Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Outlining Short Stories

Hello Lovelies!

Been a while since I've written a blog post, so let's make the most of it! I decided today to talk about how I plot my short stories. I always make myself an outline, or I find I never finish the story. I'm definitely not a pantser (someone who writes their first draft by the seat of their pants)! But what does it mean to make an outline? It's certainly not the old roman numeral, followed by uppercase letters, followed by numbers, followed by lowercase letters that many of us learned in school (though it can be if you like). No, an outline can be as structured or messy as you want it to be. Basically, if you write down a road map to your story of any kind, you've created an outline.

I start, of course, with a basic idea of what I want to write. After I have that, I freewrite. What does that mean? Basically, I start writing any idea that pops into my brain about what I want the overall story to be about, how I want it to start, how I want it to end, what should be in the middle, and everything else! There is no structure to this, and often thoughts stop midway through if I don't like the direction it's going. In fact, I rarely even look back at this freewrite exercise. I only do it to get my mind focused on the story. And, of course, if I do want to check back later, it's right there, either in my notebook or my Scrivener file. 

Once I'm happy with the direction and ideas for the story, I open a clean file (or turn to a fresh piece of paper if I'm writing old school) and summarize my story from start to finish. I try to do it all in one sitting, and since it's a short story, it doesn't need to be too long. I try not to add too many descriptions, dialogue, or anything else in my outline except the bare-bones of the story. I do this because it gives me more freedom during the actual first-draft writing. (And, yes, later during the first draft, if a better idea comes along, I'm not afraid to deviate from the outline even if it is sometimes a major pain in the buns.)

After I've finished this outline, I read it over again to make sure the story flows, and then add or delete things to make it the best story it can be. Basically, I have a summary of my story, with each scene in its own paragraph. Since I use Scrivener, it's easy to put it in its own window/column/whatever it's called so I can have it right there in front of me as I type. Of course, you'll have an easy way to do this with whatever program you use, including pen and paper. That simple process has done the job of both getting my mind focused on the story and building a structure that allows me to add plenty to as I write the actual story. Even though I've added a few steps to my story before I've even began, I find the writing goes so much faster and smoother. I know what I'm up against before I start, rather than trying to figure it out as I go.

It also makes the editing process easier, in my opinion. Since I have the story structured how I want it, I simply need to make sure the story reads smoothly for the reader. (Even so, I do have a whole routine when it comes to editing, but that can be the focus of a future post!) I've basically handled the editing of the structure before I wrote word-one on the first draft. Easy-peasy!  

So that's how I do it for my short stories. Feel free to copy my process if it helps you - it's why I posted it! Or take a bit of it. Or scoff and say your way is better. Whatever helps! Thank you for reading, and I'll see you soon!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Coming Soon - HORSE-ing Around

Hello Lovelies!

EDIT: It's available on Amazon here!

By this time tomorrow (later afternoon Pacific Daylight Time), my newest short story, HORSE-ing Around, should be available for you on Amazon. As always for my shorts (this one ~10k words), it will be available to purchase as a Kindle book for 99¢ or as a free download if you're a member of the Kindle Unlimited program. I will, of course, have the link for you when it's available. For now, check out the description and cover image. I hope you enjoy the read!


19 year old Carrie Garcia hates her boyfriend, Dylan, but she doesn’t want to break up with him because of how great he is in bed. After he humiliates her yet again, she realizes she’s had enough. While he heads for the gym, and doesn’t invite her, she drives to the campus basketball court to shoot away her anger. As fate would have it, a totally hot nice guy, a welcome change from Dylan, also chooses to shoot baskets on that Saturday night. Instead of simply chucking up shots, they decide it would be fun to play a game of HORSE. The added bonus? The one who gets a letter also has to answer a personal question.

Can a random game of HORSE really lead to true love? Reveal a soul mate? Carrie thinks it might. Will this nice guy, Jay, think the same thing after Carrie reveals more of her past, why she’s still with Dylan? She thinks he might be her true love, but he needs to agree for that to work. What will the game reveal?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Fools' Foolishness!

Hello Lovelies!

I decided to share one of my favorite (long) jokes with everyone today. I can't give a source for it, as I heard it from a manager in the bookstore I worked at in the late 90s. (Yes, a bookstore! Remember those! 😉) I only heard it the one time, but it stuck with me. So, in honor of April Fools' Day, and with a little bit of flair (I hope), here you go!

There was once a woman named Barb. Barb was your typical, everyday office drone, doing the 9 to 5 thing. The thing that got Barb through life with at least a little bit of a smile were clowns. Now, quite a few people have a phobia of clowns, but not Barb. Heck, she even wanted to meet that creepy old clown Pennywise in the iconic Stephen King story, IT. 

One day while taking the bus into work, she found an ad mixed in with his Twitter feed that said a huge circus was coming to town. And not only that, but touring with the circus was the the reigning ten-time winner of World's Greatest Clown competition, Horatio the Hilarious. Barb almost spilled her coffee when she read it, but she knew people would look at her if she did, so she kept himself in check.

On the day the tickets went on sale, Barb made sure to buy what she considered to be the best seat in the house. Maybe front-row-center was a bit of a misnomer since the show would take place in a circular arena, but it was the best one in her opinion. Now she only had to get through the next two months before the show actually got to town.

As it always does, time moved forward, and before she knew it, Barb was first in line to get into the arena. She normally watched what she ate and how much she spent, but today was a special day. Horatio the Hilarious didn't come to town often, after all! She purchased a collector's edition program, a pennant to wave during the show, a big floppy bonnet complete with a water-squirting flower, a couple of reusable shopping bags--one for Horatio, and the other for the circus itself--and a few random buttons and pins.

And let's not forget the scrumptious food! She bought a corn dog, a big box of Cracker Jacks, a tub of buttered popcorn, a bag of cotton candy, and a few caramel apples. No, she couldn't eat it all now, but so much of it would taste just as good at home, and she could remember the fun she had at the circus when she ate the treats. Of course she also got a ginormous soda in a take-home souvenir cup. What could be better?

Barb rarely liked to talk to people, but she made an exception at the circus. A young family sat to her left, and an older couple on her right, and she enjoyed spending the time chatting both up before the show started. Of course, when the lights dimmed and fanfare started, all of her attention went to the floor where the action would take place.

It was a glorious circus. Two hours of acrobats, magicians, high-fliers, trained animals, and a gaggle of clowns. She loved every second, but she saved up her most thunderous round of applause. Horatio the Hilarious, after all, hadn't yet made his appearance. 

At last, after all the other performers moved off-stage, the lights went dark for a minute or two, and then the unmistakable clown music, March of the Gladiators--doot-doot-doodle-doodle-doot-doot-do-do--sounded, and a spotlight picked up a clown struggling to keep upright on a unicycle. Of course, there was nothing uncoordinated about it, as he "accidentally" did tricks that no one but a master could pull off. After a few minutes of this, he tumbled head-over-heels and landed as gracefully as could be. The crowd, including Barb, went nuts for the great Horatio the Hilarious. 

Horatio put on a thirty minute show of non-stop tricks, tumbles, and hilarity. To end his set, he walked up into the audience. Barb's breath caught in her throat. He was coming straight for her! Both he and the spotlight stopped next to her. She felt the eyes of everyone in the arena boring into her. She wanted to say something to Horatio, a quick thank you or anything to show she appreciated everything he'd done, how he made her life that much brighter. Before she could get anything out, though, Horatio spoke.

"Excuse me, ma'am. Are you the horse's head?"

You could have heard a pin drop in the arena waiting for her answer, but she had no idea how to respond. All she could do was shake her head, getting her over-sized bonnet to flop around, and say, "I...I don't know."

"You don't know if you're the horse's head?"

A few titters now sounded out around the quiet arena, but she still didn't know how to respond. All she could say was, "No."

"Then you must be the horse's ass!"

The arena erupted in laughter, including Horatio's iconic bray. Everyone thought it was the best joke ever. Everyone, that is, except Barb. She tried her best to slink down in her seat so no one would look at her. Luckily, at that moment, Horatio took his final bows and earned a standing ovation. She took that chance to flee the arena, leaving behind all her souvenirs and left-over snacks. She didn't want any of it any longer. She even stuffed the bonnet into a trash can on her way out. 

She had to call in sick to work on Monday and Tuesday because she was so distraught. Her hero had humiliated her. Sure, if it had happened to someone else, she probably would have laughed like a loon and thought nothing of the feelings of the recipient, but it hadn't been someone else. It had been her.

Finally, late Tuesday night, as she browsed the Internet, she came across an ad for an Internet clown school. Even though the image of Horatio the Horrible, as she now thought of him, graced the page, she still took notice. Maybe she could become a clown and hide her tears behind laughter. She signed up right away, and received her welcome package via email less than five minutes later. After pouring through the material, she felt well enough to go back to work the next day. 

The next year-and-a-half were the busiest of Barb's life. She worked her 9 to 5 job like always, but on her coffee breaks, lunch break, commutes, and, of course, for hours after work, she dug into the on-line clown college tasks. Thanks to .pdf booklets, links to YouTube videos, and local seminars on the weekends, she learned how to make exotic balloon animals, ride a unicycle (both in general, and later with style), create hilarious practical jokes, tumble, shoot water out of fake flowers with incredible accuracy, and everything else a clown needed to do to garner laughs. But the thing that Barb proved best at, something that surprised even her, was coming up with snappy comebacks. She couldn't ever do it before, but she found when she wore the iconic clown makeup, it brought out the best in her.

She dominated the snappy comeback school forums. She cracked everyone up, even the instructors, at the weekend seminars. She even traveled to the school's headquarters in Walla-Walla (California, not Washington) and decimated the head clowns with her biting humor. She soon became known as Ms. Snappy Comeback, and she started to draw media attention. She went on the talk-show circuit, became the special guest on stand-up nights in prestigious comedy clubs, and even began getting guest spots on major television shows and movies. Before long, she no longer needed the makeup to make her biting and hilarious quips. That's when her career, first as a star in sit-coms on television, and then in staring roles in major motion picture blockbusters started coming her way. Needless to say, her times in the cubicles was over, and life couldn't be sweeter. She supposed she owed it all to that clown Horatio the Horrible, who she had, thank goodness, never again run into.

After almost a decade of being on top, Barb decided to take a break. She returned to her hometown and settled into a nice routine. Of course, when she went out shopping or to dinner or anything else, people loved it when she zinged them. They'd make sure their friends got it on video before having her sign a receipt or napkin or something. They loved it, and Barb enjoyed making people happy.

Then, one fateful Tuesday afternoon, Barb saw that the circus was coming to town. The same one that had brought about her new life. Not only that, but it was coming to the same arena, and Horatio the Hilarious was even coming out of retirement for the tour. She honestly hadn't given the horrible clown any thought in a few years, so she decided she could let bygones be bygones and enjoy the show. But wouldn't you know it? When the tickets went on sale, she found she could purchase the same exact seat she'd been in that day. She snatched it up, and a plan formed.

When the day of the circus came, she didn't go overboard with the treats, ordering only a deep-fried corn dog, a tub of popcorn, and a medium soda. She grabbed a poster and a few pins and buttons. Why not, right? She had a pretty extensive collection of both contemporary and vintage circus souvenirs. Hey, everyone needed a hobby, and hunting for such gems was hers. 

The circus went pretty much the same as the one ten years prior. Sure, there were new tricks and such, and she enjoyed the heck out of it all, but a circus was a circus. Besides, she was waiting for Horatio, and hoped he'd choose her to try to humiliate again. From everything she'd researched on the Internet, his set was pretty similar to the one from those ten years ago.

Before she knew it, the circus proper was over, and Horatio the Hilarious made his appearance. Like before, he came out on a unicycle, and though she tried to find fault in his acting, she couldn't. He looked as smooth and practiced in his foolishness as he had then. In fact, he didn't look to have missed a beat at all in his retirement. Despite herself, Barb had to admit she enjoyed his performance immensely. 

Then came the moment of truth. His act had come to its end except for the one bit of audience participation. Like before, Horatio headed right towards Barb. She thought for a second he might choose another seat, but like had happened ten years prior, he and the spotlight stopped right in front of her. This time she held no nerves.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but are you the horse's head?"

Same joke. Not that it mattered anymore. Barb stood, and as she did, the quiet audience, waiting for the poor woman in the front row to be humiliated, instead recognized her as Ms. Snappy Comeback. Even Horatio noticed, as his painted eyes grew wide in fear. Soon word had spread around the entire arena, and everyone knew what was going on in the spotlight.

Barb, now completely immersed in her Ms. Snappy Comeback role, leaned forward, tilted the microphone in Horatio's collar towards her, and said... 

"Fuck you, Clown!"