Mystery Mondays: M.H. Callway on Short Stories Vs Novels

It is my pleasure to welcome fellow author M.H. Callway to Mystery Mondays. Madeleine and I met online and have since become friends. Her novel Windigo Fire was a finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award. She writes both short stories and novels, and she’s here to tell you about that.

SHORT STORIES VS NOVELS

I often give talks on how to get published to aspiring writers. One tip I pass on is to start writing shorter pieces. As an author, I found great encouragement when one of my stories was accepted for publication and/or became a finalist for an award. The boost gave me the will to continue and to believe that I had enough talent to pursue my writing dream.

That’s not to say that writing a short story is easy although it is easier than tackling a novel. To use a running analogy, it’s like preparing for a 5K as opposed to a marathon. You need good basic cardio to run a 5K and most people can finish, but running a marathon introduces a whole new level of complexity. It requires far more endurance, experience and will power – and you won’t be able to complete one without the right training.

Would that I had followed my own advice!

I had always wanted to write a novel so that’s where I started. In 2002, I began my learner novel. Ignorance was bliss so I wrote and wrote and wrote. I ended up with 140,000 words of mishmash. Patient author friends ploughed through my verbiage and gave me excellent advice. I revised the draft several times, reduced the length to 100,000 words and mailed it off to multiple rejections and a few near misses.

By now, it was 2006. The Crime Writers of Canada announced a short story contest and several of my friends planned to enter. We are always advised to write what we know and since I’d spent most of my career working in the civil service, I wrote a comic short story about two hard-working civil servants saddled with a new Boss from Hell. To my great surprise and delight, “Kill the Boss” won first prize.

“Kill the Boss” was picked up by Silver Moon Magazine and reprinted in Mouth Full of Bullets. It proved to be a turning point for my writing career, mostly because I’d devoted four years to improve my writing skills.

I spent the next few years writing short stories. In 2009, I decided to try novel writing again. That work eventually became my first published novel, Windigo Fire. Writing and publishing short fiction kept me going through Windigo Fire’s ups and downs and continues to do so while I wrestle with the next book in the Danny Bluestone series, Windigo Ice.

My short fiction starts with a simple idea. When I write a short story, I’m a complete pantser though I usually know how the story is going to end. Often I have the closing line in mind. What I don’t know is how long it’s going to take to get to the end. I simply write until the story is fully told.

I find the process of writing short fiction immensely freeing. Also since I tend to write long, I’ve started exploring the novella form. In our digital age, we aren’t as constrained to rigid word limits as we once were because of the mechanics of print publishing. Nowadays, too, readers have less time, so I believe that the novella form has potential to become popular.

Readers can now find my published stories and novellas together in my new book Glow Grass and Other Tales. It’s available on Amazon in print and digital form.

I love to hear from readers. Do visit my website and leave me your comments at www.mhcallway.com. Or you may contact me at mcallway1@gmail.com.

M.H. Callway’s Books:

 

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_oWINDIGO FIRE

A  Canadian noir thriller.

Danny Bluestone, a young Native man, overeducated and underemployed, is drawn into an illegal bear hunt to escape his stultifying hometown of Red Dog Lake in Northern Ontario.  Things quickly go violent and he must fight to survive both the killers and the wilderness.

 

 

glowgrassGLOW GRASS and OTHER TALES:

Revenge, guide dogs, cats big and small, beleaguered ladies of a certain age and a cop with a tarnished heart, meet them all here in Glow Grass and Other Tales.

The characters in the seven stories and two novellas fight for justice even when their sense of justice is warped.  The tales include winners of The Bony Pete and Golden Horseshoe awards as well as the finalists for the 2015 Derringer and 2016 Arthur Ellis Best Novella Award.

 

 

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Backing Up Your Novel

Do you back up  your novel?

Last night, I was out for dinner and a friend asked me if I kept printed copies of my novels. Since I’ve spent the last five years living on a sailboat, my answer was no.

My friend was incredulous.

Of course, I had to start thinking about it – at three in the morning – when the worry fairy comes to visit.

I back up to an external hard drive.

I email a copy to my dad for safe keeping. While we were living on the boat, I worried a lightning strike would take out all out electronics, so even it my back up was on a separate hard drive, I thought it wasn’t enough.

The question is: do I need a paper copy too?

Thanks for reading . . .

Reading A Novel Aloud

Have you ever read your novel aloud?

Do you know how you sound?

I made a recording of a scene, thinking the process would help me proofread. Then I got side tracked, wondering if I could make a podcast. Many writers have web sites with podcasts and book trailers, so I thought I should build some new skills.

I’ve been trying out Garage Band on my Mac. The first thing I discovered was I read too fast. After practicing with the same scene for an hour, I was finally happy with the tempo, but not with the tone. Oh, and my throat was sore. How to professional readers talk for so long?

The next thing I discovered when I read a different scene aloud was I read too fast. I guess I have to learn to slow down when reading a scene for the first time.

Do you have an easy way to create an audio file? Garage Band has a lot of features I don’t need, and I’d like a quick way to do this.

Now if I ever get lucky enough, maybe I’ll read aloud to an audience and not just to my dog – although by the way he cants his head, I think he’s very interested in what I’m saying.

Thanks for reading . . .

Scene Development

Writing is an endless process of revisions and editing, at least for me. So how does a writer know when a scene if finished? I use a template, shown below, to make me ask myself some hard questions. Once I can fill in the blanks below, I feel like I have a working draft of a scene.

I also have templates for settings and a detailed spreadsheet to keep track or dates, when a character is introduced, weather, etc., but template below gives me a sense of whether the scene has done its job in the context of the novel.

My template keeps growing and changing with each novel, but here it is in it’s current format.

Beginning = Hook:

Middle = Development:

Climax = Disaster:

Action (Scene or Sequel):

What does POV Want:

Outcome if POV fails:

How Does Scene Move Plot Forward:

How Does Scene Builds on Previous Scene:

How Does Scene Leads to Next Scene:

What’s Happening Between Characters That’s Not Spelt Out:

Is Setting Best Place For Emotional Impact?

Do you have anything you could add to the template?  I like to add new items that I can think about.

Thanks for reading . . .

Character Development

Anyone else out there spending the holidays thinking about their characters in a novel instead of real people? A hazard of being a writer, I’m afraid.

Introducing new characters, especially if you are writing a series can be a challenge.

Do you ask yourself:

  • What did the character do before the start of the novel?
  • How did they enter the protagonists life?
  • What motivates them?

I find even if I ask these questions it’s not enough for build a well-rounded character.

I use Scrivener to write, and I add a section for scenes that happen before the novel starts. When introducing a new character I ask myself, what was the character doing one month before the novel started, 6 months before and sometimes well back into their youth. Then I write a scene from this time frame. Something dramatic that happened in their lives that changed them usually works. This helps to fill out the character and know them before the story has even started.

You don’t have to do this before you begin writing, sometimes I do this after the first draft. Once I discovered a character fit the criteria of a sociopath. After writing the first draft, then writing scenes that happened prior to the opening,  the sociopath opened up some interesting story lines. These, of course, found their way into the second draft.

For me, it’s not enough to ask questions about my characters, I need to write about them to understand them.

What about you?

Thanks for reading . . .

 

To Plot or Not To Plot

Do you plot your story before writing it or do you write and then plot?

I write first. Then I get serious and look at my plot after I have a first draft written.

There is lots of writing advice out there telling writers to have major events at 25%, 50% and 75%. These are major plot points where something happens to change the direction of the story or the character arc.

So I went through my novels to see if I’d done this and was surprised to find I was close. I ended up with plot points between 22% and 27%, 45% and 53% and again between 72% and 77%. I figure this is close enough. There must be something about reading many books that makes this structure appear naturally when writing.

I used the kindle to find look at the percentages. This was easier than counting words. Now in my scrivener, I add a per cent number at each chapter heading. One more way to see if my writing is on track.

So, how to you know if you’re plot is laid out properly? and does it matter?

Thanks for reading . . .

Writing Novels With A Spreadheet

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I love to write with a spreadsheet. I’m still amazed by how helpful  I find the tool and that I still find new ways to use it.

One of the columns in my spreadsheet lists objects. Originally I put this column in to make sure my scenes weren’t empty sets. I also list smell, sights, and sounds for this purpose.

Sometimes with the objects, I’ll use the object in a later scene. Like an innocent little baseball bat. The list reminds me to check what I’ve placed in an earlier scene and see if I can use it in an inventive and unusual way in a following scene. Like an innocent little baseball bat that’s not so innocent.

I knew all this. What I discovered this week is the object column can also help me find errors.

In one scene I have two characters eating lunch together. I list a fork. Later in the scene, I list a spoon as an object. But wait! I’m writing about the same character eating the same meal, so why has her utensil changed?

I went back in the scene and discovered I’d changed the utensil. Silly, but unnoticed when I read the scene without listing objects.

I love discovering new ways my spreadsheet can help.

Let me know if you use a spreadsheet and how it helps you write.

Thanks for reading . . .

Related articles:

Writing a Series: Spreadsheet

Keeping Track of Scenes

How to Use a Spreadsheet for Your Synopsis

Tips For Ordering Scenes In A Novel