From the Archives: How to write a (good) application story in the next week
[Editor’s note: This post originally went up around this time last year, but here it is again for anyone who’s relatively new to the Alpha blog. Enjoy!]
Some of you, no doubt, are very diligent human beings who don’t know the meaning of the word “procrastinate.” You plan your weekend activities by Monday night, you eat your dinner for breakfast, and you finished your Alpha application story six weeks ago.
If that’s you, then this blog post may hold little value for you. But let’s say that you’re like, well, me. You’re a procrastinator. Perhaps you have written only a few paragraphs of your application story. Perhaps you haven’t started writing at all.
If so, then let’s face it: you’re behind the curve. But all is not lost! You still have a week until the application deadline (March 1), and many great stories — heck, even some pretty decent novels — have been written in less time than that. Still, you’ll need to pay close attention to the clock. Now is not the moment to attempt a wildly experimental rhyming epic written entirely in ancient Greek. Now is the time to play to your strengths: to write the story you know how to write, and to write it well.
Some advice from a serial procrastinator:
Aim short, but not too short. Alpha application stories can be anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 words long — a very wide range. The short end of that spectrum is just barely longer than a short-short; the long end is just barely shorter than a novelette. Clearly, it would be far easier to write 2,000 words than 6,000 words over the next week.
That said, please don’t cheat yourself by writing so few words that you fail to tell a story at all. Having read Alpha applications for the last 10 years, I can tell you that, very often, 2,000-word application stories aren’t really stories. They’re vignettes, or they’re fragments, or they’re jokes. If you can tell a complete story in 2,000 words, then by all means, do it, but I’d rather see a 3,000 word story than a 2,000 word build-up to a bad punchline.
Lean on plot skeletons. “Plot skeletons” are very, very general outlines that are shared by literally thousands of stories. If you have a great idea but don’t yet know how to turn it into a full-fledged story, a plot skeleton can provide a useful starting point.
The most famous plot skeleton is probably the seven-point plot. This version is attributed to Algis Budrys:
(1) A character…
(2) in a context…
(3) has a problem.
(4) The character tries to solve the problem…
(5) but experiences an unexpected failure.
(6) The character tries again to solve the problem, using new knowledge or tools, and either fails or succeeds.
(7) Denouement — that is, a resolution or validation of the character’s actions.
Using the seven-point plot does not guarantee that your story will be brilliant or even readable, but it at least guarantees that you’ll tell a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Here’s another of my favorite plot skeletons: the three-scene story. In the first scene, establish your character’s life. In the second scene, show an incident that totally rocks your character’s world. In the third scene, show your character’s new equilibrium.
Outline. Yes, seriously! You might feel that, with only a week until the application deadline, you don’t have time to outline. But if you just start scribbling with no sense of your destination, you’re at risk of discovering, a day before your application is due, that your story just won’t work — that you’ve overlooked a plot hole or don’t know how to resolve a climactic fight.
So I’d urge you to outline your story before you begin writing. An outline doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t even have to be written down. Just make sure that you know, in your bones, how your story will unspool.
My favorite outlining method: use one index card for each scene in your story. Write three bullet points on each card, describing where the scene begins, what happens, and where the scene ends. I generally assume that my average scene will contain about a thousand words, so for an Alpha application piece, you’ll want to fill up between two and six cards. (I often outline a story half a dozen times or more, essentially “rewriting” the story again and again — and hopefully improving it each time — before I ever write a first draft.)
The perfect is the enemy of the good. It simply is not possible to write a perfect story in a week. It is very possible, however, to write a good story.
So don’t try to be perfect. Sure, hold yourself to high standards. If you write a scene and it’s flat-out bad, discard it. But if you write a perfectly serviceable scene that isn’t quite as good as you’d like, just keep going. Write another scene. Then another. When you’re done, use whatever time you have left to polish. You’ll do far better to submit a finished story, even if it’s only pretty good, than to submit a half-finished “masterpiece.”
Do what works for you. If one of the “rules” above struck you as misguided, foolish, or just not in keeping with your personal style, ignore it. If plot skeletons feel to you like plot straightjackets, don’t use them. If you simply can’t outline your story, don’t. Please consider this post, like every other bit of writing advice you’ll ever receive, to be a helpful hint, not a strict commandment. Just do what works for you, and keep doing it until you reach “the end.”
February 20, 2012 @ 11:34 pm
I’m glad this came back up… I’ve been stuck in writer’s block for weeks 🙁 And my school doesn’t know the meaning of “no homework.”
But I’ll write that application if it’s the last thing I do! Luckily, this year is a leap year, so I get an extra day XD
February 21, 2012 @ 10:47 pm
Yay! It’s nice to have this post front and center instead of hunting through the archives for it!
@Noella I totally know how you feel. Once again it’s down to the wire with my application story! Good luck with your writer’s block!
February 23, 2012 @ 6:39 pm
Here we go again…the ‘write a good story in a week’ game…
I failed last time.
But not again!
February 26, 2012 @ 5:50 pm
Have y’all finished your stories yet?
February 28, 2012 @ 8:39 pm
@Jenna @_@ I haven’t checked the recent comments so I didn’t see this until today… Thankyouthankyou. I’ve finished writing mine, just polishing it up and formatting it for submission. I’m going to submit it tonight.
@Meghan You got this girl
February 28, 2012 @ 10:20 pm
I submitted my application! haha I’m so happy XD and relieved. Except now i’ll be anxious until april
February 28, 2012 @ 10:25 pm
I’m jealous 😉 I’m ALMOST THERE…but almost there isn’t quite something I can submit. Do you know if the notification deadline is the same as last year??
February 29, 2012 @ 5:27 pm
haha I submitted mine last night! What do you mean by the notification deadline? If you mean April 15th, I’m pretty sure it’s the same.
March 1, 2012 @ 1:45 pm
PHEW! My story is finally submitted! YAY!
@Noella congratulations 😀 and thanks. Now if only we had a time machine…
March 1, 2012 @ 3:43 pm
@Jenna yay! haha yeah, well just occupy yourself with other thoughts till then 🙂 What is your story about?
March 3, 2012 @ 10:53 pm
Haha thanks 😀 That’s totally what I’m trying to do (Im on vacation) but it’s not working very well. How about you?
My story is about the afterlife…kind of (its called The Seven Dimensions Of Death). My protagonist, Keely commits suicide and wakes up dead. It’s kind of hard to explain lol.
How about your application?
March 3, 2012 @ 10:53 pm
Haha thanks 😀 That’s totally what I’m trying to do (Im on vacation) but it’s not working very well. How about you?
My story is about the afterlife…kind of (its called The Seven Dimensions Of Death). My protagonist, Keely commits suicide and wakes up dead. It’s kind of hard to explain lol.
How about your application?
March 3, 2012 @ 10:54 pm
Huh. Don’t know why that posted twice….
March 3, 2012 @ 10:58 pm
haha that’s cool 🙂 I have school XD for a long time… my spring break isn’t until the second week of april (I think).
My story is about the human counterpart of the changeling (well, you know if faeries take a human child they switch a fey child, the changeling, for it). So my story is about the human in the faerie world, although it is a little bit different than the typical story… haha. It is kinda hard to explain…
March 4, 2012 @ 4:22 pm
Well, it’s been a few days since the deadline… Haha it was kinda amusing to see the huge notice on the homepage.
So, any thoughts on the whole process? I wonder how many people applied this year…
I’m just glad I managed to do it again this year, despite alot of stress 🙂 I’m really happy with the way mine turned out.
March 6, 2012 @ 12:27 am
Thx. That sucks about your spring break…I just had mine, but no more vacations till June 🙁
Whoa sounds awesome! Did you base it off any fairy lore or totally create your own?
Yeah I bet it was a ton…last year I was totally freaking out about EVERYTHING to do with Alpha, but this year I’m pretty zen (I’m also exhausted which helps). How about you?
And how long did it take you to write your story?
I was working on one, realized I hated it and wrote a whole new one in three days…have you ever done that?
March 6, 2012 @ 6:13 am
Well, I kinda started out with some similarities to lore but I think it turned out completely different in certain ways… I was trying to make the faerie structure different from contempary Urban fantasy (like Tithe by Holly Black), so alot of things turned out different. The idea of a changeling is still there (although its purpose in the story is kinda turned on its head) and a general malovolence of the fey…
haha I’m a little more relaxed this year, but I’m still kinda obsessing over it. Although, there were a lot more new blog posts and comments to look at, while this year not so much.
To actually write my story… probably around four days, and then I spent another day proofreading before I sent it in. I had to do a major editing to the first scene of the story, but then I just wrote from there.
I usually edit my ideas before I ever write it down (as a story). I went through a lot of ideas before settling down to write this one. It’s funny, because this one was actually the idea that I had many months ago but wasn’t sure what to do with. I had some other cool ideas, but they weren’t fully formed enough or too long.
March 8, 2012 @ 1:22 am
Well that’s awesome!
I know! I check the site a lot, hoping for more posts. Oh well.
Haha sounds similar to my own writing process…waaaay more organized though!
Isn’t it funny how that happens with ideas? You come up with them, you think about them, maybe write a sentence or two…and end up letting them smoulder in a Word document for awhile.
Then. That burst of inspirational something-or-other strikes…usually at a distinctly bad time…or is that just me? ;D
March 8, 2012 @ 6:14 am
haha yeah… One time after my writing class I ended up writing a 11,000 word story in about 8 hours, and the didn’t really write anything for the next couple of weeks…
I check the site for blog posts and comments, and they are both scarce 😛
Where do you get your inspiration? Mine can come from anywhere; for example, I had a couple of ideas come from working on my biology homework (based on some of the cool stuff that I was learning. I also have stuff going on in my head all the time, so I have different scenes that I’ve created in there. It’s so frustrating when I have a really good scene but no story to put it with!
March 8, 2012 @ 4:37 pm
Haha yep. Definitely sounds familiar.
My inspiration. Hmmm. My ideas come from some strange places…I got the idea for my application story seemingly out of nowhere…I was staring off into space, eating breakfast and all of a sudden I had an idea that I absolutely HAD to write down.
But I always have multiple projects going at once, so my ideas tend to morph into and seperate out of each other really frequently. There are bits and pieces of a lot of my other stories in this one.
So do you create your characters first and do the worldbuilding second? For me it’s usually a hodge-podge of both. And do you ever find yourself using different versions of characters in different stories until they find their “home” story?
March 8, 2012 @ 6:06 pm
Yeah, that just happens sometimes… at times I’ll have no idea where a story is going, but then what happens next just comes to me.
Sometimes its both. All of the brainstorming that I did for Alpha before I wrote my story was mostly worldbuilding stuff, although one had the character dependent on the world… In my head, there are scenes and characters roaming around and mixing together, so sometimes that happens. For me though, it’s not so much characters jumping from story to story as much as stories being created for the different characters, and then those stories leave and the character stays…
For you, how do you balance writing with school, etc? I mostly spend my time doing school school, and then writing when I can. (We don’t really do creative writing in my classes; although I can write during study hall sometimes, and I’m in the poetry slam club and that’s what we do)
March 8, 2012 @ 7:33 pm
Haha cool 🙂
I’m homeschooled, so balancing writing time with other stuff is less of a challange. My parents understand how much I love/need to write and so a lot of my school stuff has a base in creative writing, i.e. lots of essays and reports.
Although since I have two dogs who need buckets upon buckets of attention and I take dance classes/have rehearsals five days a week, it’s sometimes hard to find time to write when I’m not completely exhausted. Or in the throes of writer’s block *shudder* 😉
Speaking of which, what do you do when you find yourself in that icky place?
March 8, 2012 @ 7:51 pm
haha, lucky! I’m in the IB program, so I work like a war horse… and I have other stuff that I do.
Usually, if I have writer’s block, I go do other stuff and don’t write for a while. While I was brainstorming for Alpha, I searched the internet for SF/F writing prompts, or I went to: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/
hoping to be inspired. It’s cool, and it did inspire me once, but usually it doesn’t compute. Usually when I go to my writing class I find a thought to write out.
How did you find out about Alpha?
March 8, 2012 @ 8:10 pm
Whoa! Lol I like that metaphor… 🙂
Cool. I’ll check it out.
I found out about Alpha through Tamora Pierce’s website…not terribly exciting I know.
How about you?
March 8, 2012 @ 8:24 pm
Well, it’s sort of a strange story… so Noella liked to write SF/F, so she went to the bookstore and got a book about fantasy/sf writing by Orson Scott Card… and it mentioned Clarion, a big daddy writing workshop, so Noella went to that website, and in the links it had a link to Alpha 🙂
So, it’s been about a week since the deadline. Any thoughts? (I’m not sure what to do now…)
March 9, 2012 @ 12:30 am
Cool 🙂 I love that you wrote that in third person…its hilarious.
Do you think you’d ever want to attend Clarion?
I know how you feel…umm not really. You applied last year, right? And how about you?
March 9, 2012 @ 8:10 pm
Well, it sounds really cool, but I don’t know if I’d be able to do it due to time or money contraints. Also, it seems very stressfull… I’m sure it would help me become a better writer, but I also work well in a more open environment. I’m sure really sure how to explain this, but… I don’t want my writing to evolve in a certain way where it gets molded too much by the standards of the workshop? I don’t want to get controlled/overpowered by the criticism/structure of the workshop.
Of course, I think that it would all be great, but I also want my writing to be *me, and not what others think that *me should be.
That’s just one of my concerns of going to a workshop that long and intense.
March 10, 2012 @ 1:26 am
Well that’s totally reasonable. I think it’s cool that you know what you want your writing identity to be.
When you mention a more open environment, does that include deadlines? For me it can be tricky, getting projects finished without them, but I stress like crazy when I actually have one. What are your thoughts?
March 10, 2012 @ 2:30 pm
The way I see it, deadlines are unavoidable, especially if you want to get into professional writing. They defintely cause stress, but to me they are just a vehicle to get things done. If you want to publish something, you have to turn it in by the right time x).
Do you like writing short stories or longer pieces more?
March 10, 2012 @ 4:05 pm
Well…I have a ton of novel and novella plotlines and mostly-finished first drafts but I’m far better about writing short stories and vignettes. I love writing both equally although short stories can be a bit more difficult.
How about yourself?
March 10, 2012 @ 4:21 pm
haha well I prefer writing stories of larger scopes but I’ve never really written any… I’ve written more short stories and I think they have a certain mystery to them that I enjoy. The feeling about finishing a story isn’t half bad either.
What do you get out of writing?
March 10, 2012 @ 6:11 pm
Hmm..what do I get out of writing?
I’ve always been a daydreamer, with oodles of stories and make-believe people running amok inside my head (I was totally the kid who saw fairies in the stars, ghosts and once, convinced my sister there was a gigantic bear in the bushes of our very suburban neighborhood). For me, stories are as much a part of me as any vital organ or limb. If I didn’t write, I think my brain would explode and I would die.
How about you? What do you get out of it?
March 10, 2012 @ 9:32 pm
I suppose I’m kind of like you. I think I discovered that I could create an entire world within my mind when I was very young; maybe second grade. Then I retreated into it. I’ve always had a story. My stuffed animals have a whole ongoing story to go with them.
What I get out of writing is telling the story, and I like putting the words together. Sometimes I think I’ll make up words or maybe use a word differently that its intended while trying to communicate ideas that regular words aren’t sufficent to convey.
haha, I’m trying to keep this conversation going…
Why do you want to go to Alpha? 🙂
March 11, 2012 @ 3:41 am
Oh my goodness! My stuffed animals have a story too!!
Hahahaha yeah I am too.
So I want to go to Alpha because I’d love to learn more about my craft…and who wouldn’t want to go spend ten days with a whole bunch of SF/F/H afficionados?
How about you?
And how old were you when you actually *wrote* your first story?
March 11, 2012 @ 10:22 am
I really want to have a chance to improve as a writer, and meet people who like writing as much as I do… and genre people.
I’m not sure… I remember that we had to write a story in like, second grade, and I wrote this complicated thing… (well, it seemed complicated to me cause I divided it into parts and chapters, but each of those were like a page long at the most). I remember starting to write a story in 6th grade but not finishing it… The one I remember most clearly is in 8th grade, I think. I really started writing when I was in 9th grade; I wrote a little thing for a contest that got published and I wrote a lot of poetry. The first long thing that I wrote was in 10th grade.
What about you?
March 11, 2012 @ 2:35 pm
Hey guys! Hope you don’t mind me popping in, but I’d love to join in on the convo. I can’t take the lack of action going on (or, well, not going on) on this site lol.
(awkwardly inserts self into conversation)
I think I wrote my first short story in fourth grade…my teacher gave us a writing assignment that entailed cramming as many adjectives into four or five paragraphs as we could…I went nuts and wrote something about a girl walking in the woods at night and stuff…well, it was cool back then.
My teacher read it and started joking about me being a famous author one day…the idea stuck, and here I am, trying to make it happen 🙂
What’s your favorite POV to write in?
March 11, 2012 @ 2:42 pm
Speaking of 4th grade, I distinctly remember writing a story for the fall about squirrels… and then a few days (i don’t quite remember) my teacher started to the class about them… I think she thought they were bad or something, because she said that one was great because of the plot and characters.
Needless to say, that story was mine. I remember more now, I wrote a couple of crazy stories in grade school. If I learned something new, I would try to include it into a story. I remember writing a story about Ragnorok after getting a children’s book about mythology… I think I confused my 5th grade teacher, lol. She asked me if by “Loki” I meant “Luke.” I said no.
For me, I write more easily in 1st person because it just comes to me that way, but I write in third person a lot too because it’s easier to be mysterious and include the perspectives of multiple characters.
March 11, 2012 @ 2:48 pm
I’ve always written in third person, and first is a challenge for me…I think I got too used to being distant and vague. That’s what I need to work on with my writing…it makes me angry lol
March 11, 2012 @ 3:21 pm
You gotta get into the characters’ brains! lol. Feel how they feel…
March 11, 2012 @ 4:09 pm
Haha cool 🙂
Congratulations for getting published!
Hmm…the first story I ever actually wrote down was when I was seven or so. Then I started writing a ton of other things…mostly unfinished or poetry until I was probably ten and I wrote a page-long story about a girl audtioning for a ballet in Gotham City. After that I just kind of kept going and here I am today!
Do you ever include poetry in your SF/F/H writing?
March 11, 2012 @ 4:39 pm
haha thanks! I actually had two other things published by that same contest, another little essay and then a poem.
Well, I had an idea for writing a long poem as my alpha application, but I asked the staff if it would work and it go nixed. Alot of my poetry has SF/F/H elements in it, though.
Have you ever tried writing those six word stories?
March 11, 2012 @ 7:13 pm
Six word stories? O.o
March 11, 2012 @ 8:30 pm
It’s exactly what it sounds like; a story that is only six words long. The original one is by Ernest Hemingway:
For sale: Baby shoes, never used.
March 11, 2012 @ 10:05 pm
…not much of a story.
March 11, 2012 @ 11:28 pm
Hahaha mini stories!
I’ve written stuff kinda like that 🙂
What’s the longest thing you both have ever written?
March 12, 2012 @ 5:03 am
Meghan: short, but it implies so much…
Jenna: uh, I think it’s 11,000 words for a single story…
March 12, 2012 @ 1:37 pm
umm…the longest story I’ve ever written and finished (I use that word lightly) would be my application story this year, actually- 5,600 words.
I’ve written longer things, but not finished, and I don’t think it would count as a ‘story’ exactly…
March 12, 2012 @ 2:25 pm
@Noella that’s a lot…!
@Meghan awesome 🙂 what was your application about?
March 12, 2012 @ 9:14 pm
Yes, I suppose it is… So there is about one month until notifications….
Uh, biting my fingernails here.
March 12, 2012 @ 9:16 pm
It was about a young woman’s choice about becoming a healer…it involved a lot of inner conflict and such. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very happy with the way it turned out. But that’s what happens when you wait until the last minute, I guess lol. x/
March 12, 2012 @ 9:43 pm
About a month…yup. Mehhhhhhh
@Meghan that sounds interesting…totally know you feel. How long did you spend on writing your story?
March 12, 2012 @ 9:51 pm
Three days >.<
March 13, 2012 @ 3:06 pm
March 13, 2012 @ 3:09 pm
I spent a few days more, but not much more than that. It just feels good to have a story finished 🙂
March 14, 2012 @ 3:01 am
I’d totally agree with that…have either of you ever gotten an idea that just seems *too* crazy and gone ahead and written it anyways?
March 14, 2012 @ 5:10 am
haha well I’ve defintely had those… but I don’t really remember any instance where I actually sat down and wrote one out (I don’t really have the chance to write down many stories in their entirty if they are more than a couple pages; alpha apps are the exception). Although, that 11,000 word story kind morphed into something crazy while I was writing it, but that seems like a slightly different case. I think it depends on the type of crazy.
March 16, 2012 @ 11:21 am
Hup! I just noticed this lovely conversation. Great job keeping it going. You must be writers . . .
62 applicants this year, which is just above last year (51), but not near our highest (80).
We try hard to not go all the way until the deadline before we send out responses, but it’s good to have a date in place, just in case.
Workshops like Clarion often have conflicting instruction from the various guests–it’s part of a plan (that I like) to *not* pigeonhole new writers into someone else’s idea for how they should be writing. Letting people find their own style and methods is the best way to guide a writer to success. It’s illustrative when we throw so many people close together writing how many ways are possible.
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays and every single one of them is right.” –Rudyard Kipling
Daily confession: I get paid to write twitter fiction.
Got any questions? Good luck all!
March 18, 2012 @ 7:20 pm
Yes- what is twitter fiction? (may be a stupid question, but…)
March 21, 2012 @ 8:13 pm
62 people… wow. That just makes my anxiety worse, lol. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it the application notice! If you don’t mind me asking, do you have an idea of when you’ll be sending out the notifications?
Actually I think I have a question… I’m a senior in high school now and I’m deciding where to go to college. I’m not really sure what I want to study in college, and I think I want to do something with creative writing, but I don’t think I would want that to be my only major. Do you have any advice related to college and creative writing?
Fun fact of the day: So I know a lot of people know the letter Omega, but I recently found out (from wikipedia, of course) that it means Big O (O + mega (means large in Greek) and there is another letter in the Greek alphabet related to it, Omicron (O + micron, small O). They are both derived from the Phoenician letter ayin (O). They seem to be the only letters in the Greek alphabet with this kind of relationship, but I don’t know for sure.
(To lure Jenna and Meghan and others back into the conversation), were there any songs that inspired or relate to your application stories? One that sticks out to me is We are young by fun. for mine. I shan’t say any more to avoid spoilers 🙂
March 22, 2012 @ 12:21 am
I am indeed lured back 😉
Hmmm for writing my story, there wasn’t really a specific song that inspired it, but I listened to a LOT of Green Day while writing it…mostly the album 21st Century Breakdown.
I’d love to know why, Noella, regardless of spoilers!!
March 22, 2012 @ 5:18 am
haha… That’s great. I love Green Day (well, most of it.)
Uh… well, it reminds me of the beginning and ending scene specifically, especially the ending… Let’s just say that the last few lines:
and if by the time, the bar closes
and you feel like falling down
I’ll carry you home, Tonight.
Really resonate with the scene…
March 22, 2012 @ 11:30 am
Oooh! Cool 🙂
Do you listen to music a lot when you write?
How about you, Meghan (or anyone else reading this!)?
March 22, 2012 @ 12:26 pm
Well, I listen to music all the time, but sometimes when I write. Usually I turn the music off so I can concentrate while writing, because sometimes when I’m on the internet, I’ll have a train of thought and I’m about to search something. Then I turn on a song, and it pushes the thought right out of my brain, so I have to refollow my train of thought to get back to it, which doesn’t always work. I try to avoid that happening while writing. But I always get up and take breaks, so I listen to music then.
March 22, 2012 @ 6:23 pm
Hey! I’ve been watching this conversation for a while… haven’t commented until now, obviously, but you know, better late than never as the cliche goes.
Anyway, going to awkwardly answer Jenna’s question now like an awkward person. Let’s count how many times I can say awkward…Or not. I love listening to music while I write. I can’t recall if I did or not while writing my alpha application in particular – it’s likely that I did. But I don’t neccessarily find music to be an /inspiration/ for writing… More like, I apply the music I’m listening to to what I happen to be writing at the time. And of course, characters always seem to have thier own soundtracks. Though, I do understand what you mean, Noella; I used to never listen to music when I wrote, so when I started it was a little disorienting.
But I’m super anxious to get the alpha notifications… first year applying and I’m curious.
So… again hi, hah. End of awkward paragraph.
March 22, 2012 @ 7:06 pm
@Noella that makes total sense. Having your train of thought derailed is never fun…especially when said thought just disappears.
@Anna hi! Haha glad you decided to comment! And that’s cool :)Do you ever find yourself creating playlists that (to you) reflect the arc of the piece you’re working on?
I think we’re all a little anxious-ok very anxious- about getting notifications, but it’s not TOO much longer!
Have either of you touched your applications since the 1st??
March 22, 2012 @ 7:56 pm
Eh, not so much. I usually just pick and choose songs from a couple super long seemingly random playlists I have. (:
I just started looking over my application again… I’m having a few of my friends read it and possibly edit it and such. I actually wrote it very early, in the beginning of February (I believe, don’t really recall for sure, maybe even late January)and sent it in then. Normally I tend to procrastinate, but I had an idea and wanted to write it before it magically escaped me as ideas seem oh so capable of doing. They can be flighty things, ideas.
What about you? Are you going to edit yours at all just for the sake of it before we get results back?
March 22, 2012 @ 8:32 pm
Hello, Anna. I’m going to not awkwardly insert myself back into this conversation since I’ve been in it from the get go, but it still feels kinda awkward @_@. Let me take this opportunity to invite anyone who is watching but not commenting to please participate! We don’t bite! It’s lonely over here. (I locked the werewolf in the basement. She promised not to come out until alpha notification, and then depending on the result I told her-) but anyway 😀
I’ve been looking over it, but I don’t want to edit it. (I mean, some prooreading but nothing really besides that).
1) because I like it how it is and
2) I want to keep the full story in my mind until Alpha notification so that I can obsess over it and evaluate it depending on the result.
(Ok, there is a secret number 3 here – I honestly have no idea what to do with it that wouldn’t require turning it into a novel. I just roll that way).
I can read and listen to music but not write… unless you count right now when I am currently listening to music and writing, but this is not a work of art which my summer and writing life depends on…
I’m just glad people are commenting again after such stagnation! (If you call about what, 4 days stagnation?)
Hmmm… Anna, what was your story about? (You’ve no doubt discerned what ours are about from the previous comments).
March 22, 2012 @ 8:48 pm
Haha, I enjoyed the bit about the werewolf.
Yeah, I’m pretty pleased with how mine came out, I just feel like I’ll go insane if I don’t do /somthing/ with it. So correcting typos I missed before and getting critiques seems like a good idea. And, oooh, I CANNOT read and listen to music at the same time, especially homework stuff. If I study and listen at the same time, I will only be able to remember the information with the music playing. I’m rather sound-oriented, which is kind of funny because I write and draw and couldn’t sing or play an instrument for my life.
And yes, four days is stagnation if you’re using this as a source of entertainment during the school day. But, then again, I should be doing school work.
Anyway, I babble. My story was about the constellations. I vaguely used their back stories and the legends around them, but changed things up and added quirks… it basically became a story about mortality versus immortality and the character behind both. I had had the idea for nearly a year, so I’d actually fleshed out the world way more than I actually included in the story, but that just helped me write it.
Umm. Questions… let’s think. Do you like sci-fi, fantasy or horror best, or another genre? I personally am a fan of all three as well as action/adventure (but that sparingly)For me though, it’s more about the characters. I mean, plot is VERY neccessary, but the characters are what make it. I’m also a movie/TV fan, not just books (I know a lot of writers hate movies and tv, but I love them…)
March 22, 2012 @ 9:24 pm
Oooh! I leave for like two hours and come back and there are soo many (ok 3) comments! It’s lovely!
@Anna your story sounds cool.
Not to sound like a cyber stalker (which I am so not), but regardless of what happens with Alpha, would either of you be interested in swapping stories?
March 22, 2012 @ 9:45 pm
Isn’t it excellent? Let’s hope it can continue, lol.
Umm, I don’t know. I might try to submit it to something (maybe teenink or some such) if alpha doesn’t work out… so possibly not. Just waiting in apprehension for april to hurry up and get here.
March 22, 2012 @ 9:50 pm
@Jenna (I feel like that was directed at Anna and not me, but) I would like to! 😀 I befriended two people from these comments last year and I would like to do the same this year 🙂 also, Jenna, I will attempt to keep the comments coming. Because Anna is atleast partially right (for my case) in saying that this is my entertainment (Alas, this site is blocked on my school computers, so its basically at 6:00 in the morning when I wake up and then when I get home, but still).
@Anna that does sound cool, although since I haven’t read I’m not quite sure how it works out? I guess plot/character wise. Please throw me another bone… My werewolf is… sad and antsy 🙁
Um, well I like these genres (or I wouldn’t be applying here, obviously) but I also like others. I guess with me, I do like realistic fiction and lots of other genres (except for straight romance – I can only take so much. Then it gets booted). I guess the problem (well, not problem) when I write is that I’ll have scenarios that are based in realism, but I always integrate aspects that push it over the edge into this realm. I just have the tendency. Because straight realism is so boring! (although in some cases its fine).
I’m pretty sure this blog post has the most comments of all of them… (wonder whose fault that is – lol).
March 22, 2012 @ 9:52 pm
Sorry to double comment (I thought of this after I hit the post comment button), but that comment comment (ha…ha…) made me think of how incredibley sad and ironic it will be if I don’t get in this year, after all this… obsessing…commenting…investing…
As my math teacher says… Depression torments my heart…
March 22, 2012 @ 10:06 pm
Haha yes. It is!
@Anna thats cool 🙂 Yeah I kind of want to submit mine somewhere too, but not for awhile. Oh and to answer your question…I first fell in love with fantasy, then I found horror, then sci fi. And even though I’d rather read horror most of the time, my many MANY bookshelves hold an equal mix of all. I write mostly sci fi though (even if it has a lot of…horrific elements in it)
@Noella my comments are directed at everyone (insert all-encompassing hand gesture) who might be interested in replying lol. Yay! That would be so fun! Hahaha I’m glad the comments will keep on keeping on…
@Noella (hehe seperate comment, seperate @ sign cuz thats just how my brain works) I agree. %100. Completely. That would really stink. But. It’s not going to happen like that (UNIVERSE DO YOU HEAR ME? IM BEING POSITVE. THAT MUST COUNT TOWARDS SOME GOOD KARMA!)
March 22, 2012 @ 10:40 pm
@Noella we can’t have sad werewolves. They’ll eat us as comfort food. Well, my main characters are a few of the constellations and by this deal struck with the Fates, they had to become mortal.. And it’s a tad confusing and hard to explain.
@Jenna positivity counts. Or so I’m told. And I enjoy the all encompassing gesture I’m imagining a stick figure doing right now.
March 22, 2012 @ 11:40 pm
@Anna why thank you 🙂 and your story still sounds reeaaaallyyy cool!!!
@Noella please don’t let your werewolf eat us…
Ok. Question time.
So do y’all ever consciously base your characters off of people you know?
March 23, 2012 @ 5:18 am
@Jenna + Anna I should probably put an adendum on my previous comment; I like fantasy the best ._.
@Anna that sounds cool… I understand not being able to fully explain. If I tried to explain my story to you, I’d give away alot of the… I don’t know if I would call them twists, but surprises I guess.
@Jenna I have only done that… twice? I suppose. One was a short story that was an intentional imitation of real life, and it was a long time ago… the other is part of a story that I made with a friend and two of the characters are intentional representations of us. Other than that, no. You can run into trouble doing that.
March 23, 2012 @ 6:41 am
@Jenna thank you! And, no, not that I can think of… I will occasionally notice similar character traits between a few characters and people that I know, but only after I’ve written a story, and I don’t do it intentionally. I’m more prone to using character archetypes as a loose base and changing them up to fit the role and to make them more interesting. My pet peeve is characters without flaws…so a lot of times archetypes don’t cut it. Plus, if you read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/horror, if a character sounds solely like an archetype, the story can get boring really fast. Just my thoughts… It’s how it works for me. Possibly (likely) everybody sees characters differently.
@Noella yeah, that’s pretty much what I mean. If we go to alpha, we’ll read each others and understand even more why we couldn’t properly explain, right? (: And if not, and I submit mine somewhere, I’ll possibly link it…
March 23, 2012 @ 10:47 am
@Noella that’s cool 🙂 it’s interesting. I have a friend who seems to treat writing like casting a show…the characters have to come from real life. It’s caused her a ton of trouble.
@Anna you’re welcome 🙂
Haha I do that too! Do you have a favorite archetype you keep going back to (with suitable changes per story)?
More random writing questions:
Is there a particular author(s) whose work inspired you to write?
Do you/have you ever written historical fiction or alternate history fiction?
March 23, 2012 @ 1:46 pm
I’m fond of a couple archetypes… I particularly like characters who are selfish, opportunistic and willing to sacrifice moral standards for a goal, but feel terribly guilty about it. Or feel guilty for not feeling guilty. And then they turn out to be rather good people anyway. I like interesting characters, not necessarily noble ones. And I like dramatic, emotional characters… not calm ones. I don’t always sympathize with characters who, if they were real people and I met them, I would like as people. What about you?
And, no, to both your other questions. I have always written (ever since I can remember, down to picture books as a kid). And history can baffle me.
March 23, 2012 @ 2:24 pm
Haha cool 🙂
Personally, I like characters who are different; for instance my favorite character I have ever created was a shy genius with a stutter. Although I love a lot of my characters…or hate them. Do you ever hate your own characters?
Hehe picture books…same here.
March 23, 2012 @ 2:41 pm
Hmmm… I don’t know… maybe. But usually only if I create them badly, so more for my mistakes than their character. I focus more on being able to /understand/ my characters (and characters from books when I’m reading) and making sure they’re believable and I can follow their logic even if they’re insane. Because “insane” characters or “evil” characters still need to be basically understandable if you apply their own logic. Now, that logic may be flawed, that depends on the character… but characters who serve their purpose and remain true to their own personality (see my synonym for character, hah) usually appeal to me despite whether I personally agree with them.. I guess they have to be both interesting and understandable. I don’t know if any of that makes sense. I tend not to like shy characters (sorry, I can see where other people would and they can be fun to create) simply because they tend not to be the /force/ of a story.
What do you like more, description, plot or dialogue ( I realize all are necessary, but which do you enjoy)? I LOVE writing dialogue and finding witty things to say.
March 23, 2012 @ 11:19 pm
All of them (or none of them). Description and dialogue are tricky for me because I hate it unless I get it (in my own eyes) perfect. But once I do, I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything. Writing the plot seems to fall easily in with the other two; every description and bit of dialogue adds to my story (hopefully!)
Do you have a particular favorite type of scene to write? My favorite is writing introductions and dialogue between characters that don’t know yet that they are going to change the other drastically (ie love interests, soon to be enemies, future friends, long lost family members)!
March 25, 2012 @ 10:12 am
Huh. I haven’t really thought about it that much, but not particularly. I enjoy just random scenes of character banter that become really important as far as character development goes.
Hmmm… questions. Do you ever base stories off of dreams you have? I do, a lot of the time, actually. I have crazy dreams full of characters and plots and settings, and I never remember everything, but I remember enough to get really good story ideas out of them. That is, when I haven’t been studying so long that I dream about sitting in class… then I’m just annoyed. Hah.
March 25, 2012 @ 10:10 pm
Actually I base a lot of my stories off of dreams. My dreams are either really vivid or frustratingly cryptic and fragmented. I get my best ideas from the cryptic ones…they create so many unanswered questions and I write to answer them; until I finally reach the point when that little voice in my head says “Yes that’s all well and good, but how does this mad venture END?!”.
When you sit down and write do you have a clear idea where you’re headed-maybe even an actual outline-or do you write more organically? That’s usually how I write…I’ll have a general idea and after a page or so of mucking around in whatever world I’m creating, I have a story…
March 26, 2012 @ 5:57 am
Haha, I feel that way too sometimes.
I have, occasionally, /actually/ outlined… And it doesn’t really help. Now, once or twice, maybe, it /has/ helped… but for the most part, I have a vague notion of how the story starts and ends and maybe a little bit of the middle plotted out. And I know what the characters are going to be like, because character always comes to me before plot. Hence, often frustrated typing as I try to figure out what could possibly happen that wouldn’t be boring, hah.
Question: Do you ever write out of order? (and then go back to check if it flows). I do that a lot. I didn’t for my alpha application, that felt so short that I didn’t find it necessary. (I’m not used to having a 6,000 word limit; it kind of alarmed me… but I had 600 words to spare! Yay me) But on longer pieces, if I don’t know how one scene works but I have a perfect image for a scene later on, I’ll go ahead and write out of order.
March 26, 2012 @ 12:00 pm
I know what you mean…
I do, occasionally. It’s one of the things I do when I get stuck in the middle of a difficult scene or when I’m having trouble meeting a deadline. I write my ending first, then I write to get towards that point. It works pretty well, but by the time I reach the end I’ve already written, the story has changed so much I have to rewrite it a little.
Oh congratulations! I think mine was 4000 or 5000 words.
Question: Which do you like doing the most when it comes to a first draft: brainstorming/character developing/plotting; actually writing it; editing; proofreading or rewriting. Personally I love to edit and rewrite and tweak it. I think it’s because I’m still improving the story, but it’s something tangible and can’t disappear into the dark recesses of my brain…hehe
March 26, 2012 @ 4:11 pm
Yeah, I try not to write the actual ending first, because I know I’ll just end up (haha, like my pun? I’m so hilarious.) having to change it. But I suppose it depends on the person and story.
I definitely like character development. It’s just super fun for me… plotting does not necessarily come easily to me all the time, but if I have some nice solid ideas (no, no, don’t fly away with the birdies, ideas) then I enjoy that too, but it can still be hard. Also, I’m an artsy person, so some of my very early planning comes in the form of doodles/sketches of characters and concepts and such. So, I really enjoy that bit of it, because it’s very abstract and doesn’t have to make /perfect/ sense.
Do you ever use prompts from random websites to just help you get out of writer’s block or anything? I do occasionally, but what I love more is that exercise where you write for a solid five minutes, just whatever random words pop into your head. And then I pull groups of words that I choose for theme or randomly if I want a challenge, and either use all of them in a writing exercise or do a speed writing for ten minutes on them.
March 26, 2012 @ 6:53 pm
That makes total sense and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who draws to understand their story (or has their ideas kidnapped by malicious, thought deleting birds ;)) Do you ever draw to get out of writer’s block?
I use prompts now and then, but I don’t really need them most of the time. Coming up with ideas isn’t my problem. It’s turning them into something useful.
Those are cool exercises 🙂 I’ve done a few of them.
Oh and how do you name your characters? I usually play around with names until I find some I like, but occasionally I’ll use a skewed version of a word that represents an integral part of whoever I’m writng about.
March 26, 2012 @ 7:15 pm
Most definitely. Writer’s block is an evil, evil thing that must be combated in whatever form is possible… And then you get art block. Which is possibly worse. And then you’re stuck doodling flowers…
I usually sift through various naming websites… I keep a couple massive lists of first and last names that I like, (I usually tend to write more urban fantasy, so my names are more normal-ish) and consult that. I just try to find names that both sound good and fit the character. Occasionally I’ll use symbolic names, but not overly often, though I appreciate it when other people do. I just don’t do it myself.
Do you journal? I’m a tad (okay, really) obsessive. I’m not one of those people who can journal /every/ day but I keep one and I also keep an art journal (and a sketchbook, but art journals are different… I don’t know if you know what they are or not.) But I don’t list everything I did that day while writing in them. Not like, “today I ate…” I more just write about whatever is on my mind at that random point in time.
March 26, 2012 @ 7:48 pm
I. Agree. Completely. Writer’s block is scary. Haha I’ve never heard the term art block before, but it makes sense…just another example of the awe-inspiring power of the blank page/canvas/lump of clay/wall/any other type of medium people use to create.
I used to keep a name list, but then I realized that every time I consulted it, I stopped writing to add things to the list…If I was a superhero, my kryptonite would be getting distracted.
I do journal, actually. Not every day, but as often as I can. It’s cool that you do too! What *is* an art journal? I’ve heard the term a few times, but with different meanings. And do you ever record your dreams in your journal(s) or write poetry?
March 26, 2012 @ 8:18 pm
Haha, yes. The curse of the blankness/empty space.
An art journal is (and it can be interpreted in many different ways, this is just mine) basically a book of pages that are painted, drawn on, stamped on, doodled on, (insert on comment, with words and such to describe part of your life. Some people do really specific things, so it’s a bit like scrap booking (some people even use pictures they’ve altered with digital tech stuff, or unaltered ones). Mine tend to be super abstract, because I’m big on privacy. I usually paint the pages with acrylics and use special markers and such to draw and fill in details, but you can use anything. Regular old highlighters, etc. Some people use scraps of paper and fabric, and sew on the pages and stuff. Others use 3D and adhesives. It varies a lot, but I started… a year or so ago, and ever since I’ve been super into it. I put a lot of clips of my writing and stuff in it too. Sorry, that was probably a longer explanation than you were looking for.
I’ve thought about keeping a journal especially for dreams, and I really probably should (thanks for reminding me), but I haven’t yet. Maybe I’ll start this week. And poetry is a bit too abstract for me. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t enjoy writing it and find it rather limiting rather than freeing like it’s supposedly intended to be. What about you?
March 26, 2012 @ 10:59 pm
That’s really interesting, and not too long at all. How did you get started, if you don’t mind my asking?
I write a lot of poetry, and I’d agree that it can be pretty limiting in some cases. But I love it, as like you, I really do like my privacy. Since poetry can be so abstract, there’s a certain amount of freedom to it. I could write a poem about a fight with my sister, for example, and someone could read it and have no idea what I was actually talking about. Or, they could understand it in a way that means something only to them, or the material meaning could totally bypass them and they would only register the emotion to it…haha sorry I’m getting really philosophical.
Anyways. Aside from your art journal, what kind of art do you like to do?
March 27, 2012 @ 6:16 am
Not at all! Um, I actually just got started randomly… walking in a bookstore, I wandered to the craft magazine section and proceeded to browse. I found a magazine on art journaling and presto. Not a super entertaining story, I’m aware.
I totally know what you mean. And I can see where poetry would be that way, one thing to one person and another thing to another person.
Oh, you name it, I’ve dabbled in it. Well, pretty much. I like graphite, clay, acrylics, markers, etc. Watercolors aren’t too shabby either. I don’t like chalk or oil pastels. I make jewelry… It also depends what I have time for. If I’m super busy (hello, life, all the time) all I’ll do is draw people in my sketchbook. But if I have an art class or a strange amount of free time, I’ll actually work on projects. What about you, it sounded like you’re an artist as well, yes?
March 27, 2012 @ 10:37 am
Haha that’s cool 🙂
And exactly. Plus it gives me an evil pleasure when people say “Oh my goodness I understand completely. This poem is about (insert random irrelevant thing that I would never actually write about)”. I know. I’m not nice 😉
Yep, I’m an artist to a certain extent…I love to sketch with pretty much anything (I’ve been known to draw in eyeliner occasionally). My favorite things to work with would have to be india ink, charcoal, graphite/charcoal powder, crayon and manga pens. I like to paint, but I don’t get to do so as often as I wish.
So when you sketch or draw or paint, do you stay within the confines of what you see (aside from when you’re working on fleshing out a story) or do you draw daydreams or SF/F/H stuff?
April 10, 2012 @ 7:08 am
I saw the number of applicants that Diane posted earlier, but just out of curiosity, what was the male/female ratio? I remember it being pretty uneven last year. And my brain needs something AlPha related, these last days are killing me. :/
April 16, 2012 @ 3:40 pm
There were 12 applications from guys (out of around 62) and 3 got in. So, the percentage of guys who apply and get in was lower this year than the percentage of girls who apply and get in. Without cross-correlating this with age or other data points, or looking across the years, it’s hard to make a definitive statement about this one statistic.
This year, the stories were remarkable–higher quality than other years, according to Thomas (one of the four judges).
Congrats to the students who made it in (from as far away as Jakarta). For others, please keep us in mind for next year. The average age varies between 16.0 and 18.5 from year to year.
I wish we could accept everyone who applied. I’m hoping when our past students get a little older they start up an Alpha Prime on the West Coast.