9 Tips for Writing Better Short Stories

Great short story advice from Allison Maruska!

Allison Maruska

In April, I was a judge for two writing contests – Dan Alatorre’s Word Weaver contest and Ryan Lanz’s short story contest. I was honored to be asked to fill the role once, let alone twice. And while I enjoyed judging great stories, I also learned a few things about how to make short stories better because some patterns emerged.

These tips can be applied to any short story, but I would pay closer attention to them if I were entering a story in a contest. Simply put, stories that didn’t do these things didn’t stand out as the best, at least not to me.

So, let’s get cracking.

Tip 1: Put the character IN the story

Repeat after me: action > reflection.

This means characters should do something, not just stand around/lie around/look in a mirror and reflect on their lives. I saw more than a few…

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Monsters, magic and mayhem…

Welcome Patricia Leslie!

Monsters, magic and mayhem

by

Patricia Leslie

 

What is the draw of magic in stories? Why does it attract us? What does it say about the human condition that no matter who or where we are in this world, we so love a story with magicians and witches, elves, dwarves, and various monsters causing mayhem?

Magic is the potential of dreams and desires. We wish for our heart’s desire as we blow out candles and after a successful hunt for a four-leaf clover. No matter how much or how little we have, we wish for more. More of whatever we feel a lack of in our lives. Prettier looks, money, success, and, of course, love. We wish pain would go away and that our enemies will suffer. Because we wish, our minds are open to stories of magic. We are well-prepared to suspend disbelief and enter worlds where wizards walk and witches sing and dance around cauldrons. A good many of us desire interaction with fantasy worlds so much we dress up, plaster our surroundings with symbols, and memorize words of power.

From our birth, when wishes and prayers for a long and healthy life rain over us, to the first time we are instructed to make a wish, the longing for magical or divine intervention is ingrained into our psyche. It is no surprise then that as we grow we are often transfixed by stories where people are helped by magic-bearers and secret wishes are granted by faeries. Our life, physically and emotionally soars and dips. Having magical stories to escape to helps us cope with change and tension – even if only to distract us and give our minds a rest.

The magic used in Keeper of the Way is from a time when magic was everyday, concocted over the kitchen hearth, and used for the well-being of all. Rosalie Ponsonby and her friends use beans on their runners, honey fresh from a hive, bread baked with fine-ground flour, and specially prepared herbal teas. This is hidden magic – where the ordinary can be used to create something extraordinary. Black salt (salt mixed with ash) and lavender is used as protections from evil. Lemons are cut and left by doorways and windows. We may think of these as “old wives tales” today, but this is merely another way of hiding magic.

Sigil-craft is also used – the manipulation of written words to request a blessing or boon from the Spirits. The women start with Chaos-magic – simplified spells using the quickest means and easiest tools (pencil and paper) and will work their way toward intricate designs with ink and air and mist as their ability grows. Their tools also become more assertive; from pencils to craft basic sigils and a wooden spoon to stir their cauldrons to swords, daggers, and wands.

But we also require balance and we can’t have good without some bad. We wish and wish, and are told to be careful what we wish for – we must think about the things we are asking for or the wish outcomes may not be as we expect. Faeries are ever ready to play tricks on us. Magicians, wizards, and witches may not be as they seem, and monsters lurk in every dark crevice of the mind.

The antagonists in Keeper of the Way, Algernon and Clement Benedict use blood sacrifice and dark rites to align themselves with malignant spirits. They misuse tools of power to infect malicious energy into the home and sanctuary of Rosalie and her family, and are prepared to commit murder to further their own needs. They have stolen relics guarded by the MacKinnon Clan for millennia and corrupted their purpose, deliberately opposing the morality of the Ponsonby family, their friends, and their ancestral spirits.

Fairytales of our youth drip with warnings, symbols, and moral lessons. Often these lessons have helped shape our moral compass without us realising. In Keeper of the Way and throughout the Crossing the Line series, we will see how easily this compass can be disrupted as the Benedict men continue to act in opposition to the beliefs they profess to.

If you’ve grown up on a steady diet of speculative fiction, everything from fables and fairytales to Lord of the Rings-style high fantasy, and Harry Potter-esque teenage adventures then you’ll be ready to believe in magic everywhere you see or hear of something otherwise unexplainable. Even in the kitchen pantry.

Myths become truths waiting to be proven.
Mysteries are doorways between the natural and supernatural worlds.
And monsters lurk in the shadows waiting for mayhem to descend.

 

Keeper of the Way is the first book in the Crossing the Line series. Patricia’s books can be purchased via all the usual places online or ask for it at your favourite bookstore.

(Odyssey Books are distributed by Novella Distribution)

Book blurb:

After news of grave robbing and murder in Dun Ringall, the ancient stronghold of Clan MacKinnon on the Isle of Skye, Rosalie realises it is time to share her family’s secrets. Descendants of the mystical Ethne M’Kynnon, Rosalie tells of a violent rift that occurred centuries earlier, splitting Ethne from her sisters forever and causing relentless anguish and enmity between ancient families.
Meanwhile, Algernon and Clement Benedict have arrived in Sydney searching for the lost relics of their family. They are driven by revenge and a thirst for power, and will take what they can to reinstate their family heritage. Their meddling with ancient magic will have far-reaching effects, as they fail to realise their role in a far greater quest.
In the grounds of Sydney’s magnificent Garden Palace, danger grows as an ages-old feud of queens and goddesses heats up. The discovery of arcane symbols bring the distant past in a foreign land to Australia and will cause a profound struggle with tragic results, a surprising new recruit from an unknown world, and the complete destruction of the palace.
Set around stories and characters in 1882 Sydney, Keeper of the Way includes current affairs, people and buildings long gone, and gives a voice to people history doesn’t always listen to.

Keeper of the Way is published by Odyssey Books.

Patricia Leslie is an Australian author with a passion for combining history, fantasy, and action into stories that nudge at the boundaries of reality.

For reviews, interviews, articles and updates on her novels and adventures, visit her website: patricialeslie.net and facebook page: Patricia Leslie – author

For photos of her adventures, books, and chickens, follow her on insta: @patricialeslee (if you don’t have an Instagram account just drop in to her website)

 

The first of TWO 3rd PLACE WINNERs in the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest: Excavation Murder by Victoria Clapton

Congratulations Victoria!

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

img_2351-11 your humble host

It is my pleasure to present to you the first of two 3rd place winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Excavation Murder” by Victoria Clapton

There was a lot to like in this story! Victoria’s main character was interesting on many levels, the first which – for me – was an Indiana Jones-type setup, but with a relatively young woman as Indy. Not a Laura Croft bad@ss, but a thoughtful and somewhat flawed character. The theme interested me and I wanted to know more – always a good thing in any story!

Obviously, it was a fave of the celebrity judges, too.

Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it, as well as including comments by the celebrity judges, at the bottom of the post.

Enjoy!


Word Weaver Writing Contest Winner

3EXCAVATION MURDER

Victoria Clapton

Over…

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The 2nd PLACE WINNER in the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest: Anne Clare, “Dark Corners”

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

img_2351-11 YOUR HUMBLE HOST

It is my pleasure to present to you the second place winner from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Anne Clare’s “Dark Corners.”

Anne Clare’s story was a blast to read. She hooked me from the opening and held me straight through to the end. Obviously, it was a fave of the celebrity judges, too.

Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it, as well as including comments by the celebrity judges, at the bottom of the post.

Enjoy!


SECOND PLACE WINNER

2

“Dark Corners”

Anne Clare


Bonny tiptoed to the library door and peered around the frame, holding her breath. Miss Worther sat in the far corner, back bent over the desk, pen scratching across a sheet of paper.

She must be writing to that sweetheart we’re not supposed to know about. She’ll not notice I’m gone…

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Happy Release Day—The Savior’s Champion!

 

Tobias Kaya doesn’t care about The Savior. He doesn’t care that She’s the Ruler of the realm or that She purified the land, and he certainly doesn’t care that She’s of age to be married. But when competing for Her hand proves to be his last chance to save his family, he’s forced to make The Savior his priority.

Now Tobias is thrown into the Sovereign’s Tournament with nineteen other men, and each of them is fighting—and killing—for the chance to rule at The Savior’s side. Instantly his world is plagued with violence, treachery, and manipulation, revealing the hidden ugliness of his proud realm. And when his circumstances seem especially dire, he stumbles into an unexpected romance, one that opens him up to unimaginable dangers and darkness.

Trigger warnings: this book contains graphic violence, adult language, and sexual situations.

Buy links:
Amazon US: http://a.co/fUIOtUT
Amazon UK: http://amzn.eu/1J8Gj3n
Amazon CA: http://a.co/6WJaBj9
B&N: http://bit.ly/2tz3did
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2FwHYz1
iBooks: https://apple.co/2tw9qLM
The Book Depository: http://bit.ly/2HiCKHK
Indigo: http://bit.ly/2p3iK4f
Books-A-Million: https://bit.ly/2GVgSDk

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38240456-the-savior-s-champion

Free Excerpt:

Read the first three chapters of The Savior’s Champion: https://www.jennamoreci.com/tsc

 

 

Author Bio:

Jenna Moreci is a Silicon Valley native and Youtube sensation, dominating the authortube community with her straightforward and hilarious writing channel. A lifelong storyteller, Jenna specializes in crafting thrilling adventures with heaping doses of bloodshed and romance.
When she’s not writing or ‘tubing, Jenna enjoys angry music, potent wine, and laughing until her face hurts with her goofball fiancé.

Author Links:

Website: http://jennamoreci.com/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/jennamoreci
Instagram: https://instagram.com/jennamoreci/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennamoreci
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorjennamoreci
Tumblr: http://jennamoreci.tumblr.com
Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1KToQLx

 

HERE ARE YOUR WINNERS! Dan Alatorre’s Word Weaver Writing Contest (March 2018)

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

Are you excited to see who won our March 2018 writing contest? I know I am. (Or was, I guess, because I know who won – and in a moment you will, too.)

HERE COME THE WINNERS!

Word Weaver logi FINAL trimmed 2As always, it was CRAZY hard to determine the best story out of so many amazing entries. So I called on a few author friends to serve as celebrity judges.

YOUR CELEBRITY JUDGE PANEL:

Top: J. A. Alen and Lucy Brazier

Bottom: John Winston, Allison Maruska, and Jenifer Ruff

I read and critiqued ALL the entries, then selected the finalists.

The celebrity judges agreed to read the finalists, then each celebrity judge would independently rank the stories and vote for the winning story accordingly. (As did I, but they had no idea what story I liked best.)

So I sent them the stories, in alphabetical order by title, with no author…

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