How writing serials improves short story writing skills

The Story Mint has just published its first Anthology of collaboratively written short stories. There are twelve stories written by 32 authors from eight countries. It is an amazing achievement and it is a world first.

We learnt a great deal from this experiment. However, it was so successful we intend to repeat it.

The first thing we discovered is how much we learn about our craft by working collaboratively on a single writing project. Many would say it is impossible for writers to get together and produce a story. They would cite arguments such as writers are individuals with individual styles that they. could never coalesce. There are many useful outcomes both for the writers and the group.

The most obvious one is determined by whether or not the resulting story is a good read. Most are excellent reads.

Writing serial chapters is a masterclass in writing and this became clear when we put together the Anthology.

Writers learn how to cope with having someone edit their work, to set their ego to one side and acknowledge that there are many ways to tell a story, all valid. We also learn to respect each other’s talent and to compromise. But most importantly every serial writer learns to analyse writing techniques.

The journey toward writing excellence is long and hard and when we put the Anthology together we discovered that some chapters worked better than others and why. This analysis became part of the skillset we brought to all future writing.  When the writer has not understood what tense to use, it becomes obvious just as the difference between good and poor dialogue stands out. The difference between tight and sloppy writing also becomes clear.

Above all, serial writers learn what engages a reader. Stylecheck™ is compulsory and we learn what will and will not appeal to readers.

Although unique in the way they are created, serials nevertheless follow short story structure as below.

 

[1]

 

So how does this fit into serial writing for The Story Mint.

Exposition:         The starter sets the scene. This short piece of 500 words determines reader engagement. It must be compelling reading. In the Writers Journey, Vogler[2] calls this the ordinary world.

Rising action:     The next six chapters are all about intensifying the drama and the reader experience.

The first four chapters may introduce new characters (no more than two new characters for the entire serial and new situations if they are relevant. In Vogler’s world this is when the ordinary world is disturbed and the protagonist is called to act.

The final two chapters build on everything the previous writers have written. No new material, situations and definitely no new characters. Everything must follow on from previous chapters, make sense and increase tension.

The writer’s skill will lie in how well he or she takes the existing scenario and adds tension making the reader anxious to read the next chapter. There should be no startling twists but rather a steady compounding of difficulty for the main character(s). In this section, Vogler’s hero encounters the ordeal and starts the struggle.

Climax:                 Chapter Eight is critical like a clap of thunder. All previous actions and events suddenly make sense as all that has gone before clashes and like a flint striking a spark new realities start taking shape. There is NO new information, just the description of the encounter of opposing forces. Vogler’s hero enters battle with himself or elements outside at this point.

Falling Action:   Chapter Nine. The aftermath. All the fragments from the climax start to settle and calm returns. It does not settle everything but the reader begins to see what events and personalities contributed to the situation that led to the climax. It explains but leaves the complete summary to the final chapter. Vogler’s ordinary world begins to be restored.

Resolution          Chapter Ten summarises, explains and answers any remaining questions. This moment shows how the climax was created and what new understanding or reality now exists. Vogler’s ordinary world is restored but NOT as it was at the beginning

 

The final two chapters pull the strands of the story together and bring it to a conclusion that makes sense.

Every sentence must have a reason for existing. Short stories only work if the writing is tight and without any loose words just filling up space. They should either further the action, or give the reader back story or insight into the character(s).

I will leave the final word to Kurt Vonnegut.[3]

•             Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

•             Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

•             Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.