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/

Blogger: http://rmnsediting.blogspot.com/
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/RMNSediting

Cover Reveal–2013: A Stellar Collection

Cover Reveal–2013: A Stellar Collection

1232474_228974277259508_712675402_n Here is this thing that I have been talking about, this thing that has been AEC Stellar’s Anthology, and here is it’s gorgeous cover! Mine is “I Am the Bell Jar,” a story about two mentally ill teens trying to make an unstable relationship work that ultimately ends in tragedy.

It will appear October of 2013, probably before the publication of When Stars Die, so “I Am the Bell Jar” will give you a taste of my writing. I also helped to edit two of the short stories that are appearing. And guess what? The e-book version will be free, so that’s even more of a reason why you should pick up a copy! There will also be a print version as well that you will have to pay for.

So I seriously hope you guys will download a copy because I really want to share my short story with all of you. It’s my first time writing anything literary and will give you a glimpse of where I’d like to take my writing once all my genre stuff is done. This doesn’t mean I’m going to quit genre forever. This just means that I’d like to start writing literary stuff, mostly sick lit stuff about mentally ill teens.

I hope you guys will share this cover on your blogs!

The Madness of Unique Novel Titles

The Madness of Unique Novel Titles

StarsEarlier I was discussing with a writer friend of mine the importance of having an original title for a book. Yesterday, I found a soon-to-be-published novel with the exact same title as her unpublished draft. I mentioned that she should change the title just because it looks plain bad for your book to have the same title as another book. It took a bit of persuasion, but I think I got her to see her book from more of a marketing perspective and less from a writing perspective. Self-publishing authors really need to be business-minded people, and while titles are there to give your work a name, they also exist for the purposes of marketing.

While titles are not copyrightable, they should be unique enough that they can stand out in a search and not drown in a sea of other similarly-titled novels.

I suppose it’s fine to have the same title as another book, so long as the main content differs, but don’t you want to stand out? I sure as heck do, which is why it took me five title drafts to come up with When Stars Die.


  1. When a reader mentions the title of your book to someone, you don’t want that someone to think of a different book with the same title. You want that person to think of your book.
  2. You want it to be easier to find your book in a search engine. For example, if you have the same title as someone else and that someone else happens to be doing better than you in terms of sales and searchability, you might not even show up in a search at all. Or, if you do, you won’t be on the front page. This is important because word of mouth is important. If a potential consumer doesn’t remember your name but the title of your book, you can still be found, assuming your title is original. Said consumer also won’t be confused by going on to Amazon and finding other books of the same title but having no idea which one is yours because said consumer can’t remember your name.
  3. Readers do like to look up reviews. If you have the same title as someone else, finding reviews for your book is going to be that much harder, especially if your book doesn’t have as many reviews compared to the other book of the same title.
  4. You don’t want people to think you’re unoriginal, especially editors. You want your title to be fresh, new, and exciting. Having the same title as another book kills that experience and just looks unprofessional anyway.
  5. Creating your own title is a lot more satisfying than recycling one that’s already been used.
  6. Ultimately, it is about marketing. If you’re going the traditional route, editors might change your title anyway, so you might as well come up with an original one editors are less inclined to change. The same should hold true for self-publishing. Ask yourself if you think an editor is likely to change a title. If yes, change it. Editors might not be marketers, but they still have experience in the field, and they will change the title of your book if you have the same title as someone else.


Ultimately, your title needs to be a perfect fit for your story.




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.

Why I Write

Why I Write

tumblr_mldcekNfEE1s5prmbo1_500Today’s guest blogger is Isabella Marks. You can find her here. Enjoy!

The easy answer, the cliché, and the honest truth all rolled into one: because I have to.

Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, because I don’t HAVE to. I just want to so badly that NOT doing it would leave a serious hole in my life, not just in how I spend my time, but in how I see the world.

I first TOLD stories before I even started school, getting my toys, books, and clothes into an order, and then bringing them out one at a time to show the audience I was telling my story to.  

I first wrote stories in the first grade. Our teacher would give us weekly writing assignments, and I loved it. I learned how to use the dictionary to look up words because I wanted to spell them right. I took my writing seriously, even if it was just about Bert and Ernie making macaroni and cheese for their friends.

As elementary school wore on I would live for those times when we would have creative writing assignments. In third grade our teacher would bring in piles of pictures taken from magazines, and make us choose one by reaching into a bag. We had no control over what we would get, and we HAD to write a story using the picture. Our whole class hated that bag. Except me. I loved it.

In middle school, I entered the Young Authors contest four years in a row, and in seventh grade gave up writing, and then knew I was going to do it forever, all within twenty four hours.

For my Young Authors submission that year I’d written a story about a girl whose best friend died when they were in first grade. In my story she visited her friend’s grave every year on the last day of summer to tell her about all the fun things she missed doing with her, and on the last day of school to tell her about the school year she missed.

My teacher wouldn’t let me submit it because it wasn’t ‘fun’.

That made me think something was wrong with me because I’d enjoyed writing it. I didn’t have ‘fun’ writing it. I wasn’t obsessed with death, and I certainly didn’t get pleasure out of the idea of a dead first grader.

But I enjoyed telling the story. I enjoyed the process of starting a story with a funeral, and then bringing my character through all the emotions she had through her years of growing up, all while helping her keep track of missing her friend.

The story made me think of my grandfather, who’d taken me shopping for crayons before I started kindergarten, and then wanted to hear every detail of my first day of school. I was going to tell him about my first day of school every year but he died before I got out of kindergarten.

I enjoyed telling a story that was about real feelings.

The girl who won that year told a story about spending the day at the mall.

I gave up writing that day, assuming I did it wrong and didn’t understand what it was supposed to be about.

The next day I put Cemetery Conversations into one of my trapper keepers (I had three that I bought at a garage sale, and used them to store all my stories, poems, journals, and ideas), and lay down on my bed to write a letter to myself so I wouldn’t forget WHY I was giving up writing.

In the process of writing that letter I realized that I wrote for myself, and not for anyone else.

I wrote because I had things I wanted to say. And the written word allowed me to say them the way I wanted to.

I could denounce evil. I could celebrate justice. I could use words to love what was worth loving, and to explain why some things weren’t worth admiring.

I began to journal constantly. I began to make myself write, even when the words wouldn’t come I’d write about breakfast, or what I’d seen on TV, or what I wanted my mom to understand about my life.

I’d write stories on the school bus. In study hall. On my bed. With a flashlight at night. On the porch. Sometimes instead of doing homework. And once at a slumber party when everyone else there made fun of me for not knowing how to fit in, I sat in the living room by myself and wrote a story where I did fit in.

And that is why I write.

I have control. In real life, most of us accept that we can’t control everything. Alone with my notebook and pen, or the old typewriter I had in high school, or the computer I bought in college, or the laptop I have now (even though I still carry a notebook everywhere, because you never know when an idea will strike), I have control over the worlds I create, and the characters I bring to life.

I can say the things I can’t say otherwise.

I can even tell my grandfather about my day.

That’s why I write.
Sister Evelyn!

Sister Evelyn!

Sister Eve Sister Evelyn is now out. You can either go to the Sister Evelyn tab or download the .pdf here. Sister Evelyn’s story will introduce you to the world of When Stars Die, but keep in mind this is not necessarily canon to When Stars Die because there is no evidence of Sister Evelyn in WSD. Her story simply exists as a way of giving you a taste of what you’ll be reading in WSD. Part two will be released next week!

The Madness of Revisions

The Madness of Revisions

Sister Revised
There are more revision notes on these pages than this.

During work today I decided to do some revising of Sister Evelyn because, hey, it’s work and work is often slow during the weekday mornings. I went through with my fancy sharpie and pretty much jotted down notes in the margins. I looked at my beginning and thought of how I could better write it and also if I needed to start sooner or later. However, my biggest revision for the piece involved wanting to suspend disbelief. You see, Sister Evelyn does something that needs to be able to suspend the reader’s disbelief. I had to build that from the very beginning so her actions were more believable. At the same time, I also had to edit this piece knowing it was only part one–so, basically, I had to treat it as the chapter one of a basic novelette instead of a short story. But since this is an installation piece, I’m going to edit as I go along and write each piece as I go along.

In any case, back to the topic of revisions. Revisions are my favorite part of the writing process. You have your crappy draft, which, assuming you don’t edit as your write, reeks of crappiness galore but still has hidden gems, that potential that gives we writers a reason to revise. Then you take that crappy draft, your favorite pen, and start marking that thing up. If you’re like me, you’ll mark it up, and any majors notes that need to be added, I’ll do in a notebook or on a separate piece of paper. In Sister Evelyn’s case, I needed no extra pieces of paper. Then once all that is done, you’ll get to either re-writing the whole thing, or only re-writing the parts you marked up. I often re-write the whole thing because I don’t merely like to think outside of the box: I like to break that box.

Revisions are where I really fall in love with the story.

Now we all have our own ways of revising. I heartily advise to use an outline simply because it can help you figure out the purpose of each scene, spot potential plot holes, and keep everything in order, including characters and sub-plots and so on and so forth. Revisions need to be a time of really stepping outside of that box you’ve put yourself in when drafting. Don’t merely edit what’s already there. You need to edit what isn’t there. Does your chapter one need to be a chapter two? Does this scene need to start earlier or later? Does this character even have a purpose? Is there a better way to go about telling this story? These are some really crucial questions that need to be asked upon revisions.

I know when I was younger I refused to revise because I would often ask myself, ‘What’s the purpose of drafting if I just have to re-write the whole thing anyway?’ So for a bit I never re-wrote any of my drafts. Then I got to a point where I realized the draft is like a detailed outline. Even if I have to re-write it, I already have a basic structure there. All I’m doing is improving upon it, even if the story ends up being completely different.

When Stars Die’s premise has stayed the same since its inception, but how it got to the ending has changed dramatically over the years. In my current draft, Amelia is enduring some intense trials to be professed as a nun. In previous drafts, she was first a novitiate going about her daily life, then in my last draft, she was actually being professed as a nun. I changed the whole thing because I realized it would be much more exciting for readers to read about Amelia enduring torturous trials and also because it gave her an immediate goal to strive for in the first chapter–to become a nun for her little brother. The first chapter does need to basically answer the question, “What is your MC’s goal?”

So revising is really all about breaking the box. Don’t just seek out what’s there. Seek out what isn’t there.

Oh, also, I want to start vlogging, so give me some vlogging ideas!

Letter to My Teen Self

Letter to My Teen Self

tumblr_mc6i6dDtH91rilz3so1_500 I know this is a really old topic, one I’ve seen floating around the internet for a few years, but I thought I’d give it a go, in spite of being only 22. I mean, I have quite a lot to say to my teen self, specifically my 14-year-old self, who struggled with some tough anxiety issues back when she was in the eighth grade. So here goes:

Dear 14-year-old me,

That algebra test looks really daunting, doesn’t it? Algebra’s been the cause of many a panic attack and crying spell at night. Math anxiety has leaked over into other parts of your life too. You cut to deal with the constant stress. You hated that your math teacher couldn’t understand that you needed to take things more slowly.

But guess what? You passed algebra…with an A average. Algebra was so easy from then on out. You managed your anxiety disorder. You went on to do pre-calculus, which was tougher, should have been anxiety inducing, but you stuck it out and got a B.

But let’s back up. You know that book you started in response to your mild depression and anxiety, the book with the witches and witch burnings? Well, it has changed…immensely. It is now a sequel. And guess what? It’s prequel has a publishing contract, so, even though it takes eight years, you  make it. Your dream comes true. And you did it without an agent, the way you originally wanted to do it.

But, 14-year-old-self, things get tougher, worse than your anxiety disorder. You develop fibromyalgia at 21, a disease that came out of nowhere. Fibromyalgia starts to crap out other areas of your life: your sleep, mainly. And from this, you develop bipolar disorder, which manages to make things far more challenging than your anxiety disorder ever could have. But you’re going to survive, and you’re going to come out of it even greater, stronger, wiser, and better. You were born into greatness, and to greatness you will return.

You may not think you want to keep going because of the adage ‘the older you get, the tougher it gets,’ but this isn’t always true. There are going to be parts of your life that are tougher than others. But then there are going to be parts of your life that are greater than others .

You’ve always obsessed over Mr. Right. Well, you meet him three years later, and you’ll be with him for quite a long while. That’s certainly fantastic, right? You have your first short story published at 19. Sounds like it’s getting pretty good. You also start some editorial stints, and you dreamt of being an editor. How can it get better than that?

And even though fibromyalgia and bipolar will come to try and tear you down, to tell you nothing in your life is worth it, you will fight, and you will do a ballet recital and take a chance with your novel. You will land a contract and start another novel.

14-year-old-self, life is full of difficulties, but do you know why we keep going? We keep going because something in us tells us after the storm has passed, the sun will shine brighter than ever. And even when the storm comes again, we’ll just dance in the rain. We’ll be cold and soaked to the bone, but we’ll dance until the sun shines again.


22-year-old The Dancing Writer



Victoria’s Asylum of Maggots

Victoria’s Asylum of Maggots

This was published in issue 4 of Sorean: A Gothic Magazine. There is also a part 2, and I may continue it with a part 3 and whatever else I can conjure from this mind of mine so that way all of you can have a taste of my writing style. Sorry for the one column, but I just copied and pasted it directly from the magazine because I lost the thumb drive this was on a long time ago, so I have no copies myself. Here we go!
Alice, from American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns. This is similar to what Victoria faces.
Unwanted wife, suicidal, prone to hysterics,
abnormal–that is what my chart reads. My
mind says otherwise. I am an unwanted wife
who never wanted to be one. My husband is
abusive, so hysterics are to be expected.
And suicidal is normal when ones husband beats her for forgetting to put out his tie.
As for my abnormality, I see nothing wrong
with pouring boiling tea on my husband’s
That’s not what Bethlem Royal Hospital, or
Bedlam as we victims call it, would have me
believe. If I’m considered mad now, I’d like to
see just how mad I am when someone decides
to let me out.
Four gray walls stare down at me. An eave
sits above my head to keep me down. There is
no window, no light. The floor is marred wood.
A layer of dust sits like a quilt, tucked neatly
into the cracks of the floor. Moss creeps across
neglected walls and grows through fissures.
Unknown creatures twist and turn in the walls,
as well as my nightmares.
I have been staring at these walls for the
past two weeks. I have not seen the light in
four months. I don’t know what the sun feels
like, or what the flowers smell like, or what the
sky looks like anymore. Wetness devours my
body in the form of bodily fluids, and ice strips
away my skin, replacing it so that I am forever
shivering. My hair is a pile of brambles. My bed
sheets haven’t been changed in weeks. Chains
hold me down.
Why am I in chains? The scenario happens
as such:
‘Victoria Wilson. Age fourteen. New arrival,’
the nurse says. ‘Attacked her husband. He
couldn’t handle her anymore.’
‘What should we do?’ the other nurse asks.
I am on my bed, staring out the window. I
used to be in a room with a window.
‘The only thing we can do.’
‘Yes. Fetch them for me.’
Emilie Autumn’s Leeches
One can imagine what happens afterwards.
I lacerated those beasts, and they removed my
fingernails for it, a procedure that turned me
into a twitching fiend. My nail beds are dried
pieces of bloody skin.
I am a rose that has lost its thorns.
I can’t be insane, though. The insane ones
are outside of Bedlam. They choose to ignore
the fog infecting London, the dark creatures
slithering through their minds. They ignore it
by gambling, drinking, and buying prostitutes
and children for themselves.
I should have lost my sanity by now. I
should be grazing the air with my stubby
fingers. I should be mutilating the slimy
creatures in me. I should be screaming,
writhing, moaning, panting. Yet, I haven’t felt
the urge to. If I did, I wouldn’t hesitate to
unleash the black worms from my mind, let
them glide across my body, wrap their slickness
around my limbs and take control of me like a
Instead I stare up at the eave, thinking too
much, waiting for sleep to consume me. Present
thoughts are comforting. Memories are
despairing. I purged myself of my memories
when I heard my husband was sending me to
Bedlam. I let all my insanity out at home before
I came here.
But I believe maggots clogging my veins are
delaying this inevitable lunacy. Soon they‘ll
turn to flies, and begin to buzz within me. It
won’t be long before I find these chains too
A girl screams in the cell next to mine.
Startling me, jolting my eyes wide. The
walls are hollow arteries, so sounds are never
muffled. I should be used to these screams; this
one is just too near. Thudding emerges behind
my head. Like everyone else, she just wants to
pull her brains out and ooze away her
Thud, thud, thud.
A steady, hollow rhythm.
No one answers her cries. She’s a banshee in a
hollowed-out body. Two black coals for eyes. No
heart. No soul. Every girl here is a banshee.
Some day, I’ll be one as well.
It must be nighttime, which is why no one
comes for her. One can never tell if it’s night or
day in here. The darkness is eternal.
The thudding stops, but the screaming
doesn’t. A simple word follows the screaming.
“Why?” Her voice is hoarse and cracks as
she draws it out.
That’s the simplest question, the word with
the most impact. Why is she here? Why is she
subjected to this? Why does no one care? Why is
she alone? Why isn’t anyone coming for her? I
could ask that same question, too.
“Why indeed,” I whisper.
Alice from American McGee’s Alice: A Madness Returns.
Footsteps resound down the hall. Must be
daytime then.
The footsteps stop at her cell. A lock clicks
open. The screams crescendo, then die down.
“Tabitha,” a female voice says.
She lets out a string of incoherent words.
Only the mad ones understand her.
“Tabitha,” the woman says again.
“Get out of here!” Tabitha says.
“Wot’s she ‘ere for?” a rough, masculine voice
“She’s here after attacking her husband. No
reason given. No reason asked. They talk
about her as though she isn’t in that cell, as
though she isn’t human. We are rats and not
patients. “Her father wants her here until she
is wholly sedate. Then he wants custody of her.
She’s twenty-three.”
Not a girl, but a woman old enough to care
for herself. A woman is never a woman, though,
no matter what age. She’ll forever be a girl.
“We’ll have to act fast with this one.”
“Should we try the leeches?”
“Wot if those don’t work.”
For a moment all the suffering in the world
makes itself known to me. There’s a torture
somewhere, a woman getting raped. A babe is
dying in its mother’s arms. Men are killing
each other faster than rabbits reproduce.
Someone commits suicide. Slaves are whipped,
girls molested, boys abused, mothers killed,
animals tortured.
Maim, rape, torture, kill, abuse. Repeat.
Living is impossible if one is not doing any of
those things.
“Come on, Tabitha,” the woman says.
The screaming starts up again. It sounds
like Tabitha’s now clawing the wall as though
she can create a hole, crawl through it, and run
away. Someone slams the door to the side.
“You’ll have to get her arms,” the nurse says
in a hurry.
Tabitha screams louder. The sound of two
bodies colliding meets my ears. One of the
bodies hits the floor. The sound of tussling
mixed with screaming ensues. I imagine
Tabitha’s a tiger clawing at a gazelle, rending
its flesh with sharp claws.
“Nurse Hayes, grab ‘er legs!”
The screaming stops. The struggling ceases.
There is only the sound of whimpering.
“I’ve got ‘er from ‘ere.”
“Are you certain, Carlisle?”
There are no words. I assume Carlisle
replies with a nod.
Carlisle grunts. He must be hoisting her
over his shoulder. Boots scuff across the floor.
Heels click. The door shuts.
The boots scuff down the hall. The heels
click in my direction.
The lock clicks on my door.
“Time for your medicine, Victoria,” Nurse
Hayes says.
No. Not the medicine. Please not the
My heart swells to the size of a boulder and
drops through the earth, taking my stomach
with it. I soil my bed.
When Nurse Hayes comes into my room, I scream.