Writing a Short Story by Rachelle M.N. Shaw

Writing a Short Story by Rachelle M.N. Shaw

In many ways, short stories are just like longer pieces of fiction. Both follow a general plot structure, establishing a clear setting and characters within. They then build tension and conflict before resolving it. However, with short stories, the length is limited—usually to 5,000 words or fewer. Not only that, but they capture one snapshot in time and portray a message through that event. Needless to say, it’s important that every piece of a short story propels the plot.

The biggest question you’ll have to tackle when writing your short story is why you’re telling it. What does your protagonist want? What stands in his/her way? Similar to long prose, you’ll need to make the first few paragraphs engaging and captivating. You can do so by establishing a distinct and detailed environment, strong characters, and a clear initial conflict. Just remember to build up to an even bigger encounter at the climax of the story.

The second tip to creating a stellar short story is don’t make the plot too complicated. You’ll need to be able to unravel it by the end. That’s not to say it can’t be intricate and interesting; just keep the subject matter down to something worthy of a short tale, not an entire book.

Another way to make sure your tale stays short is to limit yourself to one or two main characters and a handful of side ones. Any more than that, and the plot quickly becomes too complicated to resolve within a short time frame. However, with a minimal number of characters, it’s even more important that you build well-rounded ones. Give them distinguishing characteristics. Include meaningful dialogue, especially with accompanying actions. What your characters do and say will resonate more with the reader than narrative backstory will.

The middle section of your story will probably be the richest. It includes the climax, which hinges on the answer to a crucial question: What significant choice or change does your protagonist undergo? It’s at this point that the reader will see significant character development and the start of a resolution to the overall plot.

For the resolution, the protagonist needs to either succeed or fail at what they were trying to achieve in the beginning. If they succeed, at what cost did they do so? If they fail, what did they gain or lose by trying? Your resolution can be a bit open-ended (meaning it doesn’t have to be completely black and white), but it does need to have a defined direction. In other words, if your protagonist faces a choice in the end, you could hint at the fact that she’ll pick choice A over choice B without directly stating it.

If your story still doesn’t seem to be working, try experimenting with point of view or tense. Short stories lend themselves to a wide range of POVs and tenses that work well, something that doesn’t necessary ring true for longer pieces of prose. A first-person narrative told in present tense, for instance, is often better suited to a short story than a novel.

Finally, keep an eye on the structure. Don’t make your story character-based or plot-based; it should rely on both! In other words, the specific situation you write about should only happen because of the exact characters, timing, and circumstances involved. If the same story could be told with different characters or a different setting, try reworking it. The end result should be something that is totally unique.


Website: http://rachellemnshaw.com/

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Journey Through the Journals

Journey Through the Journals

Lately I have begun a thing where, once I get a story idea, I go out and buy a journal specific to that idea to start outlining in. I have one for When Heaven Was Blue, When Stars Rise, a new novel idea I came up with, and another for short story ideas or promotional stuff for When Stars Die. I had one for WSD, but my cat threw up on it, and so it was rendered completely useless. I then got another one for WSD, but I frankly have no clue what happened to that one. Needless to say, I have decided to make sure I keep them all from now on. Here they are:


picture065This one is for the newest WIP that I am mostly just going to outline for now.











picture066This one is for When Stars Rise. I had hoped to be able to fit the outline of the third book, When Stars Collide, in it, but WSC will need its own notebook.










This one is for misc. writing things, like short stories, promotional things, future novel ideas, ect…






This one is for When Heaven Was Blue, which is currently on hiatus while an editor looks over the first 1/3rd of it.








So those are my journals. Where do you guys store your outlines?





Contemporary Fantasy and Updates

Contemporary Fantasy and Updates

So things have been going slow on the When Stars Die end because my contract manager is having some major tech issues and pretty much only has her smart phone to rely on. And as we know, smart phones aren’t always smart. But I spoke with Raymond Vogel, founder of AEC, and we’re hoping for a September release and I should be getting back to When Stars Die some time next week after he’s looked through it. (And I also can’t wait to see what my contract manager has done.) It’s coming at a great time too because I should be finished with my contemporary fantasy this week. Then I can let it cook next week while working on When Stars Die, then I’ll probably be able to get back to work on it the week after with line edits.

The mental illness questionnaire I posted on here and Tumblr has yielded some positive results, and I cannot wait to get to line edits. I also have three potential titles for the novel: From Children’s Hour, When Heaven Was Blue, and Good and Ill. More titles might be surfacing as I do the line edits and read more poetry by some of Gene’s favorite authors.

I also had three different people help me with the blurb, which is no longer two sentences. I am horrible with blurbs. If it weren’t for Nazarea Andrews, I wouldn’t even have the blurb for When Stars Die. So here’s the new summary for my contemporary fantasy:

Life is difficult enough for fifteen-year-old Gene White when sudden, disturbing hallucinations of a man in a gold suit threaten to drive him mad. The trauma drives him to suicide, but an equally mysterious puppeteer intervenes and saves him.

The news he brings is hardly reassuring.

The puppeteer offers him protection from the man in the gold suit, who is very real and even more dangerous. Gene is wary but finds himself desperate for any assistance he can get as his tormentor relentlessly attacks his already-battered mind, sending him into a continuously downward spiral of hopelessness.

I want to thank Mariah Wilson, Jake Bonsignore, and Kieran M. for helping me with the blurb.


Finding the Heart of a Novel (Or Ripping it Out)

Finding the Heart of a Novel (Or Ripping it Out)

I hate that when I’m re-writing, I can’t find the heart of the story until a little more than halfway through, and then it just pops up and hits me like a freight train, and I’m left on the rails as a bloody flesh sack wondering why it took so long for the train to hit me. But this at least means that the most complicated part of a novel for me to write, the final few chapters, have been taken care of because they convey the heart of the story so well. Of course, this also means that when line edits come, I’m going to have to smash the heart of the novel into every line that I’ve already written–or at least see if the heart is there, a heart I couldn’t see until that ‘aha!’ moment.

I honestly wanted my second draft to be that draft where everything is all nice and smoothed out, but the truth is, that’s a difficult thing to do because even as I’m re-writing I’m coming up with better ways to tell the story, and finding more plot holes that I can’t smooth out until I do line edits. But what’s different this time around is that I hopefully won’t need whole re-writes with the third draft, that I can actually work on a few chapters a day and get line edits completed in about two weeks.

So what is this heart that I’m speaking of? Originally His Vanity was simply about a suicidal teen being taken on a journey to get better. Of course at the time I knew there was more to it, but you can’t really know the heart until you start writing. Even then it’s difficult to find the heart of anything in a rough draft. In reality, His Vanity is about a sick teen learning to cope with the pain already present. There’s some healing and what not along the way, but I am doing my best to present a realistic view of depression for those out there with treatment-resistant depression or those out there who can’t get treatment for depression. Treatment is not as easy as some media make it out to be. You go through meds, they fail, you try again. You find meds that do work, but you get crap side effects, so you have to drop those meds. For some people, it’s easy. One med and that’s it. But for others, it may take a year or more to find that stability, and so I want Gene to be the voice for those who struggle, really, really struggle because from what I’ve read in the sick lit genre of YA literature, there really isn’t that voice. They pop a pill, and suddenly they’re stable. Crap goes awry when they stop their meds. 

I desperately want this book to be more than just a fantasy novel. I want it to be in the vein of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. His Vanity is a book about mental illness that just happens to also be a fantasy book because the fantasy aspect is needed to show Gene there is an entire world out there that exists beyond his own. It also exists to help foster within Gene another perspective of life that he would not have gotten staying home–because his parents are very protective of him. Not only that, but the fantasy element also exists to show anyone who is afflicted with a mental illness that there is something special in them, even if it can only be a metaphor. There is truly something special. Pain demands to be felt, but it also has the ability to change us, and we can choose to let pain change us for the better. We can use that pain and make a difference (NAMI springs to mind).

It has not been an easy book to write because mental illness is not easy to write about.  It’s messy, it’s painful, it’s so, so, so, painful, but I’m doing my best to show that mental illness needs to be accepted as any other illness; I also have to accept that not everyone is going to get that. You don’t need to have a tragic story to be afflicted with a tragic illness. People simply  need to accept that if you’re sick, you’re sick, and that’s all that matters. The reasons are pointless.

So this is what I want His Vanity to accomplish:

  • You don’t need a tragic story to be sick
  • Getting treatment for mental illness is not as easy as mainstream culture leads us to believe
  • Mental illness is as serious as any other serious illness
  • People who are mentally ill are simply sick, and that is that
  • People who are mentally ill are not broken
  • People who are mentally ill are going to have to accept the pain that comes along with their illnesses
  • But people who are mentally ill have it in them, somewhere, to overcome their pain, even if they can’t completely erase it
A Review of Jake Bonsignore’s Empyreal Illusions

A Review of Jake Bonsignore’s Empyreal Illusions

91qubsF4pJL._SL1500_ I haven’t read fantasy in forever, and I can’t even tell you why. I’ve just been thirsting for a lot of YA contemporary lately, along with the occasional dystopian and paranormal YA novel. But I saw Jake Bonsignore’s book on Facebook in one of the Like events for Facebook Pages, and the cover immediately drew me to the book. I am not ashamed to admit I do judge a book by its cover. With so many books competing against one another for shelf space and online space, books nowadays have to have some reason to excite the reader, and his cover lured me in to read the blurb. Then the blurb itself excited me, and I bought the book, despite the protests my bank account made (we’re all good). In any case, let’s get on with the review.

Breena Taljain’s life nearly comes to an end when she comes across the Patriarch, a man so steeped in hatred he has all of Purgaire living in fear. His assault on her occurs because her mother’s addiction put them both in debt and left Breena a practical street rat having to work at a seedy bar just to pay for her own chance at existence.

Then you have Galbrecht Atalir, an alcoholic doctor dealing with the death of his entire family at the hands of the Patriarch. Breena and Galbrecht’s paths cross when he discovers Breena is his newest patient. In order to relieve her suffering, he gives her a drug that sends her to an entirely new world so far removed from Purgaire that Breena does not want to leave. However, when Breena’s health itself begins to decline, she finds she must journey to a harsh world in order to overcome the tribulations of her own mind.

I just want to say that what interests me most about this book is that Breena’s state in the hospital coincides with what’s happening with her in Araboth. At the beginning, when Galbrecht’s drug is working its magic, she is in the beautiful Araboth with achingly vivid, beautiful descriptions. But then Galbrecht realizes he can’t keep giving her more of the drug, so Breena is soon plunged into the hinterlands, a harsh, harsh wilderness filled with terrifying creatures that seem to represent the monsters of her own mind. It is such a psychological thriller that reminds me of Flavia Bujor’s Prophecy of the Stones, except it’s done one hundred times better, and Breena is a fully fleshed character struggling to stay alive against all odds. Her friends are there to compliment her and to help her remember that life is indeed precious, in spite of the appalling life she lived in Purgaire.

The pacing of this book is fast, super fast, so if you’re into psychological thrillers, especially of the fantasy variety, you’ll tear through this book. One moment Breena is living in Purgaire, scrounging any bit of money she can get from her perverted boss, and the next she is on the streets trying to outwit the the Patriarch, only to find herself nearly murdered at his hands. Then you go on to Galbrecht, then to Araboth, then Galbrecht again, and it’s a rollercoaster of intense emotions and varying points-of-view that are very colorful to read. This novel is a third person omniscient book, but Bonsignore does it so masterfully that you can’t wait to see what all the characters are thinking as they’re doing what they’re doing.

The Patriarch himself is so chilling to read about because he kills mercilessly and is responsible for a good majority of the addicted druggies in Purgaire–which is what makes Purgaire such a hostile environment. Since everyone is so contingent on the drug the Patriarch dishes out, people are heinous and have lost their humanity somewhere in the drug addictions, so people like Breena suffer in the process.

Breena is an incredibly strong heroine who, despite all the pain she has suffered, fights through and refuses to give up, especially knowing it is possible for her to have the life she deserves. As someone who has struggled with suicidal ideation, Breena herself is an inspiring character.

Galbrecht is also a very likable character too because of his unrelenting desire to help Breena, in spite of not knowing this girl. He refuses to lose his humanity in Purgaire.

Overall, this book deserves its full 5 stars. It is my type of book: both dark and fantastical. I can’t think of any YA fantasy books I can easily compare it to, but I very much look forward to his sequel, Awakening the Fire. 

Stolentime, a Dark Fantasy Young Adult Novel

Stolentime, a Dark Fantasy Young Adult Novel

This is the title of the novel I will be getting back to next week. I’ve finally started revisions for Stolentime and have chapter one done! I’m hoping to get to chapter two today and the plan is to revise a chapter a day, possibly two, if I can manage. But I’m excited because, as I’ve said thousands of times before, I strongly prefer revisions over drafting any day. So here is a tiny snippet from the beginning of chapter one just to give you guys a taste of the atmosphere for this book:

Some nights I imagine a shadowy man standing by my bed with a knife drawn. This man, a faceless thing, will creep around me as I stare at him. In my mind, I tell him to kill me. Do it. Tear me apart. But he never does. He slips away into the shadows and disappears.

But tonight, my fractured mind makes him real.


There you go, just a little bit of what I’m working on!

So do you guys prefer drafting or revising? And why?




Screenshot (13)Yes, I finally got my own website separate from this blog! It will contain updates about my book, media updates, my vlog archive, and other fun, exciting tidbits that I am still working on which will likely appear around the release date of When Stars Die. Just click on http://amberskyeforbes.com to check it out!

Also, Sister Evelyn Part II is out! Well, it’s been out but I’ve been too busy to share its release.

So check out the website and the fiction piece!

I also have a burgeoning Facebook Page I would like you guys to check out. You can receive lots of updates from there, as well as links to things I find interesting and general ballet craziness.

Guest Post: What Inspires You the Most

Guest Post: What Inspires You the Most

936236_564447873606956_1758649304_nToday’s guest blogger is Eric Keys. You can find him here. Enjoy!

What are my sources of inspiration? How do I dream up this crazy shit?

For starters, I’m going to side-step the issue of why I choose to write the crazy stuff I do. I mostly write horror but I sometimes write erotica. Even my erotica tends to be tinged with darkness. I’m not a particularly spooky person. If you saw me on the street you wouldn’t think horror writer.

But I see things, sometimes. Not literally, mind you. I don’t see Satanic Messiah’s returned from the grave, or talking road kill, or demons disguised as shy, bookish girls or strange rituals involving the dedication of ones son to some nameless force of evil.

What I do see is the “not rightness” of the world. I see that the world sometimes is a hostile, brutal place and not the place our movies and churches told us it would be. It gets my mind to working. And suddenly, a thought will pop into my head. “That’s too horrible to even think about.” When I think that thought, I know that I am on to something and then I listen. It’s not exactly a voice, but a stream of images. They pour through my head and I try to catch them. Some of them I like, some of them I don’t, but the orgy of ideas has started. They interact and shove each other. Sometimes they strangle each other, but in the end, the strong survive and rise to the surface. Bloody and tired but proud that they have remained standing.

So, my sources of inspiration are the horrible. Even my theological-erotic writings ultimately come from those haunting questions that keep me awake at night thinking: “This is too horrible, too horrifying, too much”

Specifically, I tend to gravitate toward certain questions or themes. For example, religious/theological questions and the hypocrisy of many “believers.” My (not available online) story “God in a Box” dealt with this. My story “A Single Act of Prolong Vengeance” (included in this anthology) dealt with not only the hypocrisy of religious officials but the way people use religious institutions for perverted ends. I saw people comfortable in their own beliefs. They didn’t see the disconnect between belief and reality. The attempted to justify the unjustifiable. I couldn’t stomach it. So, I wrote.

Another theme I come back to over and over is that of the revelation of hidden, horrific truths. “About a House” –story I recently submitted to an online magazine–deals with the theme of a double life and how our tendency to interpret events often covers up the real, hideous meanings. A minor event–a conversation about a house we passed while driving–was the source. The passenger talked about how she interpreted the house and how she interpreted her past. It occurred to me that there might be more than she or I could see and the idea of hidden knowledge leads to the idea of revelation and then it all just took on a life of its own.

These ideas, themes, questions–they haunt me. They keep me awake at night. They turn my guts over and over until I need to vent them somehow. I do that by putting words to them. The words help me explore these issues. I don’t always come to conclusions, but I need to speak/write.

There is a delight, a rush of sorts, that comes from moving in this realm. I don’t know how to explain it. Suddenly you are aware of things you weren’t aware of before. And maybe yes, maybe then you do start to see Satanic Messiah’s returned from the grave. Maybe that dead raccoon by the side of the road was trying to say something to you. Maybe the shy, bookish-intern really wants to eat your soul (but what a delight it would be to satisfy her hunger!) and perhaps your daddy dedicated you to some nameless force of evil.

You find yourself awake at night, wondering what that sound was. Who would be driving down the road at this time of night? Is there something in their trunk? Or someone? Was that music real? Did I just smell Death? What just brushed up against my leg? Who’s there? Don’t come any closer! Stay back! I have a gun! Oh, god! It can’t be! It’s too horrible to even think about!

And then the word/idea/image orgy starts all over again. And maybe you write something and show it to someone and maybe they nod, knowingly. And maybe they tell you a secret that has kept them up all night. And maybe that dream you had reminded your new friend of some sound they heard once. And maybe you two sing a hymn to some ancient and implacable god, some blasphemy the two of you dreamed up which turns out to have always existed. Those songs are what inspire me most.

Self-Editing Booklet

Self-Editing Booklet

Now that I have an outline and specifications smoothed out, I think it will be a lot easier to get you guys on board by basically doing what I did with the guest blog posts: put out topics, first come, first serve; then gather them all and put them in this self-editing booklet I am throwing together. Charles Yallowitz has already volunteered his input, so I’m giving you guys more concrete topics you can write about. Here they are:

1. How you outline  Seán Cooke

2. How you handle the first chapter

3. How you handle the first five chapters

4. How you handle the middle of the book

5. How you handle the ending

First come, first serve, so quickly choose and I will cross out topics as they are requested and put the person’s name/username. I am in no hurry to write this booklet, so take your time with the topic. You can e-mail me your piece at thedancingwriter@gmail.com, and I will add you to the booklet!

The Corner Club Press Issue 8!

The Corner Club Press Issue 8!


After five months of hiatus, I’ve finally released issue 8. The Corner Club Press started out with just three people on board and gradually expanded to five, then it condensed back down to two, and soon I was the only one left. I knew The Corner Club Press wasn’t going to sink because it’s easy to find people willing to read submissions and vet them. Putting together the issue is not that difficult, especially if there is already a template in place, so that was all I needed was just someone to vet them.

I think it’s pretty great that no matter the state the magazine is in, people still want to be in it, even though it doesn’t pay anymore. So people’s desire to be in it was part of the reason I suddenly decided to throw myself at issue 8. Another reason is that I’ve been away from the literary community so long that starting over is a pain. So what better way to jump back into it than releasing issue 8? The Corner Club Press is already an established literary magazine that didn’t need to start over and it’s a pretty strong platform to me. But I also love to read stories and to give people a chance to showcase their writing. As writers, we are hopefully in it for the readers. A little of the money, but mostly the readers.

So here is the link to issue 8: http://thecornerclubpress.weebly.com/uploads/6/0/5/3/6053731/the_corner_club_press_issue_8.pdf