Three More Tips About When To Abandon A Short Story Project

Abandoning a short story project is a difficult decision, especially if you’ve already written quite a bit of it. But, sometimes, it is the best decision to make.

So, since this happened to me the day before I wrote this article (eg: to a comedy/ literary fiction story about late ’00s Aberystwyth that I’d written about 3400 words of), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about when and why to abandon a short story project.

1) Think of your readers: First and foremost, think of the reader. Unless you’re just writing for personal enjoyment, it is important to remember that there will be a reader for your short story and, if it seems like your story might not be that much fun to read, then this is one possible sign that it might be better to write something else.

This is also where reading regularly comes in handy, since having direct experience of being a reader can help you to put yourself in the shoes of your own potential readers. To give you an example, my abandoned story project was written in the present tense. This was initially a fairly spur-of-the-moment thing that just happened when I started writing it. At the time, I thought that it added an intriguing level of unpredictability and immediacy to the story.

But, then, I had to choose the next book I wanted to read. There were two books by the same author – one was written in the past tense and the other was written in the present tense. I read the first chapters of both and then rushed towards the past tense one. It just seemed a lot easier and more “natural” to read. So, naturally, this made me think about the present tense narration in the short story I was writing at the time. I realised that it would probably be really annoying to read, so it was one reason why I abandoned the story a day or two later.

So, think about your readers!

2) When it starts to put you off of writing: Writer’s block isn’t always a good reason to abandon a story project. Sometimes, you need to take time to think about what to write next or to just power through your writer’s block by just writing (and then editing later). Sometimes, writer’s block is merely a small everyday hurdle that can be dealt with without abandoning your story.

But, when even the idea of writing any more of your story feels like a chore and you find yourself racked with guilt about not writing any of it over the past few days, then this is sometimes a sign that you need to cut your losses and write something else.

The important thing to remember here is that you need to keep writing. If a half-finished story is standing in your way and, more importantly, sapping your enthusiasm for writing itself, then you need to write something that makes you feel enthusiastic again before you lose interest in writing altogether.

3) Think of your story as a whole: Following on from the first point on this list, having direct experience of being a reader can also help you to notice when your story is becoming less about the story you’re telling and more about other things.

In other words, when you are devoting more effort to things like showing off, avant-garde gimmicks, personal nostalgia etc… than you are to the characters and plot, then the story might not work out. Again, remember that your story will have a reader.

For example, here’s an extract from my abandoned short story: ‘Beneath the glow of the front window, she can just about make out the scuffed stairs driving down into the darkness below. She has only walked down them once, on a cold October night when the club’s cavernous crypts had been decked out in cotton wool cobwebs and styrofoam tombstones. When the lights were as lush and vivid as a heavy metal music video and no-name goth bands wailed in the corner.

Although this one little extract might sound good on it’s own, imagine a whole story filled with these slow-paced and alliteration-filled passages of purple prose. Imagine a whole story where these are the main point of interest, with not much of a plot, lots of rather corny “comedic” dialogue and not that much actual characterisation.

Each of these individual descriptions were fun to write and I felt pretty clever every time I came up with a contrived way to use alliteration and/or rhyme during the narration. But, when I stepped back and looked at the story as a whole, I didn’t see that much of an actual story (that people would want to read), just lots of pretentious prose poetry.

So, think about your story as a whole. If, when you take a step back, it looks less like a story than you expect, then try writing something else.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Stories, Audience Participation And Associative Memories – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Audiences and memories article sketch

Even though this is (sort of) an article about writing and/or making comics (as well as storytelling in general), I’m going to have to start by talking about my reactions to watching a TV show. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Although I’ll probably post a full review here tomorrow, I watched the first episode of the two-part Swedish TV adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Played With Fire” on DVD shortly before writing this article.

Having read the books in early-mid 2010, my memories of them were slightly vague and inconsistent (eg: I could only remember some key plot points and small details) but the TV/film adaptation seemed to be reasonably accurate. But, that wasn’t the most interesting effect that watching the first episode had on me.

Subtly at first, I started to feel like I had travelled back in time to 2010. Although I certainly hadn’t forgotten this fascinating time, re-visiting a series of stories (albeit in TV show form) that I hadn’t looked at in about six years seemed to make the memories a lot more vivid, immediate and detailed – which was kind of a cool experience.

Not only that, I also suddenly started remembering a lot of other subtle things from the time – such as the layout of my imagination back then, my outlook on the world etc….

It was as if looking at an adaptation of an old story had given me a brief glimpse of the person I was when I last read that story.

And, well, this made me think about one element of storytelling (whether in fiction, comics, TV shows, films etc…) that is often overlooked. Namely, the idea of stories being linked to a particular time.

Normally, when I’ve thought or written about this subject, I’ve focused on the creative side of things. I’ve rambled about how I can’t continue many of my older comics or stories for the simple reason that I’ve changed and grown as a person since the time that I originally wrote them. Even when I re-started my old occasional “Damania” webcomic series in 2015 after a one-year hiatus, I had to “re-boot” it for the simple reason that I wasn’t quite the same person I was in 2011-13.

But, the one thing that often gets overlooked when talking about stories, time and memory is the non-creative side of things. In other words, the audience.

Although stories and comics are often seen as non-interactive forms of communication, I’d argue that there’s a lot more interactivity than many people think. The reader matters almost as much as the writer does.

When you read a story or a comic, it follows you around until you finish it. It becomes part of that particular period of your life. It becomes the background music to a chapter of your life. Parts of the story or comic may even linger in your imagination for a long time after you’ve finished the final page. It may even influence or inspire the things that you write or draw.

Because novels and, to a lesser extent, comics rely on the reader to “fill in the gaps” with their own imaginations, reading a story is – essentially- a creative experience. Although the reader has been given a detailed set of instructions, they still have to re-create the story in their own imaginations when reading it. As such, it takes on a uniquely personal quality that can remain in memory in a different way to – say- remembering an old song.

In addition to this, I’d also argue that the audience is as relevant to how “good” a story is as the writer is. What do I mean by this? Well, it has to do with how well the audience members and the writer get along when they meet on the page. If you think of reading a story (or a comic) as meeting someone in a pub, then you’re probably going to really get along with that person a lot better if you have similar interests, a similar sense of humour, a similar outlook on the world. Even if you don’t, you might still get along with them well if their worldview or interests happen to fit into what you currently consider to be “cool” or “interesting”.

If you meet someone who seems interesting to you or who you get along with well, then you’re probably going to remember them a lot more than you would if you met someone who was less interesting. Even if you end up becoming a different person to the one you were during the meeting, you’ll probably still remember the older version of yourself when you remember the meeting. This is why stories can evoke memories in a surprisingly vivid and unique way.

Plus, although I can only speak from my own experience here, I’ve also found that a sizeable majority of my favourite stories, comics, films etc… were only really “accessible” to me at particular points of my life. If I’d discovered them a few years earlier or later, they wouldn’t really be my favourite things.

To use a cinematic example, the first time I watched “Blade Runner” was when I was fourteen. I’d bought a second-hand VHS of the film and, from the cool-looking cover art, I imagined that it would be a thrilling sci-fi action movie like “Total Recall”. Of course, it wasn’t. At the time, I found it incredibly tedious to watch.

It wasn’t until three years (and many other films, novels, experiences etc..) later that I was finally able to appreciate this film for what it actually is. It’s since become my favourite film and, later, one of my largest artistic influences. But, because I wasn’t the kind of person who got along with the film when I was fourteen, all of the great parts of it were pretty much invisible to me back then.

So, yes, when it comes to stories and storytelling, the audience matters as much as the writer does. Like listening to the storytellers of old, reading a story is more like a meeting between the storyteller and the listener than anything else.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

To Fascinate Your Readers, Think About Their Literary “Backgrounds”

2014 Artwork Literary Backgrounds Article Sketch

Although this is an article about what makes some types of fiction fascinating for different people, both in terms of writing it and reading it – I’m going to have to talk about about a book that I haven’t really read for a paragraph or two. And, yes, there’s a reason for this.

Anyway, A few weeks ago, Kate Robinson mentioned a book to me called “The Bees” by Laline Paull.

It’s a novel that is apparently mostly set within a colony of bees. I haven’t got round to getting a copy of it yet (it still seems to be pretty new and expensive at the time of writing this article), but I read the preview on Amazon and I was quite impressed. But, this isn’t a review of a book that I’ve only read six pages of – no, it’s an article about why I found the extract so instantly interesting.

Within a few seconds of reading the chapter set inside the beehive, I recognised what I like to call “the darkness”.

This is an ineffable quality which, if it’s present, draws me deeper into a story – and, if it isn’t, usually makes me less interested. It can include things like visceral and slightly creepy descriptions, a vaguely ominous and/or nihilistic atmosphere, dystopic politics, meaningless deaths and/or cynical protagonists.

Noticing this quality in the first few pages of a story about bees, of all things, made me wonder why I’m drawn to this quality in stories that I read (although I’ve noticed that it hardly ever seems to appear in the very few times that I’ve written any fiction in the past year or two – although this could be down to self-censorship more than anything else).

Then I suddenly realised that it was because, when I first really got into reading fiction that wasn’t written for “young adults” I was seduced, bewitched and entranced by horror fiction. Splatterpunk fiction, to be precise.

I read my first splatterpunk novel (“Assassin” by Shaun Hutson) when I was about thirteen and it was like nothing that I’d ever seen before. Needless to say, for the next couple of years, I scoured every charity shop and market that I visited when I was shopping for more old splatterpunk novels from the 80s and 90s.

Also, of course, I was also fascinated by dystopic sci-fi when I was a teenager too. In addition to discovering splatterpunk fiction at the age of thirteen, I also read George Orwell’s “Ninteen Eighty-Four” ( we were shown part of a film adaptation of it in an English lesson at school, and I was so fascinated by it that I decided to read the book) and it was also like nothing I’d ever read before. Alas, good dystopic sci-fi was harder to find than good horror fiction was back then….

So, anything which contains the qualities that can be found in the first two genres that I truly loved almost automatically grabs my attention. Even if it’s something that is totally unrelated on the surface – like a novel about bees, or even a series of fantasy novels (eg: G.R.R Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels – and, yes, I still haven’t got around to finishing reading “A Dance With Dragons” yet).

So, why is any of this relevant to you?

Well, all of your readers have their own literary “background”. Maybe they grew up reading “Mills and Boon” romances? Maybe they grew up on military thriller novels? Maybe they were a fantasy geek when they were younger?

Whatever it is, one or two types of fiction will have had a critical formative influence on your readers’ tastes. It will shape how they see all types of fiction, in some subtle way or other, for the rest of their lives. It’s kind of like something from the chorus of this Bad Religion song.

What this means is that, as I alluded to earlier, if your story contains any of the qualities that are found in these kinds of stories – then it will instantly grab their attention. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing in a totally different genre to the one that they’re used to, if your story still contains the same essential elements that make their “formative” genres so interesting, then they’ll be drawn to your story for reasons that they can’t usually quite explain.

I’m not quite sure what the practical applications of this are, but it’s certainly something to think about….

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂