Lessons Learned?

Last night I read through all of the emails I wrote to Dean to accompany each of the 52 stories. Dean said not to whine and I tried my best not to. So, most of them were just “Here’s the story, hope you enjoy it.”  But sometimes I had terrible weeks trying to write a short story only to finally succeed because of something I learned or some new resilience. I told Dean of those successes.

I looked over the stories I sent him with the emails to see if they matched my perspectives at the time. That was pretty interesting.

What I can tell you is that the lessons I learned early on are not the same lessons I learned later. I don’t think I could have just jumped ahead. The early lessons enabled the later lessons. I think this is often why advice from more advanced writers sometimes seems impossible to put into place. They’re leaving things out because they don’t remember having learned them. “What do you mean the whole secret is “butt in chair? That is just not working for me.”

So I’m going to start in the beginning, discussing what I learned that made it possible to write 52 stories in 52 weeks. I won’t do this in one post. This is going to extend over time to keep these posts reasonably short.

The first and most critical thing I had to learn was what a short story is and what it isn’t.  I’m still learning how to write short stories because the learning never really ends. But in the beginning I really needed to learn the elements of a short story so that I would know when my short story was finished.

My best friend became the 7 Point Plot Outline, which I posted in my office just to the left of my computer. After I wrote a story I’d check it against the 7 Point Plot Outline to see if I had all the elements. Often when I was stuck I would check the formula to see what I was missing. Memorizing that and using it is the first secret.

The second secret is closely connected to the first so I’ll give it to you here. Read short stories for pleasure, then dissect them using the 7 Point Plot Outline to see what the parts are. It’s easier to see the elements in other people’s stories. (Though not all short stories use this formula, so if one doesn’t, move on to another.)

The 7 Point Plot Outline is this:

  1. A Character
  2. in a Setting
  3. with a Problem.
  4. The Character tries to solve the problem
  5. but fails, making things worse. (Repeat steps 4 and 5.)
  6. Climax: The Character tries again and succeeds or fails in a way that we know it is the final success or failure.
  7. Validation: the ending where all ends are tied up and there is some sort of ceremony or other way of providing closure.

Kris Rusch has an excellent lecture on this at Teachable. I watched it over and over again in the beginning and even returned to it when I was having trouble later on.

I am tempted to leave the 7 Point Plot outline there and move into the deep internal things I learned, but that wouldn’t be fair. It would be skipping over important territory that enabled the deeper stuff. So tomorrow I’ll start by taking each of the parts of the 7 Point Plot Outline and explaining what they actually mean and how I actually learned them.

Be well, friends! And stay well.

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