I dare you to write a short story.

DSC_0064A good friend of mine recently called the short story a “lost art.” It truly is. In a world of trilogies and series and 79-book installments–let me pause to rub my headache–the short story continues to draw the short straw.

What many don’t realize is that the short story set the foundation for writing as it is known today. Mark Twain made most of his green from the short. Edgar Allan Poe is well-known for many of his shorts such as “The Tell-Tale Heart.” J.D. Salinger wrote several shorts to coincide with his two published novels. Kate Chopin wrote her famous “The Story of an Hour” to protest the binds that were/are “womanhood.” Hemingway is famous for shorts such as “Hills like White Elephants” and his six-word long story “Baby Shoes.”

The list goes on.

Not only did it provide a great stage, but the short can teach us writers a lot about writing. To write a short, we have to be blunt while being fluid. We can’t give ALL the details, only the important ones. Just like novels, shorts have to have three-dimensional characters, back story, and plot, but in a much smaller box. It teaches us to cut the crap we don’t need for sake of word count. Could you imagine turning your trilogy into one, 2,000 word short story? Try it.

My Granddad likes to say: “If it doesn’t look good in black and white, it doesn’t look good in color.” I am going to apply that to writing and say: “If you can’t write a good short story, you can’t write a good novel.”

Today, I dare you to write a short story. Few magazines consider this to be no more than 10,000 words. Most magazines consider it to be no more than 3,000 words. If you’re like me, your shorts will find a range around 5,000. Whatever the length you decide, your story absolutely has to have the following:

  • Setting/Description
  • 3-D Characters with real lives
  • Back Story
  • Plot and Conflict
  • Beginning, Middle, and End
  • Climax and Resolution
  • Action

I recently came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to write a huge novel to be a good writer. I think a lot of people are stuck inside of this box where society has placed them. If you aren’t sure that writing shorts–or even poetry—will give you a good name, think about this: Stephen King is well-known for his shorts, most of which have been turned into movies. Ever heard of The Shawshank Redemption? The Secret Window? Thinner? Stand by Me? These are just a few movies based on his shorts: “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” “Thinner,” and “The Body.”

If you think that writing a short is a quick “job” or if you think it makes you meek compared to the Harry Potter series, let Horton–a character from a famous short story–speak within your mind:

A writer’s a writer, no matter how small.

What makes a great LOVE story?

DSC_0372What makes a good romance? Is it the physical appearances of the characters? Is it where they live? How they interact?

Think about how romance is in real life. If you’ve ever been in love, real real love, you’ll know that love is never perfectoTherefore, a good love story will have that same characteristic; it will be flawed. Continue reading

Writers: “Is your dialogue holding you back?”

DSC_0265I’ve seen a lot of bad dialogue out there, folks. I have closed books because of dialogue. I have edited over swamps of swampy smelly dialogue. I have written the worst dialogue on the planet.

The thing about dialogue is: it’s tricky. It’s not something you can just add to a piece to give it more “action.” In fact, dialogue should play its own role. If you have two characters discussing the weather, and your story is not about some atmospheric phenomenon, then you have a problem. Continue reading

What I Learned in my Freshman Undergrad Writing Course

Hey guys! Things have been a little stressful lately, so I apologize for not posting anything. It’s not that I haven’t found anything to write, it’s when I actually sit to write, I’m too tired to make any coherence on the page. 

What to do about that? It mainly depends on the person and the writer. Some write whatever comes to their mind at the moment, free writing if you will. Writing in the moment. Seize the written word. Others, doodle and write gobbly-gook (yes, that it the technical term I want to use), which really has never worked for me. 

As for me…I usually mold it around in my head for days (sometimes weeks) before some sort of a coherence sears itself into the synapses of my brain. That’s usually my starting mark or my “You are Here” sign on the map. From there, it easier for me to map out my direction or just drive around until I find the way. 

When I was a freshman in college, I took a required writing course taught by a grad student. Honestly, none of us thought we would learn anything when he walked into the room (we actually thought he was another student at first…a hippie that time travelled to the 21st century). However, over the course of the semester, we actually found ourselves learning. His lessons focused heavily on both free writing and putting the “meat on the bones”.

Our first experience with free writing was on sunny morning on the quad (very early morning as the class started at 7:30 each day, ick), describing the nature that surrounded us. I didn’t do so well on that task…I get ADHD when outside most days. It finally clicked when we went to the gallery and we each had to pick a painting to write about. That’s when the words started flying, creating a written image as beautiful as the painted one on the wall. 

Once we got past the free writing exercises, then came the lesson of putting the “meat on the bones”. Basically, get the bare structure of your piece on the paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s an outline or just random words listed on the page. That’s your skeleton, you can only build up from there. You must make sure that the skeleton is sturdy and will support the story you create. ALWAYS make your piece have depth and three dimensionality, something that your reader can sink their teeth into and walk away full and satisfied.

The best thing about these two pieces of advice, is that they are versatile to work with any writing prompt you come across. Combine the two: the free write could be the bones to hold your meat together. Play around with it; just like humans and animals, different bone structures create different results.

Once you’re done, don’t be afraid to cut the fat. Sometimes, a story has to go on a diet. Not everything is relevant, or needed, for a story to survive and hold its own. Too much detail or backstory can weigh a story down. 

Remember: write, write, write, then write some more. You can never write too much. That’s what I plan to do, despite being so stressed!

~B

Eccentric Chai: A Blog for Writers and Readers

DSC_0064I started this blog over two years ago because I needed a place where I could visualize my writer’s musings. After that, it became the blog of all trades. I discussed photography, music, even robots. However, all of that is coming to a close. My co-author and I have decided to do some spring cleaning, and have transformed Eccentric Chai into a blog for writers and readers.

We plan on writing about writing, sharing writing tips, prompting writers, giving writers a taste of what it’s like to be a writer, showing writers that it’s not the end of the world when you get a rejection, making writers laugh, and even sharing our own writing.

We also plan on writing about books, sharing books we love, reviewing books, giving you lists of books we think you should peek at (and lists of books we think you should steer clear of) and improving the quality of life of book lovers.

Be on the lookout for our new articles! In the meantime, take a gander at the articles published on the blog. Everything has been “swept,” meaning that (most) of what is left on the blog is related to our new topic!

Enjoy!

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Writers: It’s Never too Early to Have a Website

DSC_0985Several months ago, when I was still sending out queries for my last manuscript, I read an agent’s blog. She was critiquing queries that she received–and accepted–so that others could see what wowed her and what didn’t. I don’t remember who the agent was, or what the query was for, but there was one thing that has stood out to me ever since. The writer wrote: “Further information and illustrations can be found on my website.” and the agent commented in big red letters: “She already has a website! Awesome!!!!!”

I remember frowning. At the time, I hadn’t been published yet. I wasn’t a “writer.” Was I even worthy of a website?

According to author Kristen Lamb, it’s never too early to start building your platform (read her article here). Whether you are going to be a self-published author, a traditionally-published author, or a poet who resides in magazines, you need to have that space where others can find you, learn about you, know you…even if you haven’t made it yet.

After doing a tad more research, I learned right away that having a website looks quite professional on queries. It shows you are serious about your career, that you aren’t just someone who thought it would be fun to write a novel one day. It’s the difference between going to an interview wearing a generic pants suit, and going to an interview wearing a professional-grade pencil skirt with a pen behind your ear and a business card in your pocket.

Tips for Establishing and Designing your Website:

  • New to web design? Know nothing about HTML? Try a place like Wix or Go Daddy. These places have established templates that you can edit to your own liking. Though some of these places charge a small fee, some of them are free.
  • You WILL need to buy your own domain. Domains are around 18-25 dollars a year.
  • Choosing your domain: Your best bet is to go with your full name, the one you’d like to appear on the cover of a book.
  • Choosing your design: pick something that represents you, makes you think: “this is me.”
  • When designing, try to keep things clean and neat; this makes your site look more professional. If your site looks cluttered, you look cluttered.

I was a little ambivalent at first. Creating a website just seemed like putting the cart before the horse, but then I was published in a magazine, on a popular motherhood website, and needed a place to showcase my illustrations and photography. Having a website really helps me present myself to the world without having to send them to multiple places. I can’t wait to share it on my next query!

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Why Third-Person Narrative Rocks my Socks

DSC_0418I wrote my first third-person narrative when I was a kid. It was about a cat who befriended an alien. When I was about eight, I wrote my first short story–again in third-person–about a girl who gets lost in the woods and finds a magical grass. After that, I began writing in first-person. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I had this odd belief that all the “good” writers do it that way.

Who knows?

About a year ago, I decided to have a little fun and give third-person another shot. If it turned out to be poo, I could just wipe it away (with the delete button).

But it wasn’t bad. I felt glorious. I felt like Zeus with a lightning bolt atop a cumulonimbus. And I learned that I actually write better in third-person. Who knew?

Before I tell you why I like third-person, I should give you a little lesson on the narrative. There are three types of third-person:

Limited Omniscient

This is the more popular one (at least from what I’ve read). This is when the reader writes with a focus on the thoughts of only ONE character. This gives the reader a main character to root for. Stephen King used this narrative in Carrie.

Subjective

This one is tricky. Apparently this narrative doesn’t dive into anyone’s mind. It just watches from a distance, perhaps behind a tree with a pair of binoculars. It’s “Josie walked to the store. Josie bought eggs” instead of “Josie walked to the store, annoyed that her dude ate all of the eggs. She thought about poaching him. The thought made her smile.”

Omniscient

The best way to describe omniscient narrative is: God. The writer knows all and can dive into anyone’s head she wants. She also knows everyone’s history and what everyone had for breakfast.

DSC_0985My favorite type of third person is omniscient. I’m thinking it’s because in real life I wish I knew what everyone is thinking. (Wouldn’t life be a lot easier?) In my writing, I can make this wish come true, become some sort of psychic medium with an all-access pass.

So why is third-person so awesome? I’ll give you five reasons why:

1. You can write however the heck you want

Forget trying to figure out how to write from a Balrog’s point of view. YOU are the narrator. How do YOU want this story to be told? Sure, you have to put a little flair in there to give your reader a taste of who your character is (and it probably helps to have an “tone” in your narrative) but it’s a lot easier to add those things when it’s from your point of view. When someone reads your work, you’re probably not going to hear Why is this narrated like this?! Who TALKS like this?! (Unless they’re talking about your dialogue…but that’s a different blog article).

2. Your characters are your puppets

It’s like holding the strings with an eerie grin and saying “Dance! Dance, my pretties!” When you’re writing in first person, your character has a tendency to take the reins from you and do it his own way. When you write in third-person (especially omniscient) YOU are in charge. Give me those reins, Cowboy.

3. You can describe things that aren’t going on in the same room

Is one of your characters fighting an octopus? Coolio. You can talk about this while another character is sitting in her dining room, thinking about the other character–who just so happens to be fighting an octopus–and wondering why he’s late for dinner.

Which brings me to the next one…

4. Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something your character doesn’t. You can have a hay day with this while writing in third-person. Does your teen character think she might be pregnant? Are your teen character’s (unknowing) parents trying to secretly get her into Harvard behind her back? Has your teen character’s boyfriend just learned he was born a chick? Make it a crazy soap opera! Make your reader go: No! Not that way! That’s where the serial killer is!

5. You will learn more about your characters

Especially with omniscient, third-person helps you get to know everyone a little bit better. This might annoy your reader a tad, so keep it brief with them, but when you’re writing the rough draft, go to town! Learn what everyone does for a living. Learn where everyone went to school or what their greatest ambition in life is. Three-dimensional characters make four-dimensional stories.

With its simplicity, allowing the writer to become the narrator of her own story, and its freedom to tinker with the reader’s emotions, it’s no question why third-person is so popular among the greats. What do Mark Twain, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling all have in common? You got it.

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Am I leaving Fiction?

DSC_0064I have had like zero urge to write fiction. I don’t know if it’s the meds or if I just have little desire because of the new blog.

Maybe it’s because I feel different? I’d much rather spend time away from the keyboard, creating something I can physically see or use, like a painting or a new recipe.

My mind is a lot clearer than it has been in awhile. When I was writing fiction, I had many worlds in there, imaginary people. The thought of how I could bend words took precedence over much more important things like self-exploration or my life outside of the text.

Today, when I hear a song, I don’t escape to a fantasy land. I remain right here, beside my back window, a cup of green tea in my hand. I think I’ve begun to understand the beauty of having nothing to do.

I can paint, sew, draw, take photos, write in a journal, READ A BOOK. I never would have thought to do these things before because I would have obligated myself to write a short story or something like it.

I have overcome something, although I’m not sure what that is…

My fiction is never seen like my nonfiction. I help people, provide ideas and get people doing. That is a great reason to write. My desire to write fiction is *poof* sayonara and some might call it depressing, but I call it a possible step down a new path. Maybe this will give me the time and clear-mind to try new things or explore my other trades.

I told Chris yesterday: If I knew my niche was blogging, I would have started a long time ago.

So I thank you, my readers, for showing what it means to be a writer with an audience. I realize that’s all I ever wanted. I just wanted someone to take a peek at something I wrote, say huh, never thought about it like that and nod my way.

I know that fiction isn’t going to be gone all the time. One day I’ll watch Cloud Atlas again and I’ll no doubt sneeze out another 15k short story. But I do know that fiction has taken a step back as a way of life.

To quote one of my characters: I’m ready to see the sun.

~Lina

Vet Your Vet: A Cautionary Tale

Jon and I recently got a little black kitten to add to our little family. We first saw her on a random trip to PetCo (why we were there, I don’t remember as we didn’t have any pets before her) in the adoption center in the front the store. My heart instantly melted while I played with her through the holes of the cage. After playing with her for a few minutes, we looked around the store to see if there were toys we could get for Chester, my parent’s Miniature Schnauzer. By the time we got back to her cage, she had displayed her hunting prowess by catching a rogue cricket.

Later that evening we discussed with our roommates the possibility of us adopting the little kitten. After planning out how to feed the roommate’s older cats, we all agreed that having a kitten running around the house would be awesome. So, Jon and I went back to PetCo, fully prepared to bring her home that night. Instead, we excitedly filled out the adoption application for the local animal shelter.

Almost two weeks and epic phone pestering later, we brought her home. The three of us (me, Jon and his son Alden) instantly fell in love with her. One of the stipulations (and our requirement) was that Artemis (Greek Goddess–so much confusion with Anime enthusiasts) get spayed. The shelter offered to pay through their vet or to give us a voucher to go to another vet. Wanting to trust the shelter, we opted to use their vet. BIG MISTAKE.

For one, their vet operated out of his home on a farm a few miles outside of town. Wanting to keep the appointment and prevent Artemis from going into heat again, we trudged on. When we brought her home that night, there wasn’t anything amiss, just her feeling sore and nauseous from the anesthesia. Everything seemed fine and that this vet actually could be trusted. We changed our opinion within the next 24 hours.

When I got home from work the next day, I found that her stitches had come completely out. There was a gaping hole in her abdomen, revealing the white fat and pink tissue. I freaked out. I tried to keep Alden in the living room so he wouldn’t see it, but he snuck back where we were anyway. Thankfully, he didn’t get traumatized. I called the the vet who performed the surgery while my roommate called her vet. The response I got from the country vet appalled me.

He refused to fix it. He even told me to look on the bright side: we wouldn’t have to worry about having the stitches removed in 10 days. We just had to look for signs of infection.

I was livid.

You don’t shirk responsibility like that, especially with the health of another living being. The next day, we took her to our roommates’ vet who stapled her belly shut and gave her an antibiotic. Over the next few days, her body pushed those out as it healed. Now she’s running around and creating havoc, the chaos of her surgery far behind her. Next time we get a pet, we’ll get a voucher and go to a vet we know and trust.

Please take my advice and vet out your vetbefore taking your pet in. They are family and deserve the best of care.

~Brittany

Artemis

Artemis

Photo Contest Winner: Jan Snedaker

photo(68)The story behind the photo:

I used this picture for our holiday card. It was taken at the horse races in Saratoga Springs, NY. My family was there for the day. It was hot and my kids were being less than enjoyable. Grandpa bought them a sweet, sugary slushy to share and as we were walking back to our seats they began fighting over who would hold the drink. In a moment of utter frustration I hissed for them to sit right where we were and share their drink and not to make another sound or I would throw it in the trash. I turned my back to catch my breath and calm my fury. When I turned around there they were, quietly enjoying their delicious liquid sugar, looking completely adorable. I captured this moment on my phone and knew it would be our perfect holiday card. Not only because of the undeniable cuteness, but because it sums up my year perfectly. Many moments of frustration and throwing my hands in the air ready to check in to a mental asylum, only to catch my breath and see the true beauty of my children who are my life, and realize the craziness is balanced by these little moments of peace and love. I would not have it any other way!

DSC_3788Jan Snedaker is a former special education teacher with a degree in Corporate Communication and a passion for writing. She began a new career as a freelance writer and blogger at An Ideal Mom and is now thrilled to have the opportunity to work with SaratogaMama, a local website and magazine, as their creative director. Jan loves writing, photography, and decorating but she is most passionate about being a mom!

My Introduction to Hypothyroidism ~B

These past few months have been a struggle for me, both as a person and as a writer. I haven’t written a thing in only Loki knows when…I lost count a while ago. The stress of major life changes with the addition of depression as a symptom as one of those changes has really taken a toll on my life and how I have been able to live it. It has only been within the last week that the writing bug has come home to me. There is only one more hurdle that I have to overcome: face the changes of the past few months through written form.

 

Although there have been two major changes in my life as of late, this post will focus mainly on the one that I will have to monitor for the rest of my life: hypothyroidism. Although millions of Americans have this condition/disease, it isn’t talked about very much. Actually, less than not very much. The only reason I suspected that I had it was because everyone on my mother’s side of the family has it; but I only knew two of the symptoms. And those two symptoms were what motivated me to finally see a doctor.

 

This time last year, I was a size 0. In July, I was a size 2 (not bad in weight gain sense), but by October/November, I was a size 8. I’m 5 foot nothing. This is a huge change. Add this with being chronically tired. Not, “I should go to bed early tired”, but “I better sit down or I’ll fall down I’m so tired.” So I went to the doctor. A week later he confirmed that I do have an under active thyroid. Yay.

 

Honestly, it’s nothing life threatening, just really inconvenient and the symptoms are horrible. I didn’t realize that my depression, hair loss, chronically being cold, dry skin, etc directly stemmed from my under active thyroid. My weight gain was linked to my thyroid not releasing enough T4 and T3 to jump start my metabolism. Hello weight gain!

 

To combat this is as easy as taking one pill in the morning, every morning. The hang up is, it can takes MONTHS to get to the proper dosage and once that is found, it can take several more months before it takes full effect and a difference is seen in the symptoms. Something fun to look forward to, right? Not really actually.  I feel like the rabbit wearing the hat with the dangling carrot in front of my face. I can see the results, but I can’t reach them. Talk about torture.

 

To be safe, the doctor also ordered an ultrasound to be done on my thyroid, mainly to check for nodules (which can be pre-cancerous) and for enlargement since I have been diagnosed so young. When I went to get the ultrasound, I wasn’t nervous…at first. I grew more anxious at the tech kept tilting the monitor before taking the screenshots. Don’t panic. It’s most likely a glare…from the small wattage bulb in the corner. 

 

A few hours later, a nurse from my doctor’s office called. The results came back abnormal and they want to schedule another ultrasound in six months. Don’t panic. She didn’t say much else. Sigh. So….hello internet, we meet again. Turns out, having an abnormal thyroid is quite common with this condition. Nothing to worry about; just something to keep an eye on.

 

So now, all it is is a waiting detective game to find the proper dosage and for my symptoms to subside. My biggest obstacle at this point is my weight. It’s very difficult to lose the weight I have gained and to stay motivated and energized to work out. I’m crossing my fingers that it plays out quickly, as I want to be able to lay out in the sun on the beach in Mexico in a bikini…not a cover up. This will be an ongoing battle, but I plan to win.

 

~Brittany

Welcome Co-Author Brittany!

DSC_0618As you may have noticed, not much has happened on Eccentric Chai in a few weeks. This is partly because Goo is walking now, and partly because I started a new mom blog–just to tinker around–and it unexpectedly hit it off pretty quick.

Come check it out if you like!

To keep the chai hot, I’ve decided to hand over one of the EC reins to my fellow-writer-blogger bestie, Brittany. Please welcome her as one of the team and look forward to her articles! Expect great writing from her and great new topics such as sewing, books, and hypothyroidism.

I still plan on doing articles as well, and running contests, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Tadpole

Lina:

My project 365 is still going on without a hitch! Check out last night’s poem…

Originally posted on The Poetry Challenge:

Source: Wikimedia, Photo by Miika Silfverberg

The sunshine found her favorite place

Upon a grassy knoll.

Nearby there lay an algae pond,

and in it, a tadpole.

How warm that sun must be, thought he

Upon that grassy knoll.

He longed to feel the touch of air,

to rid of that wet hole.

His days lay waste to stress, despair;

He found no exit way

To reach the rippling blades of grass.

Entombed, the tadpole begged.

Vanquished, the tadpole sank beneath

The algae, blocking day.

And just when he thought all was lost

He went and sprouted legs.

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