One Great Way to Write a Short Story

ETBU CertificateI am a “second-rate” short story writer.

Why would I say that? “Exhibit A” shows the answer. It is a certificate documenting my second-place finish in the short story writing contest of the East Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. I have never won a short story competition but have finished in second place.

I have written and even sold short stories. Over the years, I have entered short story contests. I am still seeking that elusive “first place” in a short story contest.

In my quest to win a contest, I have become a student of the short story form. Here is what I call “One Great Way to Write a Short Story.” It begins with planning.

PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL

I would never start writing a short story without at least a rough outline to tell me where I am going.  I recommend jotting down the answers to a few questions. The answers provide the framework for where the story is going.

The first step in writing a short story is a planning exercise. Plan your short story in advance by answering questions in three areas:

The subject – Who is the main character? What is the problem?

The story –What is the character’s motivation to solve the problem? What actions occur to address the problem?

The resolution – What are results of the character’s acts to resolve the problem? What change does the character undertake because of that action?

HOW I DO IT – STEP BY STEP

1. The Character

I decide about whom I am going to write. You have one central character in the story. It might a soldier returning home. It could be an astronaut. It might be about a businessperson. The reader will identify with that person.

2. The Problem

What is it that the main character struggles with that he or she may not have an instant need to resolve? It is a problem the character has had for a while but has not had an immediate need to solve. An example would be if I were writing about a businesswoman who obtained an executive position using a falsified resume. She may not have an immediate need to deal with the issue.

3. The Motivation

Why does the main character decide to solve the problem? I’ll use the businesswoman with the falsified resume as an example.

It could be that she has accepted a position on the board of directors for a prominent community organization like the United Way. The local media decides to do a feature story on her background. In this case, I need to put in the appropriate backstory – her claiming to have a prestigious Ivy League graduate degree when she had dropped out of college before obtaining her undergraduate degree. Now she is in a position that requires an accredited four-year college degree as well as MBA. She realizes she is about to be found out with embarrassment to herself, her employer, and maybe she could even have to resign.

4. The Action

What does the main character do to solve the problem? What does she do to correct the situation? Maybe she confesses to her company’s president, or she may try to resign quietly from the board of directors for a prominent community organization for personal reasons trying to avoid being exposed and hoping it will just go away.

5. The Result

What happens because of the character’s attempt to solve the problem? Maybe she tells the president and he dismisses her. The employer takes legal action against her demanding restitution from her for fraudulently obtained wages. He takes her to court and wins. She is required to make restitution of tens of thousands of dollars and has her reputation destroyed.

6. The Change

Perhaps at this point, the character struggles financially, loses her large home and country club lifestyle. Maybe her friends desert her. She is unable to get a job because of her lying on the resume. She could go back to school and complete the education she had claimed.  Maybe she becomes an advocate for ethical business practices.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Remember the main character needs a good reason for what they are doing. They need to act consistently to who they are. You need to set up every incident in the story. If the character obtained a high position using a falsified resume, make sure you set this up by doing a flashback or remembrance where she is sitting typing the resume and then clicks submit thinking no one ever checks a resume. If you bring it up, you must conclude it. This refers to the conflict in the story. If you have any conflict, you need to resolve it before ending the story.

Once you have planned your short story, you will be able to write it. My guess is by following these simple principles you too can write a short story. Moreover, just maybe it will be “second-rate” or even better.


This article original appeared in “Author Culture,” September 17, 2014


Jimmie Aaron KeplerJimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support engineer. He is a former Captain in the US Army. He holds BA, MA, MRE and EdD degrees. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. He is the author of seven books and collections available on Amazon. You can visit him at http://www.jimmiekepler.com.

Bolsa Mercado, Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas

bolsa-mercado-2Today’s Coffee House is the Bolsa Mercado. Located in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, Texas at 634 W. Davis Street, it is one of the best coffee houses in the Dallas and the USA. If you like economical, casual, and want to bring your dog, it’s the place for you. It also offers some amazing breakfast tacos if you get there before 11:00 AM.

If you carry your laptop with you for writing or work as I do, the Bolsa Mercado offers plenty of workspaces, couches, tables, and patio seating. This is the Oak Cliff community coffee shop. If you live in this part of Dallas you will likely meet friends and acquaintances at The Bolsa Mercado. If you know someone from Oak Cliff, you may very well run into them here.

bolsa-mercado-1The menu includes gigantic macaroons, wonderful salads to go, outstanding sandwiches for lunch and even carry out meals ready. If you want a cup of black coffee, a shot of espresso or a cappuccino they have it. The Bolsa Mercado has no weaknesses. The prices are fair, the employees caring and upbeat, and the service world-class.

 

Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles

The photo is of the Starbucks at The Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles. I used to work across the street from it. I at my evening meal there almost every day. It was across the street from my day job and a five-minute walk from where I lived when working in Los Angeles. Living a five-minute walk from work was good in LA.

the-promenade-at-howard-hughes-center


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. Kepler has a Bachelor of Arts in history with English and military science minors. He also earned Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. You can also visit him at Kepler’s Book Reviews.

A Day Job, Family, and the Writing Life

27Twenty-seven hours

Do you need twenty-seven hours in your day to do everything? Sorry, I can’t give your day extra hours. What I can give are some of the lessons I’ve learned and techniques I use to make the best use of my time.

Maybe like a current television commercial’s characters you are stupid rich. That is where you can pay for someone to handle your pitches, blurbs, contract negotiations, research, reporting, editing, billing, collections, Twitter, Facebook, and personal website.

Stupid rich allows you to just write. If that’s the case, this article isn’t for you. However, if you don’t have a housekeeper that does the cleaning, a nanny taking care of the kids, and a virtual assistant, read on.

You’re more like me.

My guess is you are more like me. You have to do it all. You would add to the above list driving the car pool, church and community goings-on, your children and grandkids school activities. You might also be caring for aging parents as well as having a time-jealous spouse that cannot figure out why you are driven to write. Or like me you may have a terminally ill spouse. They view your writing as just a hobby.

Like me, you have to figure out how to manage your writing time while working the day job to support your writing habit, and of course keep the spouse, children, parents, and world happy.

You may find your life so connected with others that you can’t turn off email, Facebook, and Twitter. You rationalize, it’s okay, after all, you use them to promote your writing. And the iPhone or Android smartphones have to be on all the time for instant access to voice and text communication.

Okay, go ahead, take a deep breath. I find all live similar lives. I won’t kid you; it is hard to write, stay organized and productive while balancing a day job, writing and family. We all know there is no silver bullet or magic formula to handle these conflicting demands.

Time management tips

Here are some time management tips I’ve learned over the last thirty-five years of freelance writing. During that interval, I’ve been writing while working and changing careers three times. I’ve been a United States Army officer. I admit I learned lots of discipline and time management skills from Uncle Sam. Next, I was a full-time Christian educator holding such job titles as Minster of Education, Associate Pastor, and Day School Headmaster.

For the last twenty years, I have worked in information technology field as a technical documentationalist, support engineer and systems engineer with all the never-ending on-call, long hours and weekends that go with an IT job. Along the way, I raised a family, worked a day job, was active in my church, managed staying married to the same woman for forty-two years, and carried for aging parents and parents-in-law. It’s not easy, but you can do it.

Writing requires five things

How have I done it? I learned finding time for writing requires five things. It requires balance, focus, understanding expectations, flexibility, and the ability to multitask.

  1. I learned a writer needs balance. This is meeting writing deadlines while marketing to existing and new clients to keep work coming in. An editor at Lifeway Christian Resources told me thirty-five years ago others wrote better than me, but I wrote to specification, met deadlines, and was easy to work with so I was offered assignment after assignment over the better writers. Professional writers balance the writing life with the rest of their life. It isn’t either or, but both and.
  2. I learned to maintain my focus is critical. What I mean by focus is being able to switch from task to task or project to project without getting distracted. I learned to do this by viewing writing as a professional job. Just like showing up at the day job and beginning working when my shift start, I do the same with writing. I have an appointed time and then just write.
  3. I learned to manage my expectations. Creating realistic expectations for how much can be accomplished in an hour, day, week month or year took time. It helped where I didn’t take on too much work. I learned the balance needed to meet deadlines and not be overwhelmed. It helps you end up with the right amount of a workload. This allows you to have time for your family and friends.
  4. I learned to be flexible. In freelancing for trade journals and magazines, I have been called at three PM on a Friday and asked if I could have them an article by the beginning of business on Monday. Why such a short deadline? The person with the original assignment missed their due date. I say yes only when I can deliver. Flexibility is staying loose enough to deal with the unforeseen circumstances that unavoidably crop up while keeping enough structure to finish projects on time.
  5. I learned to multitask. I hate the word and concept. I actually can only work on one thing at a time, but can work on several projects. I just think about multitasking like when I had six of seven classes in high school or college. I would have homework in more than one class. I learned how to handle it. Working on multiple projects simultaneously is a regular part of a freelancer’s life. For example, you may blog, Tweet, be working on your novel, and coordinating the church social all the same week. Somehow we do it.

Approaches for managing time

Well, I hear you thinking about now, “Where are those time management suggestions?” You guessed it, here they are. I call them approaches for managing time. Ultimately, better time management should equal higher productivity.

  1. I have a regular place and time to write. It doesn’t matter if it is first thing in the morning, after lunch or in the evening. I have found when I do that The Muse will eventually show up because The Muse knows where and when to find me. I write most morning at Starbucks for an hour before going to the day job, longer on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I write there because I have fewer interruptions. I also write for the last thirty minutes of my lunch hour four days a week. Never forget, writer’s write. You have to make time for writing.
  2. I avoid interruptions. Here is where you disconnect or turn off the phone. It’s where you don’t check email, Facebook or Twitter. You write. If working from home, don’t answer the doorbell. It is the time to write, not the time to research. If you are writing and need to research, make a note, but keep writing. You can research later. I actually write many times with the Internet turned off or using software that limits the time I can be on the Internet. Avoiding interruptions helps you make writing a priority where you can write.
  3. I write to the clock, not for a word count, though I try to write at least a page a day (about 250 to 300 words). Because of working about 50 hours a week at my day job, I don’t have the luxury of writing until I reach a certain number of words each day. I have to stop and go to work. It is amazing how many words I write just by having a regular schedule. You can use the timer on your phone or one from your kitchen to track the time you write. While writing, I always get up every hour to stretch and clear my mind, etc. Monday through Friday, I write from 6:00 AM to 7:05 AM. On Saturday, I write from 6:00 AM until 10 or 11:00 AM. Sundays I write from 6:30 AM to 8:00 AM before attending church. Again, I take a short break each hour and then keep on keeping on.
  4. I set goals. When working on a novel or an article I use what was called the backward planning process when I was in the US Army. Backward planning means first identifying your goal. Next you select the actions that are most likely to help you to arrive efficiently at your goal. For example, if I plan on writing an 80,000-word book on speculation, I know I can write a first draft in 320 days if I write on average just one page a day. I write the date I want to have the deadline and then plan the steps to get there. I outline, so this helps. You build in catch up time. Remember flexibility?
  5. I reward myself. I get excited when I write one page or more in the morning. When making my goal, I may treat myself to a second cup of coffee or a walk in the park. Sometimes reaching a goal gets me the reward of a new book to read. I know several writers who set daily or weekly goals. They reward themselves for concluding tasks or meeting goals. Remember, the rewards don’t have to be big. I do something bigger when a project is completed like celebrate with friends and family.
  6. I schedule time for my spouse. We spend time together. Sunday we attend church and Bible fellowship class together. We go out to eat lunch on Sunday. It is our “standing date.” Any major family or household management issues are handled Sunday afternoons. We often walk together in the park or mall as well as attending a movie or watching a favorite DVD or DVRed movie on Sunday.
  7. I use a to-do list to keep me on track. I know many writers hate them, but I us them help keep me on track.
  8. Last, I keep track of what I write and submit. I have used an Excel Spreadsheet and a paid service to help me in this area. The paid service I used is Duotrope. What I like about Duotrope is it is my personal submissions control panel. Like Writer’s Market, it has marketplace information and how to submit. It has an online submissions tracker that allows me to record and track submissions. Duotrope has the average number of days it takes to get a reply and the acceptance to rejection ratio on over 5,000 markets. It allows me to search publications and publishers by how they pay, acceptance ratio, and average days to get a reply. It tracks my submissions by category: fiction, non-fiction, poetry and an overall summary. It lets me keep track of my pending submissions, how many I have sent in the last 12 months, how many I have sent this month and my acceptance ratio. It allows me to also manage my list of pieces, my saved searches, my tracked deadlines, my favorite markets, shows me ignored markets. The two photos are screen captures of my two monitoring systems. One is a simple Excel Spreadsheet. The other is the Duotrope Dashboard. I found when I track my writing I submit more, sell more and resubmit. It keeps me from sending the same piece twice to the same market. As you can glean I have been rejected by some of the best: The New Yorker, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Poetry Magazine. I also get my share of acceptances.

We may not have twenty-seven hours a day, but we can write on a regular schedule. We can also plan and keep track of our work. Writer’s write. Writer’s also submit, rewrite and resubmit.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. Kepler has a Bachelor of Arts in history with English and military science minors. He also earned Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. You can also visit him at Kepler’s Book Reviews.

A Familiar Story

Poetry & Prose February 2011You have always loved reading and telling stories. You enjoy writing. You teachers, professors, friends, and family, say you should write a book.

You attend a writer’s conference. You make a commitment to write your book … but then life gets in the way. Your spouse or partner begins feeling jealous of the time you commit to your craft. Your day job’s priorities change, your commitments parents and children pile up, the hot water heater goes out, and you find yourself in response mode to a full calendar whose meetings and events are being set by others.  Your writing time disappears. Instead of writing articles or books, you’re now reacting and managing tasks.

As a writer, you know that to write a book you must put your bottom in a chair and your fingers on the keyboard.  You know writer’s write. People don’t want to hear you say you are a writer. They want to see the magazine article, blog post, e-book, or print book. Friends and family will only view you as a writer when they see they finished product. There will never be any book dedications to them without you writing the book. You won’t be asked for an interview or have a book signing without first writing.

The tension between life’s daily grind and developing writers is what inspired jimmiekepler.com. As a husband, father, grandpa, Christian, writer, an information technology professional, geek, cat lover, and former US Army officer I had to fight for the time to write. I studied writing through reading books, blogs magazines, self-study, listening to podcasts, attending writer’s group, and attending writing conferences and conventions.

While having my first professional writing sale way back in 1981, I have to date not achieved my goal of supporting myself financially by writing. I figured that other writers might be struggling with the same situation and launched Kepler’s Coffee House as a way to provide easily accessible, shareable writers development insight for those who need it. The focus of the website is two-fold. I concentrate on the business and craft of writing. Let’s face it, neither of those is important unless you write. So that is where I’ll  being.

You may be wondering, why call the blog Kepler’s Coffee House? I selected the name because I do the majority of my writing in coffee houses.

If just one person finds value in what they read, I consider it worth the effort. After all, I am the greatest winner in this little adventure.

Subscribe to Kepler’s Coffee House. See the follow button on the lower left of the screen.

The best way to get the latest articles from Kepler’s Coffee House is to subscribe to the blog. You’ll get at least one post a week entirely focused your development as a writer.


The photo is the cover of February 2011 issue of Poetry & Prose Magazine. My name is on the lower left corner as a featured poet. If you click on the picture it will enlarge where you can read the names on the cover.


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. Kepler has a Bachelor of Arts in history with English and military science minors. He also earned Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. You can also visit him at Kepler’s Book Reviews.

Estes Park, Colorado

Today’s coffee-house photo is of the Starbucks in Estes Park, Colorado. It has two entrances. One is off the main highway that goes through town. The other is off the Big Thompson River and the river walk. It is one of my favorite Starbucks location. I’ve had coffee there at least a dozen times. I visit each time I attend the writer’s conference in Estes Park. They have great Wi-fi with tremendous bandwidth.

estes-park-co


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. Kepler has a Bachelor of Arts in history with English and military science minors. He also earned Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. You can also visit him at Kepler’s Book Reviews.

Hollywood and Vine

Over the years I have visited hundreds of Starbucks in many states. Today’s Starbucks is located at Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood, California. It is one of the most famous intersections in Los Angeles. I worked for a software development company Los Angles the summer of 2012.

hollywood-and-vine-los-angeles-ca


Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffeehouse, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. Kepler has a Bachelor of Arts in history with English and military science minors. He also earned Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts and Doctor of Education degrees. You can also visit him at Kepler’s Book Reviews.