1.0 Short Stories
Taking an idea and bringing it to life
Key points to understanding your writing and purpose.
Too often I see emerging writers hung up on word count. The amount of words you have isn’t always indicative of a quality book or an enticing read. Social Media prompts like Nanowrimo encourage writers to punch out ‘x’ amount of words per sitting and for an unseasoned writer the sole focus on numbers rather than structure can be detrimental.
So my first lesson is about unpacking the basis of your idea and bringing it to life. In this lesson we will focus on your story, your direction and intention so that next week we can focus on breaking that idea down even further and beginning the plotting process!
Who is it for?
This one is important because as you know, there are certain types of writing reserved for different audiences. Knowing your audience will then give you the specific guidelines for how to write in that area and then present your work to the relevant parties. Are you writing for kids or adults? Business professionals or artists? Movie buffs or literature aficionados? Your tone, language and form will be determined based on the answer you have to this question.
What is the purpose?
Like with the who question, this one will help you understand why you’re actually writing this. Is it a tutorial piece, are you trying to teach someone something? Is it a memoir, are you telling your story? Is it a fictional book or a piece explaining how a business operates? Understanding the purpose of your writing will then allow you to know how to write for your audience. It’s also good to see similar books/blogs/articles to yours in order to understand how the author tackled their purpose or why. (Don’t reinvent the wheel here.)
Is it going to be public or private?
If you’re writing for yourself, then conventions aren’t all too important to follow (they’re valuable to learn but can be relaxed [once you’ve mastered the rules of course]). But if you’re writing in hopes of publication, there are conventions in writing we must follow. There are genre conventions one must understand. Now you don’t have to follow every single one, but if you break it down enough to see what you like and expect in a book, chances are your readers will too. E.g. You pick up a romance novel and there’s no love triangle or romantic conquest…you’re not happy, are you? You pick up a fantasy novel and there’s no quest or mission, nope. Not interested anymore. The same will go for whatever you’re writing. This is why the Who and Why you’re writing for are so important to understand.
What kind of media or format will it be?
Like genre conventions, there are media and publication conventions. I’ll name a few here but I can always go over more if there’s specific interest!
Blog, you’d be aiming for something concise and punchy, preferably backed with evidence and research between 500-800 words with pictures or diagrams.
Young adult 40,000-70,000 words
Fantasy/Sci-Fi, you’re looking at around 90,000-100,000 words
Novella, anything between 10,000-40,000 words
Paperback and eBook are yet another convention to follow, the bigger the physical book, the bigger the associated production costs (printing, paying a narrator to do the audiobook, promotion in stores as its a physically bigger book than others.)
Of course, these are only guidelines but when you’re ready to pitch to an agent or publisher you’ll be able to find out what sort of word count they work with and we’ll go through this at a later stage too!)
Now that we’ve covered the 4 main things that help us understand our idea, I will give you a bit of an example for each of them to put the learning into context.
I’m going to use my new young adult standalone novel, Andrea Nekić is Not Fine, as an example because it’s a lot simpler than explaining how 6+ books fit into this model.
This is what I wrote out when I got the initial idea floating around in my head. In order to understand what I was actually going to write and why, I had to break it down before I even started writing the actual book:
Who is it for?
Young adult readers between 15 and 18 years old. Preferably living in Australia because of the colloquial language used. It could also be good to pitch to a Victorian publisher/agent because of the heavily-Melburnian context therein.
What is the purpose?
To tell a ‘coming of age’ story that deals with tough teenage topics specific to an immigrant reader like bullying, immigration and isolation and fitting in with your peers in a way that would be relatable to young people. I want it to be entertaining yet meaningful. A book I can relate mine to, is Looking for Alibrandi.
Is it going to be public or private?
I want this to be a published book for young readers, potentially at schools or even school events like book fairs, author talks etc.
Sidenote: This was a tough one for me. I wanted the book to be a semi-autobiographical recount of my experience in year 12. However due to the nature of the events that took place and the subsequent ‘conclusion’ the book would have had I knew that it wouldn’t fit into the YA genre conventions. I knew that I needed to make a decision.
Because it was going to be public and one day read by young adults, I had to make sure that although there wasn’t a ‘happy/conventional’ ending in my actual story, there was in the book.
I had to follow the genre convention that dictates that young readers need a certain type of story and ending to be told in order to fulfil that requirement. Sure, I could have thrown caution to the wind and decided to keep it as is, but chances are that a publisher wouldn’t want to touch it due to the questions raised by young readers after the fact. So, I found creative ways to keep the story true to what I wanted to put out there, but also meet those conventions. Instead of the ending being fabricated to tick the box, I added a section at the end that’s served as the protagonists “after thoughts” where she explained what she would have done differently had she had her time again. Box ticked; writer satisfied.
So, you don’t have to completely change your story just because it doesn’t fit into a convention, feel free to creatively work around it. That’s the beauty in writing.
What kind of media or format are you looking to release it on?
This would be a young adult novel, so I would be working toward the 70,000 mark.
Now that the initial planning of the idea phase is complete, we can see at a quick glance what aspects we need to work on next.
We’re now able to focus on the main ideas of the book/blog/instructional we’re working on and we’re going to be able to unpack what it is we’re going to be writing about, why and for whom.
Try to find an idea you’ve had floating around and see if you can apply those rules to it. If you don’t have an idea yet, try to do the above with your favourite book or story and see if you can work out how it fits into the above points.
Please feel free to ask me if you’ve got any questions or if you just want to shoot through ideas and bounce them off me, I’m happy to talk books any time!
Until then, keep writing and share your successes or struggles and let’s see if we can find workarounds to get you writing!
Come back next week for: Lesson 1.1 - Breaking the idea down into draft mode.