June Rodriguez
JUNE: We always start our sessions with a little social time and sometimes a little challenge. We have gotten to know each other pretty well and Sunny’s idea of being able to suggest a writing genre for each other was a fun idea.

SUNNY: We're all writing what we love, but I'd like to know what you think the others in the group SHOULD be writing.

JUNE: Most of us have some Scottish background but I could see Jackie writing a fantasy with Scottish fairies. Sarah could write contemporary, humorous chick-lit. I think Dori is on the right track with her legal stories.

SUNNY: I think Dori should write the crisis going on in her life and having to go back to the courtroom to support her family. That's an Oprah book. Jackie has this great carnival background; I'd love to see something in the vein of “Water for Elephants." Sarah, when are you going to do a contemporary chic-lit about a lactose intolerant woman who works at a mozzarella factory and deals with Portuguese in-laws? June "Night Shift." Ex-WAVE returns as a civilian to a military installation.

DORI: Sunny needs to write something with cats; Jackie horror ala Stephen Kingesque; Sarah definitely has a calling to write chick lit with a snarky humorous twist and June needs to write the "Night Shift" while tapping into her wild side.

SARAH: Sheesh! You gals think I'm funny and everyone else looks at me like, "Huh?" I guess I have found some friends who "get me." Or ya'll are just as weird as me!! LOL Hmmm. . . . Let's see, I think Jackie should write something about fairies or folklore. Dori- definitely legal thrillers or maybe a mystery ala John Grisham. Sunny? Totally, a series based on hot sexy Cougars on the prowl! Meow! For June, I am in full support of the Ex-WAVE series. Who doesn't like Fleet Week?! LOL

JACKIE: You know, June, you have unleashed fairies in my imagination. I think I like your vision. I will enjoy exploring this. The possibilities are so rife... beautiful wings tinged with iridescent blood designs. LOL. Seriously I COULD indeed have fun with this, thanks!

JUNE: What is backstory dump and how do we deal with it in the context of a novel or a short story?

SUNNY: I took a random sample of books on my shelf and noticed that backstory comes at around page 50. Not a hard and fast rule, but the reader is far enough into the story at that point. Putting backstory in too early is called "Frontloading."

DORI: Even though you may be far enough into the story for backstory to be appropriate, you still need to be careful with how you integrate backstory. Backstory is best provided in snippets, if possible. Large backstory dumps stop the flow of the story. In particular, you have to be careful of where you place backstory. Putting backstory in the middle of action, for instance, can break the tension the author worked hard to achieve and knock the reader out of the scene. The other thing to consider is how much of the character's backstory is important for the story. You don't want to provide any more or less than what's needed for the story's plot.

SARAH: It's hard to know when enough is enough. I know I had that issue with the chapter you gals read last week. I knew the secondary character is essential to the book because my next WIP is his story. BUT I went too far into detail and as a result made his "past" too intriguing. Sure, he is a player in my current 'game', it's just he's more like an outfielder. LOL I guess it's like dating, always leave them wanting more- aka NO getting past first base!
SUNNY: I love creative words. Heck, I've even been known to create my own when none will do. But, swamping a reader with so many "colorful" words actually jades them. I prefer to take the reader along and then slam them with a phrase that makes them sit up and think, "Wow! This writer knows what she's doing!" You don't have to be brilliant every time, just when the time is right. Keeps the reader on their toes.

DORI: Word choice in large part also depends on the narrator's own voice. For instance, in my newest short story (that you all so wonderfully helped critique last night) the narrator is a highly educated intellectual type, so his word choice is more bombastic than a less educated, more streetwise sort of protagonist. Even so, it is important not to use too many such words (such as bombastic) that the average reader won't recognize.

SUNNY: Ohhh, I like the word "bombastic!"

SARAH: That story was definitely envy-worthy, Dori! You did such a great job of making the character so vivid, so flesh and blood, I could care less that I didn't even know his name. The word choices for the dialogue and internal thoughts made the character. No contractions, sophisticated words, and even syntax were spot on, lady! Way to practice whatcha preach!

I have to watch my sayings as I'm writing a historical. I save the modern day stuff for you gals. LOL

SUNNY: I teach short story writing and I've isolated what I believe are four elements that elevate a short story to a prize-winner. Here they are:

Authenticating details. Use them like chocolate chips in a cookie. Let readers be pleasantly surprised when they hit one.

Best line. It's the line you worked hardest at, or the words that came in a moment of genius. Caution: too many “best lines” wear readers out.

Universal message. A story can, and should, be more than a story. I find my “message” usually comes at the halfway point in the story. It may also be the best line.

Tell-Me-Something-I-Don't-Know. A story stays in a reader's head when they can put the story down and tell someone, “Did you know such-and-such (insert fact or trivia)?” It explains why we enjoy “CSI” so much.

JUNE: Your best word choice or phrase could be your title. I think your title should always come from somewhere in your work.

DORI: June thanks for coming up with a better title for my latest short story. She lifted the new title directly from the pages of my story. It was absolutely the perfect title for this story, but I didn't see it until she pointed it out last night.

My first foray into short story writing was an eye-opening experience. Some time during my process of writing the story Sunny gave me her four elements. I took her advice to heart and made sure that my story effectively addressed all four. I submitted that short story to a national writing contest and took first place and put $1,000 in the bank as a result. Of course, I still had to write a good story.

SARAH: Another story to envy. Good grief! Makes a struggling newbie wanna hurl a pretzel at her! LOL But, I have to agree. Sunny's Four Elements are a great tool for a writer thinking about taking that step into short stories. The only thing I would add to the four tips is to know your market. If its mystery or romances, a writer better have done thier homework to know what the best way to apply the tips will be. So, Cliff's Notes version is: Here's a recipe, make it your own.

JACKIE: Dori's win inspired me to enter a contest as well where I won second place. It felt like I won the moon. Even though, at the time, I was not aware of Sunny's Four Elements; upon reflection I see that they were in my short story as well. As it was a narrative about an historical event from my perspective as a child, the proper use of authenticating details, great lines, and seven-year-old trivia all worked together to build the universal message that resounded with readers.

Which brings me to another universal message. That five writer women around a table at 10:00 p.m. Fridays magically pull wonderful and enticing possibilities from each other!
1 Response
  1. Holli Says:

    I find short stories difficult to write, and applaud people who not only write them, but actually win contests writing them. Sunny's four elements were quite informative.
    Holli Castillo
    Gumbo Justice

Post a Comment