Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Post: Theresa Milstein

In honor of the HONE YOUR SKILLS Blogfest, Charity and I decided to invite a few different authors to our respective blogs to discuss their journeys, including writing in mediums beyond the novel (which we all love, of course). What helped them develop and get their name out there?

So today, I'm pleased to welcome our first guest, Theresa Milstein from the Substitute Teacher's Saga. She's agreed to share some of her writing experiences, and especially how she came to write short stories above and beyond her novel aspirations.

**wild applause**

Short Story Journey

Short-story writing requires an exquisite sense of balance. Novelists, frankly, can get away with more. A novel can have a dull spot or two, because the reader has made a different commitment.
—Lynn Abbey

When I began writing nearly five years ago, it was a middle grade novel that wound up being 65k words. Then I made a leap to YA, and most of my stories hover around 50k. Since blogging, I’ve gobbled up advice on how to be a successful writer. One constant has been to write for magazines to get my name out there and build a resume.

One problem.

A few years ago, I had tried to take my first manuscript and turn it into a short story. After sending it to three or four places, I received all rejections. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t create a short story by pulling the first chapter (or two) of a novel. Longer stories introduce too many elements in the beginning and they don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Those rejections convinced me to stop wasting my time.

Sometimes I’d come across a writer’s blog, mentioning some contest or upcoming anthology that requested short story submissions. I’d comment, “Thanks for the link, but I don’t write short stories.”

It was with the same conviction as when I’d say, “I only write fantasy,” because every time I had tried to write a manuscript without a magical element, I’d lose interest.

Then I wrote this YA vampire manuscript Aura. Agents and editors said nice things about it, but they didn’t want to take a chance on another vampire story. I knew this was the possible outcome the day I couldn’t ignore the story forming in my mind and began to write it. After a bunch of rejections, I shelved it and began something new.

Then my blogging friend, Aubrie at Flutey Words mentioned an upcoming YA anthology called Fangtales from Wyvern Publications. They’d previously published Fangtales and Mertails.

Aubrie is the most prolific chick I know. She’s always got a long piece and one or more short pieces she’s working on. She submits everywhere, and it’s paid off because she has a list of publishing credits.

While I had ignored all her other links for short story submissions, I couldn’t deny this one interested me. YA and vampires. Should I take Aura and reduce it? I loved her voice and didn’t want the manuscript to gather dust in my hard drive. But if I revised it to make a story that fit the 2k-5k guidelines, would I be able to do anything with the full story in the future? By now, I also knew pulling chapters didn’t create a quality short story.

One thing I liked about Aura was her strong voice. Most of my female characters start off unsure, but then obtain moxie later on in the story. Not Aura. As I mulled over what to do with my old story, a new one began to form in my mind. One Saturday, I sat down and began to write “Allured”.

What type of writer are you, a plotter or a panster? I’m a panster. I get a first line or a basic idea of the beginning, and then I just write. There’s nothing more exciting to me than bumbling along like a rock skipping down a stream to see where my story takes me. I wrote the same way I did longer pieces, but had to be sparer with my words. Each one had to count so I could keep the word count under control.

But I had newfound confidence because as a blogger, I’d learned to write pieces at just around 1k. Now I just had to write at least 1k more, and make it fiction instead of nonfiction. I could do that, right?

I’d often eye my number of words at the bottom of the document. When I reached what I thought was the middle – the turnaround moment – I realized I’d be fine.

One thing I’ve learned from reading short stories is that there’s always some big unanswered question at the end. As I wrote, and the end became clear to me, I got more and more excited because I had a most short-story-like ending, which has less closure than a novel.

After I completed the story, I did the usual editing, and gave it to three readers who gave suggestions, and I edited again. The difference between a novel and short story is it all happened quickly. A short story has fewer plots, and therefore, fewer plot HOLES. There were fewer characters to keep track of, fewer words to mess up with spelling and grammar errors. Was I beginning to like writing short stories?

Whether or not my story is going to be accepted, I don’t yet know. The decision will be made in March. But if it’s not chosen, I will consider revising again, and search for another home for it.

In January, a short story anthology was advertised for 500-1000 words – the length of my typical blog entry.

No problem!

(Want to read the rest of Theresa's Story? Visit Charity's blog for the second part of the saga.)

A HUGE thank you to Theresa for sharing her story with us today. If you haven't already, be sure to check out Theresa's blog.

Has Theresa's story inspired you to try your hand at shorter fiction? Join us for the HONE YOUR SKILLS Blogfest. Write a short story (750-1000 words) and get instant feedback from fellow bloggers.

Have you ever tried your hand at short story writing? Have you had anything published? Would you like to share your story? Email me at rlconnolly01 [at] gmail [dot] com.


Alesa Warcan said...

Theresa rocks!

Stories are like fruit trees... A novel is a big mature apple tree that produces big juicy red fruit. Trying to make a short using only the first chapters of a novel is like trying to get fruit from the roots of an apple tree... Possible but unnatural.

Tangentially, A two chapter teaser of a novel is like the picture of those roots, making you wonder as to what the fruit must taste like.

A short story is like one of those miniature fruit trees... Perfectly proportionate, just tiny in comparison, and bearing delicious bite-sized fruit.

RosieC said...

Great analogies, Alesa. Miniature fruit trees... :)

And Theresa does rock. Most definitely.

Jules said...

No way I can top Alesa's comment. But Theresa is great, thanks for hosting Rosie.

Have a great weekend!
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Theresa Milstein said...

Rosie, thanks for giving me the opportunity to guest post. Alesa, you should've written the post! Jules, thank you for commenting too!

Aubrie said...


Thanks so much for mentioning me! Your short story is awesome and I bet they will love it! I'm eagerly awaiting your response as well.


Alesa Warcan said...

@RosieC: Aloha, nice to meetcha!
Glad you didn't mind my rambling...
Theresa has a knack for making me want to say stuff. : j

On her recommendation, I hopped on over. ::looking around:: Nice place you have here! (^-^)

Now, I'll slink back into the ether singing Nick Drake's Fruit Tree.
@Jules: Ooops, I guess as first commenter I wound up at the top of the list of comments. (^_~)
Only coincidental I assure you. Thanks for the praise.
@Theresa: Nope, I'm an irrelevant player in the scheme of things. You're a published author, and a person other striving authors can respect for her dedication and hard work. You're going to have to get used to being in the spotlight as an author.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I loved reading this, Theresa. I learned so much about you! :-)

Old Kitty said...

See that's why I love blogging!! It really does hone your editing skills to getting a piece as short as possible!!

Theresa Milstein!!! I'm so so so so glad you got the short story bug!! Off I go to part two!!

Thank you Rosie Connolly for hosting the fabulous Theresa Milstein! Take care

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks for sharing your story Theresa!

Judy Mintz said...

Thanks for inviting Theresa to guest-blog. I have been writing short/short stories for a class I'm taking and it is indeed, fascinating. I agree with everything Theresa said about it. The only problem has been, I don't need another distraction from my WIP. I can hear her calling me!

Tana Adams said...

Great job Theresa! The great thing about short stories is that you're not married to an idea for a very long time. Have a great weekend!

Cold As Heaven said...

Good post. I've never tried to write a short story. Maybe I should >:)

Cold As Heaven

Jemi Fraser said...

Very cool story! Like you, Theresa, I've always said no to short story ideas and contests. Maybe it's time to try them! Good luck! :)

Lola Sharp said...

I enjoyed this...well done Theresa! :)

Happy weekend, ladies!

WritingNut said...

Wonderful, inspiring story Theresa! :)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I never thought about how blogging can be good practice for writing fiction. But you're right in that we learn to write according to a certain word limit or format with blogs, so that's definitely a good thing to keep in mind when writing short stories!

The Survival Mama said...

I'm writing my first short story...we'll see if i can figure it out after writing full length novels.

swinging by from the blogfest, and following so I don't miss anymore good stuff.
The Survival Mama

Talli Roland said...

So interesting to hear about Theresa's journey - she does rock indeed! :) Big congrats to her on her recent success.

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