, the more likely they will be to miss something else. Every correction they make, makes it harder to spot the ones they haven’t made.
Every editor I know, adjusts their rates depending on how difficult or easy the edit is expected to be, so having your manuscript in the best possible shape beforehand, makes it more likely that you will benefit on the rate and that your editor will want to work with you again.
#writing, #fictionwriting, #editing