Alyssa’s Notes on Eric M. Witchey on The Short Story: Write It & Sell It In 90 Minutes

May’s author, Eric M. Witchey, came to us with a lesson on how to write and sell short stories in 90 minutes. He was very interactive, and constantly brought the audience into the teaching to work as a whole on the creative process of writing a short story together.

He said that writing is not some alien knowledge some are merely born with; you can learn it with the same brain you used to ride a bicycle. Learning prose story writing is like learning a second language.

In the following list, anything written in bold is the example the group came up with:

  • The Style Witchey worked with was a seven point plot with: 1, Character; 2, Setting; 3, Problem; 4, 5, 6, Try/Fail; and 7, Climax/Resolution.
  • As you go along with the writing, you will eventually discover the theme, and the characters.
  • Witchey says these techniques work for every genre, for he has written in many different genres himself. One of the things that Witchey does when he’s writing in different genres is to use a different variation of his name (AKA: a pen name) so that he doesn’t betray his audience by writing a horror and suddenly coming back to them with a romance. He groups things to be like: Lit, Erotica/Romance, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror that way when a reader sees the authors name, they understand what to expect.
  • Some of the ways Witchey begins to write is to take random phrases he’s found from fact cards, newspaper clippings, etc. and type them up on his computer. He then uses a random number generator and picks three of them at random forcing himself to begin writing a story that includes all three. He writes for fifteen minutes and, if the story has an ending in his mind, he keeps writing.
  • Witchey says it takes him writing 10 good stories to sell one, and he has to revise each of those ten, ten times each. Out of these ten, he says, you can’t be sure which will sell, so send them all off to receive as much chance of success as possible.
  • When you are stuck, or just want to have some fun, pick a random picture and a random word (Phobia, bliss, greek words, etc) and just run with one.
  • If you happen to write something that sells and does really well, you might get what Witchey calls “award sickness,” having won something you now begin to write towards that goal of winning instead of the goal of simply writing and learning and having fun. As long as you are learning, good things will come.
  • If you’re working for a long time, that is okay. If you’re working very hard, something is wrong. Take a step back and work on something else.
  • When you begin thinking about creating a character, start with the jobs and find the most interesting two: Tugboat Captain and Hot Air Balloon Pilot. Look for the ones that are most absurd, they tend to be more interesting (Church Secretary and Prostitute).
  • Now for gender, which will be more interesting for the story? We chose female.
  • This character you’ve begun to create will have to deal with “the other,” someone or something  that creates the most conflict for the Protagonist. Deciding that “nobody pisses you off like family,” we decided  to make this person her son.
  • Next, the setting. Create a list, similar to what you did with the character’s job, and decide on the most interesting two: Funeral Home on a Reservation.
  • Decide what the conflict should be. We made our protagonist the mother of eight children, giving her a lot to handle and an interesting personality. Seeing that she was in a funeral home we asked, “Who died?” and decided that one of her children committed suicide. This helped with the conflict between the mother and son because we soon made him a child that had always blamed his mother, and clearly felt that this death was her fault.
  • Now that you’ve thought of a conflict, you have to initiate it somehow. The child who had committed suicide left a note found by a brother that blamed the mother for not protecting the children from their father. We made it so that the son had seen the letter, but the mother had not yet, and this only confirmed his same feelings.
  • The story is becoming alive and you can begin to think of thematics that have to do with what you’ve created so far. Once you create a list, write about each of the characters (protagonist and antagonist) and what their separate views on each of these themes are (positive, negative, etc). Our themes were: minority, religion, death, gender, life style, parenting (abandonment).
  • When we look back to the seven point arch plot, the sixth point is where a death occurs. This could be either literal or figurative, but something needs to happen so that the protagonist recognizes a wrong and is willing to give everything up to create a change. We made this a figurative death, where the mother has to publicly give up her husband and be willing to sacrifice her life for the sake of her dead daughter. You need to foreshadow this earlier in the story, the reader has to understand how this story makes sense in their own lives.
  • Each character has their own agenda. What do they want? What are they thinking about, unconsciously?  When you add in characters, make sure to take this into account. Perhaps your protagonist is going to a grocery store and the clerk wants to leave work early. How will this change the story? For us, the son wants his mother to admit she was wrong and the mother wants to know that it wasn’t her fault.
  • When you begin the dialogue, play at the character’s emotions to bring out the truth for your audience.
    • Mother: “Are you okay?”
    • Son: “Ask Alicia.” (Bringing out a snap of emotion, “I haven’t been okay since I was three”, “When was the last time you asked Alicia?” Both of these are good, but a little long.)
    • Mother: “We are grieving your sister.”
    • Son: “I’m grieving my sister. You’re late.” (And proceeds to hand her the note)

When you create dialogue again, try to work with a similar style. Quick, but every word still important.

  • Now think back to that ‘death’ point. What is it exactly that the protagonist is going to give up? Maybe the son’s girlfriend is white and the mother is skeptical, maybe the son asks her to sign custody papers. The mother has to accept her role and ask for forgiveness.
  • When you’re creating your own story, realize that not every one is going to take 90 minutes, some might take a little longer and some a little shorter.
  • It may become exhausting, but it will still be wonderful when you’ve completed a story in the end.
  • Think about why you’re writing. Pleasure versus Publication. If you’re going to publish, you might have to change a few things to fit their needs, and that’s alright.
  • It might be a lot to work on, but ultimately your writing will begin to blossom and it’s always fun to watch the process.
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