A few months ago, I was sitting in the audience of a literary panel for “Writing Characters with Agency” at Balticon, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore. During the panel, one of the audience members asked for writing advice on how to keep characters internally consistent when making them do something essentially “out of character” using an example of a lawful good character doing a bad thing. While the panelist shared many a insight, this question got my brain turning and coming up with answers that were not brought up at the time.
So I’m sharing them here.
So how you keep a character “in-character” and consistent while also working to a moment where they break that mold?
For the sake of this, I will use the audience member’s example of a character who is lawful good do something bad. (“Lawful good” is a Dungeons and Dragons moral alignment that writers, readers, and nerds all over the internet will align their favorite characters too. Learn more here.)
So let’s break down some different ways to get characters do believably do “out of character” things.
The Break Down
1 - Character Development
Character development can be either positive (with the characters become more brave, heroic, or “morally good”) or negative (with the characters becoming crueler, more selfish, or more evil). I bring this up, because many people only think of a character development in the positive direction -- becoming a better person -- but it can work in the other direction. Walter White from Breaking Bad is a great example of negative character development, in that he becomes a more morally bankrupt person as the show progresses, starting out with understandable and sympathetic motives for his life of crime, but slowly becoming more power-hungry and/or more willing to do more and more drastic things (like murder) to keep on top.
A character can start out good and then through a series of circumstances, conflict, and drama that we will call the plot, slowly turn into a worse person.
2 - Conflicting Motives/Trolley Problem
Another point to remember is that people are complicated, conflicted, and complex. We have multiple belief systems, motivations, wants, and needs in our head at the same time.
Say we have our lawful good character. He is sheriff, a law man, who believes all crime should be stopped and put to justice because them are the rules. But he is not just a sheriff. He’s a family man whose family is the most important thing in the world to him. He loves them and would do anything for them to protect them and keep them happy.
And now it turns out his adult son is the no good head of the gang of bandits that have been terrorizing the local towns. And it is a trusty sheriff that has been called on to stop him, dead or alive.
Opps, now our character has to choose between upholding his moral system about the law or his moral system about his family.
I like option above because it is very internal, but you can also give your characters bad and worse options in an external conflict. Give them a trolley problem. Think of all those superhero films where the villain gives the hero an option to save like their girlfriend/sidekick or some innocent kids/the entire city. Usually the superheroes come up with the third option to save everyone, but not always (Ahem, the Dark Knight.) But much better is when the character has a much more active hand in the dark, bad and worse option. The ending of season 3 of the BBC show Torchwood had one of these. Make your character’s options a trolley problem.
3 - Breaking Points
Human beings… we’re complicated. We have belief systems but we are often hypocrites. We give ourselves or loved ones a pass when we wouldn’t give the same benefit to strangers or acquaintances. Beyond hypocrisy and exceptions, we have breaking points. On tv tropes, that can sometimes be called a berserk button.
Find a character’s breaking point and them drive to it.
But this all these examples lead up to this ultimate fact of writing characters and stories:
It Needs To Be Earned
We say that a lot in storytelling and fiction writing. That… twists need to be earned. That sad deaths need to be earned. That endings need to be earned.
Relevant to here -- when a character is driven to that breaking point, you as the writer need earn that. And all the other examples listed above.
But what does that mean?
In screenwriting, because I watch a lot of film criticism youtube videos, the idea is phrased as: set up, reminder, and pay off.
In writing, we talk about foreshadowing. I had a professor in college who always called these things “rehearsals” which is a really apt metaphor that I think should exist more preventable in the creative writing discourse. When I took dance classes as a youth at the end of the season we had a dance recital, but not until we had the stage rehearsal and dress rehearsal beforehand. If you are going to have a lawful good character do something morally reprehensible, you need to hint -- and in an escalating manner -- that he can do something bad.
To remix the earlier example … you have the lawful good lawman who always brings in his guy alive because they should stand before a judge and jury. He’s never killed and never will. Then he does when his son is threatened. Now a lot of readers might find that reasonable because of our understanding of family bonds, but you want to set that up in the story. Show how close he is with his family. Have a minor threat happen earlier in the story for him to break his cool over. The reader may not straight out know the character's breaking point before it happens, but it should feel natural once they get to that point. There would have been hints. We should’ve maybe guessed a second before it happens.
Like plot twists, character twists should make sense in retrospect.
Those big, defining moments for a character, good or bad, have to be earned. They have to be deserved. These are the results of character development.
In 2017, I entered a Maryland-based writing contest and ultimately had my short story submission “The Pawn Shop of Intangible Things” place second. It was a pretty amazing experience that has involved an awards ceremony, a nice check, and free admission to a sci-fi writing conference where I read my story on a panel. Last but not least of all the honors, I was asked to be a judge for the 2018 contest.
I was sent the five finalists' stories that had been selected by the first round of readers. With the other finalist judges I was charged to rate each story between 1 and 10, and those ratings were be compiled and totaled to determine the first, second, and third place stories. I was also able to write commentary that was sent to the authors.
While I gladly volunteered, there was a little dread when I received the attachments of the stories in my inbox. See, I have a Bachelors in Creative Writing, and if you are familiar with creative writing classes you might know that they are usually done in the workshop model. We would read two to three of our classmates’ stories in preparation for each class, write critique letters, and discuss them in round table fashion during class. I read a lot of boring, not good, and pretentious stories in my pursuit of that degree to the point where I lost all perception of what was good and what wasn’t.
Had I just volunteered to relive that experience and read through five dull stories?
I clicked on the first one, opened it, read the first line and had my fears realized. The line was outright amateurish -- bland and generic. I was back in undergrad.
Thankfully, that did not end up being the case. After reading the story in full -- although avoiding it by saving it for last -- it did improve once it got into the story proper. It was still a weak opening, but fears did not realize completely.
What I ended up doing was reading five stories ranging from decent to heart-eyes-emoji (that’s the technical scale) and learned a lot from it.
What I Learned:
Point 1: Story is King.
The story I subjectively thought was the best wasn’t the one with the best prose. It was the one with the best story. Of course, story is both concept (but ideas are cheap), and the execution of that concept.
Point 2: Execution makes all the difference.
All the stories had interesting concepts. The contest was SF/F focused, so they were ‘high concept stories.’ Listen: AI’s as narrators, folk tale demons, space-time travel, visions of the future, and werewolves. Come on. That’s a goldmine. But as I (and of course many before me) have already stated, ideas are cheap. It’s all about how you present those ideas.
As one would expect, to get this far in the competition all were competent stories. It’s that fine polish of execution that makes a difference between competent and awesome.
Language and prose are part of the execution: the narrative strategy of POV, timeline, voice, and what not. When to start the story and when to end it and when to hit the other beats in between. All important.
Point 3: Setups and Payoffs are a balancing act.
Reading this selection of stories, one aspect of execution I became very aware of was ‘setups and payoffs.’
My favorite ‘heart-eyes-emoji’ story was a well-paced space adventure with the setups and payoffs interwoven from the first page to last. In contrast, there were stories with not enough setups, or not early enough, sapping the pay off of its power. There were stories that had a lot more setups than were ultimately paid off, which is like having a question without an answer.
That balance is so important to the reader because a story needs to make sense. It’s like laying out the clues in a mystery novel. All the plot workings need to be laid out for the reader bit by bit.
Point 4: Pacing is Important.
Like setups and payoffs, good pacing is essential to a well-balanced story. I saw one particular pacing hang up occur over a few of the short pieces I reviewed. The stories were… front-heavy. They spent too long in the beginning on things that weren’t the main point of the story.
One of Kurt Vonnegut’s great pieces of writing advice is “Start as close to the end as possible.” Every writer should take that to heart. I often think about this, if not in the drafting stage, than the editing stage. (It’s very common in first drafts to start too early.)
To bring back another memory from my undergrad creative writing days, I recall how often a particular fiction writing professor of mine would often instruct students in workshops that their story actually started on page three, or five, or nine. There was always some sort of silent-eyed horror that passed over the face of whoever’s story it was, because there was a lot of hard-worked prose in there they were being asked to cut, but it was an important lesson. Remember you can integrate backstory in a lot of ways without starting at the very beginning!
My heart-eyes-emoji story dropped the reader right into the moment. All the world-building and character growth were part of the actual scenes.
Point 5: The Little Things Don’t Matter (When Everything Else is Right).
There will always be stuff to nitpick. There will always be an awkward sentence, or a moment that could’ve been tweaked to be stronger.
But when a whole story is a strong, compelling, and well-balanced all the nitpick-y sand falls from your eyes as a reader. You're too engaged being carried along by a well-crafted story to let the other things ruin the experience.
So… that’s what I learned. Maybe other people judge stories for competition by other criteria. Maybe they have a checklist or grid, giving out points to certain factors like this was an episode of Chopped: Presentation, Taste, and Creativity.
I read with my intuition. I can never exactly turn off my writerly brain when reading, seeing the tricks of how a writer pulls off a certain twist or thinking how I would’ve differently. I acknowledge there is always a measure of personal taste in something like this and any judging of the creative arts is subjective.
However, we humans are storytelling animals. We are surrounded by stories from birth on -- books, movies, television shows, the stories we tell each other, narratives in video games and other media, and on and on and on. We love a good story and absorb some feel for when a story works or when it feels off. We might not all be able to identify exactly what is off, or have the vocab for it, or be able to analyze it or write it ourselves, but we have the intuition.
I was glad I was able to use my storytelling intuition, in combination with my learned and practiced knowledge of creative writing and literary analysis, to learn about making and reading a good short story.
So... visitors to my website and readers of my blog, I know you exist. My website stats show a consistent 100-200 unique visitors a week, and that has to be more than me checking in from different devices and a few of my closets family members and friends. Those stats are higher than my writer facebook page which is all just my family and friends save, like, one.
Of course, I don't know if people are reading this blog page and perhaps I'm just writing into the internet void. :/
So if you come to my website on the regular, or the semi-regular, or just a few times, or this is your first, can you comment on this post? Just a 'hi' with no context is fine, but if you want to tell me something more -- that's great too! I just want to know you exist.
For me, favorite books, favorite books series, and favorite authors are three very different lists. In this post I’ll be talking about the last of three. My qualifications for favorite authors is that I’ve read a large body (if not all) of their work, and I’m totally here for it.
In no particular order, let’s get into it.
I was going to open this up to say I have read everything she has had published, but checking goodreads, it seems I have fallen behind in the last few years. Well, I still have read every novel she’s ever published, just not all the short stories or graphic novels.
From YA to new adult to adult, from realistic to other world fantasy to magical realism, Rowell’s novels cover a lot of territory. However, no matter what muck -- emotional or magical -- the characters have to trudge through to get their happy endings, they make it in her heartfelt and introspective tales.
Does this man need any introduction? From A Series of Unfortunate Events to All the Wrong Questions to any number of his picture books, I’m a fan. I started reading him as a child when ASOUE was originally being published and continue to keep up with his work, including using some of his picture books like The Dark, which makes a regular appearance in my story times in my librarian career.
His dark and humorous stories, his cheeky turns of phrase, and unique narrative voice will always keep me engaged and entertained.
Sharp Objects? Yes. Gone Girl? Hell yes. Dark Places? Eh, that one was a bit of a misstep for me -- the plot really didn’t come together. The Grownup, though? Here for it.
I’m eagerly awaiting Flynn’s next dark, psychological thriller starring a woman with certainly enough twists to give you the whiplash. She is the queen of this trend.
I just love her. Beautiful prose. Clever prose. Original prose. Great settings and atmosphere in character-centric genre fiction.
Also, following her on social media is a riot. She gives great writing advice, answers questions about her published materials in clever, humorous ways that usually aren’t straight answers but reveal something anyway, and continually teases about her ongoing/upcoming projects.
I’m still working my way through her writing-ography as I got on the fantrain of hers late, but even one of her books isn’t my cup of tea, such as All the Crooked Saints, I can appreciate the craftsmanship of it.
I haven’t read him in a while, but their was a time from 2012-2014 that I picking up all of his titles. Beautiful prose telling beautiful stories about LGBT teens. Not all of his novel’s have been home runs for me. His experimental Every You, Every Me didn’t really land, for example, but Everyday and The Lover’s Dictionary were brilliant.
Levithan has also co-authored a lot of books, which must mean he is easy to work with, but every time I try one of his co-authored titles, I can’t help but want to skip the other author’s section because his are so much more engaging!
Looking at this list and the explanations, there are some unifying factors. One is prose, which I brought up for three of the six. There are also disunifying factors -- Rainbow Rowell and Gillian Flynn couldn’t be writing more different styles and types of stories.
While I didn’t mention “good storytelling” they all are good storytellers, or I wouldn’t be freaking out over them and wanting to read all their books after just reading one. In different genres and for different age groups, they all write strong, interesting, insightful, thematic stories.
In the debates of qualities between 1st person narration versus 3rd person, or 3rd limited versus 3rd omniscient, or the absolute scorning of the dreaded ‘head-hopping’ there is one point of view that is more polarizing than any of them: Second Person Point of View.
Que the dramatic music.
Quick primer if you’re rusty on your terminology.
1st person pov - I said.
3rd person pov - he said/she said.
2nd person pov - You said.
After seeing that list, you might be thinking you’ve never seen anything written in 2nd person, or you’ve never seen it outside poetry or fanfiction (which tends to allow for more experimental forms). If you’ve been around the block submitting short stories to literary magazines, you might’ve noticed that “2nd person” often ends up in the “What we’re not looking for” list of their submission guidelines.
Not only in 2nd person rare in fiction writing, it is also often unwanted and unliked in fiction writing. If you drop a 2nd person story in a writing critique circle or workshop, you will probably get people who hate it because it is second, with no other consideration. You’ll have people quote the writing rule “No second person” at you. You might have some people who just like it because it is different and they’ve never seen it before. Amongst that, maybe you’ll get someone who gives you actual, meaningful feedback.
But this is not a rant about critique groups. It is, however, a commentary on how second person is received by writers and readers in general. But me? I believe in second person and its potential.
I first experimented writing second person when I was fist experimenting with writing overall: in high school while writing fanfiction. I’ve always harbored belief in the potential of second person narration even through years of hearing nothing good about it from most corners of the writing community.
In my adult writing life, I’ve written two original short stories in second person, one speculative and one literary. How have they fared?
One of my second person stories placed 2nd in the 2017 Baltimore Science Fiction Scoeity’s Ameteur Writing contest, which allows entries from across the state of Maryland. Meeting the facilitators of contest, I was told the competition was particularly tough that year. A few months later that same story made me not an ameteur anymore as I made my first pro sale with it to Deep Magic E-Zine. They told me it was the 1st time they had published a second person story.
The other second person story of the realistic literary genre has just made the long list of finalists for a different writing competition, the top ten percent out of 600 entries. Fingers crossed for how that will turn out.
What this proves? That people can like reading second person. That second person stories are publishable. That they are able to place in contests. That my long held believe in the potential of second person stories has been validated.
But wait, you say, that’s only two short stories.
Yup, that’s right. I usually write in 3rd person, and very occasionally first. Second person is definitely not a point of view that should be used for most stories. It is very particular and, as I stated before, very polarizing.
Second person should not be used willy-nilly. Sure, experiment with it. Have fun. Learn. Practice. That’s what writing is about. But if you’re looking for direction on when to use second person… I’ll get in to that right now.
For both of my original second person stories, I chose to use second person for a particular reason. For -- to use a wonderful term I learned from Larry Brooks in Story Fix -- a narrative strategy.
The concept and the plot are the story.
The narrative strategy is how we tell said story: POV, order of events, narrator, length, style of prose, etc and so on. These are things we consider to tell the story in the best way or with maximum impact.
Second person, when used, should be a deliberate part of your narrative strategy.
In my speculative story, I was trying to create a Twilight Zone-feel. The second person was supposed to enable the reader to step in the main character’s shoes, and for the “character” aspect to almost vanish. I go out of the way to avoid gendered details. The character doesn’t have a name. The character is you-the-reader living through the motions.
In my literary story, I had quite a different reason for the strategy of second person. The character is very particular, has a name, and has a detailed life. She is also suffering from depression. The second person, with all it’s “you” statements was used to create a sense of dissociation, like the character was watching herself go through the motions.
So that’s two different reasons I used second person and two different ways I used it. There are probably plentiful more to be discovered.
I think it stands to reason, like most writing rules, guidelines, and cultural preferences, when you as the writer are going to break them, you have to do it with a sense of strategy. Or… just to have fun.
(Or Reaffirmed The Fact)
((In Roughly Reverse Order))
4 & 5
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
I’m pairing the four books of Stiefvater's Raven Cycle and Rowell’s Carry On for two reasons: (1) I read them for the first time the same year, just a few months apart, and (2) they reaffirmed the same main emphasis.
That emphasis being that YA lit could be complex and told complexly, with alternate character POVs, and lots of tangled history behind the infrastructure of the story that holds up the main narrative. As a writer who was struggling with writing a tangled, multi-character narrative that was more heavy on character than plot, I was so frustrated by conventional wisdom about YA lit -- the narrative needed to be simple, follow one character, not head hop, and so on. I was so pleased, reading these book, to realize that these complicated stories were things you were allowed to write as a writer, and that readers want to read.
More individually, The Raven Cycle enriched me with a beautiful, clever, original prose style that I want to make love to. Carry On, in how it riffs on Harry Potter and fandom, showed me that they words of fan culture and original story were not opposites, but could flow together.
Both of these YA marvels were door openers.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This book came out a few years ago to some acclaim, popularity, and award-winning, and it showed me what was possible in genre-mashing story. I was formally trained in literary fiction in my undergraduate writing program, but my reading interests have always fell on to the sides of things not considered the highest quality amongst the literary elite: ya, children’s, scifi, fantasy, chick lit, mystery, and fanfiction.
In this post-apocalypse story in which a band of actors and musicians in a traveling caravan try to live out the importance of art and meaning in a world previously decimated by a sudden epidemic and the following violence, Station Eleven takes the best of speculative fiction -- the imagination and what ifs -- and the best of literary fiction -- the character focus and thematic resonance -- and put them together. Additionally, it didn’t focus on action plot beats like post-apocalypse fiction usually does and injected the ending with a big dollop of hope. Station Eleven showed me the potential for stories and how they did not have to be neatly packaged into one genre box or the other, with all the surrounding conventions.
Literally, when I got to the end of this book I said to myself, “This is the kind of book I want to write, but I didn’t know I was allowed!” What a freeing read.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I feel like so-called “classics” are getting a bad rap as of late as things that no one actually wants to read or likes reading. But, heck, I sure liked this one when it was assigned to my AP Lit class in my senior year of high school. I’ve since then had to reread it for college, and have reread it for myself.
It is not so much this entire book -- which is slim and bit a heavy on detail and a bit slow on plot and very much a portrait and condemnation of the time and place and the people -- but moments in it. Moments profound and powerful in their twisting poetic prose, in their themes, and in how they pay off for what had been built to before.
I think that’s an important thing to a note of a book that has slow or beleaguered parts that ultimately have a wallop of a payoff at some point -- that the payoff is robbed of its power if that build up hadn’t been put in place.
But, yeah, I totally flip back to different passages and pace around reading them outloud because they’re so good.
“And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.” ←I know you can’t tell, but I totally typed that from memory. No lookups.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Ah, the mother of them all. The Outsiders is often considered first modern YA novel. While in the big picture this novel about a group of brothers and friends struggling with poverty, classism, and gang violence in 1969 Tulsa may have helped birth a genre, it was also the novel that showed me that books could be profound.
It was assigned reading by my 8th grade teacher. For years before then I had been a greedy reader of Nancy Drew and other mysteries, American Girl and other historical fiction, as well as Lord of the Rings and other fantasy. Being such a vicarious reader, what made The Outsiders such a changing point for me? Perhaps it was the character focus. Perhaps it was the realism. Whatever it was, I definitely had that ‘I’m being moved by great literature’ moment that most English teachers probably hope to inspire in their students.
Knowing that a book, a story, a narrative could have that much power, could mean so much, could real, could move me… well, it was something I wanted to try my hand at too.
Here on another edition of Behind the Story, I present...
Don't Lie To Me
Originally published by the Devilfish Review in March 2018
Don’t Lie to Me is the third story on this list of publications to be written for a magazine’s prompt/theme, to be rejected by said magazine, and then later find a home elsewhere. This is the second story to be written for one of The First Line’s first lines.
The process of taking a prompt to a full story for this example was different than the previous two stories. The previous two, the prompt was the inspiration and I built from it. For Don’t Lie to Me, I had the broadstroke concept for the story in mind, and seeing the first line prompt, thought it would pair well.
Backstory -- I’m a superhero nut. I’m all in for the superhero craze. I grew up with the animated shows like X-Men the Animated Series amongst others. I was there for that 2000s run of the original Spider-man trilogy and for the X-Men universe. The DC Animated Universe (note I said animated), heck yes. Teen Titans, wow-za. The MCU, yup.
Don’t Lie to Me is not a “superhero” story, but that is its inspiration and roots. It is, however, a “superpower” story, with a quiet, unassuming young woman with a small if potentially powerful and personally devastating superability: She always knows when someone is lying.
Think about that concept for a moment. What would that give to you? Even more, what would that steal? People lie for a lot of reasons, and not all of them are bad.
Pair those questions with a meek character with crappy boyfriend who gets in debt to a loan shark… then what do you get. Well, what you get is: Don’t Lie to Me.
Welcome to another post of Behind the Story. This time...
Originally published by Enchanted Conversation in February 2018
Writing versus publishing is a strange thing. If you have been following this blog series, you know that I am writing about these stories in (roughly) publication order. Publication order, however, is not writing order. In a previous “Behind the Story” blog post in which I wrote about the short story “What You Make Of It,” I spoke of my writing struggles post-college. When I found new focus in writing about 2014-2015, Seeds was the first new, original short story I wrote.
My inspiration was my awareness of the Greek myth in the cultural moment. I had seen some alternate versions of the story of Hades and Persephone, of which the story of Seeds is derived, in fanfiction, in interpretation, in the fact that early myths have alternate versions and variations. From the cultural moment, I was inspired by the then current discourse about women, feminism, and female agency in stories. Add on top a more critical look at love stories like Beauty and the Beast, and other romcoms with iffy-love situations. Seeds is a story that twists the Hades and Persephone myth, in which Persephone is more active in her own destiny. I do not wish to give away the story more than that, but I would say Seeds does anticipate that you have a basic knowledge of the Hades and Persephone myth so that it can be subverted.
Getting back to my first point about writing versus publishing being a strange thing… Seeds was written well before -- years before -- What You Make Of It and Castles at Night. For a while, because it was one of my newer stories, I sent it to a lot of literary magazines that it got rejections from. For a while after that, I gave up on sending it out a lot of literary magazines because it did not seem to be the right for fit for many of them. Maybe any of them it started to seem… It was too mythic, it was not original enough, it was too much of a retelling, is wasn’t enough of a retelling… or whatever. But because I require myself to submit to a minimum number of literary magazines a month, I became aware of a themed reading period for Enchanted Conversation and thought maybe I could be a contender. And it was.
It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over… publishing is finding the story the right fit. The magazine, the theme, and the editor. It is as much luck as talent, but we as aspiring writers should not discount the power of persistence.
PS - Also, they made me some cool cover art.
Welcome to Behind the Story -- a ‘behind the scenes’ series of blog posts that give you the inside scoop on the stories I've had published, working from earliest to most recent.
Castles at Night, originally published by Manawaker Studios in February 2018
This is another story of mine that was written for a prompt from a literary magazine that ultimately was not published in that magazine, but found a home somewhere else. The prompt was the theme “castles” for a children’s magazine -- Cricket media, if memory serves.
This story was written with child main characters and with the intention of being a children’s story. While tweaks may have happened since it was initially rejected from the magazine it was written for, I did not ‘age it up’ to make it appeal to other, older audiences.
As a children’s librarian, as a reader who grew up finding a lot of meaning and inspiration in children’s and YA lit, as a reader who still reads children and YA lit with my adult lit, as a writer with interest in writing in all three age genres, I do not believe in writing down to children. Yes, writing for children is different than writing for teens or adults. You have to acknowledge that they are at different reading levels, developmental levels, and often need for more context for socio historical elements, for allusions, or for heavy themes or topics. But writing differently for children is different than writing down to children. I believe children can be clever and intelligent and want to learn, if we just give them fun and engaging material to work with.
All that being said to make the point that good materials written for children can be interesting for adult readers. Telling a good story well is the core to all storytelling. I think recent decades of pop culture prove that books for children and teens can be mainstream popular, with adults as well as with their intended audience. From Harry Potter to Hunger Games to The Fault in Our Stars… with many, many others as well…
So, with little further ado, I present Castles at Night. It is a short story written initially for a children’s magazine but accepted by a magazine intended for adults, ultimately published in audio. Pretty cool, right?
Welcome to another edition of Behind the Story, where I give you a behind the scenes peek into my inspiration and writing process as connected to my published works. Today’s entry is:
What You Make Of It, published by Fantasia Divinity in June 2017
There is a literary magazine called The First Line that provides writers with first lines as prompts that they want every story in that issue of the magazine to start with. If your story is not accepted in The First Line, the writer is free to submit it elsewhere.
“What You Make of It” is one of two of my published stories that started with a first line from The First Line. The other, “Don’t Lie to Me” when edited between drafts, ultimately does not start with the first line prompt anymore, but “What You Make of It” kept it word for word, the line being: “George pressed the call button and said, “Mrs. Whitfield, you have a visitor.”” If you see the story, you’ll see I made George a woman, because why the hell not. I kind of hoped that it would make it stand out amongst the other stories submitted to The First Line for that issue.
Ultimately, the story was not accepted at The First Line, but was later accepted and published by Fantasia Divinity.
“What You Make Of It” is a short little short story that was an icebreaker for me in terms of story acceptances at a literary magazine. Before this, I had a dry spell in which I hadn’t had a story published in a literary magazine since 2011. The reasons are several.
Post-college, out in the world with my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, trying to figure out a career, trying to become a writer, trying to figure what type of writing I wanted to write… I had bit of a writer’s existential crisis in terms of creativity and focus and vision on where I wanted to go.
I worked through this over the years, and in 2015 renewed my focus in writing and in submitting my short stories to literary magazines. I dealt with a lot of rejections for a lot of stories. That is something young writers -- all writers -- have to learn to deal with: a lot more rejection and failure than success and recognition. Despite the lack of success in literary magazines, I kept writing and I kept submitting, and eventually -- two years later -- I broke through the ice, got paid a grand three dollars for this story, and more success has followed after.
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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