A few weeks ago I came across an article by Jaume Vincent that reminded me again how important it is to keep the creative part of the mind 100% active.
In his article The Bradbury Challenge, one story a week, he talks about how important it is for him to be able to spend time writing his stories. He also tells us about his method to achieve it, dividing part of the tasks throughout the week to make it more attractive.
Following one of my comments in that article, Jaume asked me, intrigued, to write an article for Excentrya in which I would tell you what method I use to fulfill the Bradbury Challenge.
So, delighted to be able to slip into Jaume’s corner of terror for a while, here comes my method for writing a story per week.
The Bradbury Challenge
I would like to start with the famous quote that gives rise to all this:
Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row – Ray Bradbury
Which, translated into Spanish, comes to say that it is impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row. Although … how can we combine all our weekly tasks with writing a story?
We have all had, have and will have, problems with the distribution of our time. In fact, this November it seems that the autumn wind has brought with it a deadly epidemic for many of us, which is causing us to cut back on the time we spend on our blogs.
Jaume was telling me the other day via Twitter, Ana Gonzalez Duque ( El Fogón ) published it here a week ago, Gabriella Campbell ( Gabriella Literaria ) did the same thing here a little over a month ago,… and I did the same in one of my latest articles.
Time is our most precious resource and we all want to optimize it as best as possible.
How do I try to do it?
Writing a story in one day
Most story writing plans include a distribution of all the assignments over the days of the week. Jaume proposes a 5-day writing system, Gabriella does it in a distributed system of almost three weeks, etc.
The system that I use condenses all the tasks into a single day. In my case, every Thursday morning I spend writing my Bradbury story.
Mainly because I think that the more a task is fragmented, the more time is lost in recovering the concentration that we could have at the end of each fragment.
And then because practice has taught me that (at least for me) one morning or one afternoon is enough to create a story of an acceptable quality and with a length of 1500–2500 words.
I am not going to deceive you, there are stories whose development stalls or whose extension gets out of hand and forces us to dedicate more hours than desired. But as a general rule it works for me.
1. Collecting ideas
The most important thing in any story, what really gives it life, is the central idea that moves us to write it. I call that idea the soul of a story.
That soul can be practically anything (a word, a phrase, a book, a dream, a sensation …) and it will be up to you to find those little everyday things that can become a good story.
Write down anything that you find interesting. From a discussion with a colleague to the title of a book that you have seen, going through that strange feeling that a dream has left you when you wake up.
Except in very specific moments and for certain solutions, I am not very fond of dedicating predefined moments to generate ideas and to look for topics on which to write. I think creativity comes and goes. Good (and bad) ideas do not ask permission to come to us on a specific day at 10:00 AM. And in the same way that they appear, they also disappear from our brain.
So put your brain in capture mode all the time and write down what triggers that internal alarm that you have and that warns you that there may be something behind it. Over time you will realize that you will not be able to write down everything that a new story suggests…
Remember that it is the most important part of the story. If you’re just starting to write, you may need to spend a few days brainstorming ideas before you start.
I started generating 10 ideas per week, no matter how bad they seemed. Normal things such as conversations with my friends, news that I had read or such strange ideas as what would happen if my reflection in the mirror greeted me?
Now I have a whole notebook written in my microscopic handwriting and filled to the top with hundreds of ideas, which grows every day.
2. Choosing topic
If you have done your homework well, you will have a huge list of ideas. How can you choose the most suitable for the story you are going to write today?
Very easy. Read them all again. Have you noticed how some of them have generated a certain attraction for you? Write these special ideas on another sheet and spend some time analyzing each one of them.
In my experience, every day and every hour an entire universe is separated as to what that best idea might be. That is why I recommend you do this selection work just before launching yourself to write. And never, never delete an idea from the list before you’ve written something about it. You don’t know if it will one day lead to the best story you’ve ever written.
Once you have chosen (or even created) the central idea of the story, the funniest part comes: ghost writing. For what I want to propose the two methods that I use the most.
3. The snowflake method
Many times we will not be clear how we can approach the topic we have chosen. In those cases, I always follow the well-known snowflake method.
I will not dwell too much on how this method works, because you can find a very detailed explanation that Ana Bolox wrote for Excentrya: The snowflake method. Although he is dedicated to writing a novel, the steps are very similar for a short story. You just have to take away that extra level of depth that a novel needs.
What I am going to leave you with is a summary of one of my articles on how I apply this method to writing stories:
- Write the idea of the story in a few words. Try to define in this step the genre or the impact you want to make on the reader.
- Add, briefly too, two more details to that description. For example, giving it a hook and a finish.
- Continue the process until you have a complete structure of the story.
- Optional: If you get nowhere, see if the idea is good enough. If it is not, or you do not see how to continue, discard it (for now) and look for a different one.
4. Free-guided writing
There are times when the soul of the story is so powerful that we don’t need to design an outline to write something about it. Ideas that catch our attention so much that we believe we already have all the pieces inside us.
Fix in your mind that central idea, that image that has suggested something to you, and start writing. Sometimes you will know the ending beforehand, but many other times you will have no idea how it will end. Simply and simply let yourself be carried away by the soul of the story and see where it takes you.
That is the grace and the danger that this method has. Which, by the way, is my favorite.
It is possible that to be able to start you need a few sentences or a paragraph. As part of this creative writing exercise, I often write a previous paragraph defining that idea. Or I just write what it evokes within me.
When I think I’m ready to jump into something productive, I just write what comes over me when I think about that idea.
And yes, you are correct, some of these stories never see the light of day (although they are only a handful).
3. Reviewing the text
Do you remember that I told you that I dedicate Thursday morning to do this? The reason for doing it first thing is to finish writing before noon. So I can spend the rest of the day forgetting what I have written.
With this I get that, at night, when I start to review the text, the ideas have rested and I can see the story with more critical eyes.
Eliminate all the paragraphs that do not contribute anything to the story, correct the spelling, the syntax … and analyze if the story is coherent or has plot failures that you must modify.
The normal thing is that if you have written a story following method 2.A, the editing work is much less than if you have followed method 2.B. But, as in everything, practice will end up giving you that ability that will make your stories need less and less corrections.
Find a gap of between 2 and 4 hours in which you feel comfortable to write. Once you’ve fixed it, be consistent and get into the habit of sticking with it.
The key to writing a good story is not so much in the idea itself, but in what you are capable of doing with it. That is why it is very important that you spend time and patience in writing down all the things that can lead to a story. Variety is the key to getting good ideas.
Once you have that list of ideas:
- Choose the idea that you think can give more play, or combine several of them to generate a new one.
- Write following the method that you like the most.
- Review and polish the text.