November 2016 Meeting Recap

OWLS has gone short! Short story writing that is. During our monthly meeting, we laid out the basics to short story writing with a challenge inviting all who attended to take part in our Short Story Writing Challenge. Over the next 6 months, we will work directly with anyone who would like to try their hand at crafting a short story, poem, creative journal, or a combination of any of those.

The first steps to crafting a short story is to understand just what goes into one. The first step is to develop a premise that will work in the short story format. Shorts tend to be anywhere from 1,500 words on up to 10,000, so a story line should take that in to consideration. Think of it as a moment in time, a glimpse of real life so to speak. Short stories are often true to life in that they give us a picture of someone’s life in a snapshot, real or imagined, rather than an entire life story. Like taking a picture instead of a full length autobiography. Mindy Klasky says in her article, Keeping Time, ” Timelines frequently factor into the narrative tension of our stories; short timelines often “raise the stakes” for everyone involved.” Like a novel, short stories must contain several key elements, an intriguing sentence that leaves more questions than it answers, memorable characters, meaningful dialogue, pivotal change, a powerful climax and finally, an ending that wraps it all up.

You may ask, why write a short story then if you already do all of that in a novel. Well, let’s take a look.

“A short story is not really a novel in miniature, but it has many of a novel’s features, from fictional characters to rising and falling action. Stories that are traditional narratives (as opposed to fragmentary vignettes or character studies) mirror many aspects of the novel. For example, one aspect of writing that writers often struggle with is how much information to give the reader and whether their own thoughts about the story have made it to the page. Sometimes, a writer knows the story so well they fail to convey essential information. Short stories give a writer the chance to practice revealing information in different ways without having to do this over a longer arc. Writing short fiction is also a useful exercise in conveying important themes quickly as the main action of the story unfolds.” Now Novel

There’s quite a bit of an advantage to taking on a short story even if you are currently working on a novel. Short stories allow you to experiment with plot devices without the commitment of a full length manuscript. This can add a new level of understanding of how plot devices can not only make your writing stronger, but can create more conflict, tension and depth to your longer pieces without the headache of getting three-quarters into a novel only to have to go back and rewrite it all when your plot falls apart.

Other benefits are, being able to edit out those “darlings” that get in the way and not lose any of the important detail. Oftentimes in writing a novel, we tend to overwrite only to have to go back and trim away all the excess word vomit and risk losing the integrity we intended it to have all along. Keeping to a shorter word count forces you to make the words count. Our characters become stronger, leaner, more alive without all the extraneous descriptions. Dialogue becomes distinctive, leaner, more concise and important. We learn what’s necessary and what is not, which then carries over into novel writing, creating stories that grab the reader and hold them to the end and ultimately, tell the story we intended all along.

Of course, there are a whole host of benefits we gain when we tighten up the word count and dare to stay within it’s boundaries. Line by line we learn to write sentences that speak what we want them to say. Short stories are great for implying a character’s flaw, fear, past, etc without telling everything about them.

So, if you are up for the challenge, either reply to the November Short Story Writing Challenge email that was sent out with the words, “I’m in” or if you are not in our email mailing list, then email us at with the keywords, OWLS Short Story Writing Challenge, I’m in. Please be sure to include your personal information in the email so we can follow up with you. If you are hesitant, we have an incentive for you. Every month that you meet the deadline, you will receive $1 off your yearly membership dues, which could potentially take $6 off. We will send out reminders to keep you on track and each month you attend a meeting, we will give you feedback designed to help you develop and perfect that story.

So, if you are ready to get started, the first deadline is December 31st. If you don’t already have a story idea you’ve been mulling, use people, events, and situations around you for inspiration; the holidays are coming to provide ample opportunity to witness family interactions or tensions among fellow shoppers, because inspiration can come from anywhere and stories can be dark, full of romance, charged with underlying tension, or warmed with humor. Open your mind to possibilities and be inspired!

Our first goal concerns idea-generation and character elements:
• Main Characters–briefly outline at least 2; consider what they hate, what secrets do they have, memories that might influence them, illness, phobias, quirks, faults?
• Main Conflict–what is at the center of this story
• Central Event or Moment–when does the conflict occur or why
Setting–interpret as broadly or minutely as necessary to begin to visualize the situation

You may produce these ideas in any form you like: rough outline, brief sentences, sketched-out notes. Remember to keep them brief; these are initial notes to get something of your inspiration on paper.
Submit this part-one material to OWLS by email no later than December 31. Be sure to include your name in the email and use Short Story Challenge in the subject.

We have included the websites in this post with tips, ideas and guidelines for getting started which we have drawn from to explain the process. Please read through them and take notes as they offer up more information than I could ever put in one posting.

Through the coming months, OWLS will guide you through the short story development and creation process with relevant articles, meeting discussions, and feedback. We’ll help you set reasonable goals, hold you accountable, and offer support along the way. When the seminar series is complete, you’ll have a story/poem/anecdote worthy of final polish, and with some determination, the potential for submission to contests, journals, and anthology calls–or at least the experience and methods to do it all again with a specific purpose in mind. We look forward to the next six months and everything we can accomplish together.

Keeping Time

How to write a great short story: 7 simple steps

How to write a short story and improve your writing skills

December’s meeting will not be held, rather, we invite all OWLS members and their families to our OWLS Christmas Dinner held at Thunder Bay Grill, 7652 Potawatomi Trail Rockford IL. Cocktails at 6 p.m., Dinner at 6:30 ordered off the menu, dutch treat. Please RSVP to Dawn at 815-289-2860 or Sarah at 815-218-7563 no later than 8 p.m. on December 1st with the number of guests in your party.

Write somethin'!