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A compilation of four writers' checklists written for SRW Bridges:
Mechanics of Writing, Short Story Writing, Plot Conflict, Creating Plot
by Lesley-Anne McLeod

 

Checklist on Mechanics of Writing

1. Use the proper style for your writing project. Think about styles of writing: formal, informal, business, personal, etc. This consideration can include person and point of view and, of course, depends on whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

2. Buy and read a copy of "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. There is still no more valuable guide for writers.

3. The "Chicago Manual of Style" can help you understand the methods and standards editors and publishers use. This is serious reference material you need to consider.

4. Watch your commas, semi-colons and exclamation marks. As my editor keeps informing me: commas are often misused, semi-colons are out of fashion, and exclamation marks are over-used. Be careful out there.

5. Read "Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Then you will really understand how important punctuation is.

6. Ensure that your grammar is suited to your subject and/or your speaker. Non-fiction requires impeccable usage. Fiction, well, some characters can say "ain't", some can say "like, she says. Then like, I say...". Others cannot!

7. A book like "The Grammar Bible" by Strumpf and Douglas can answer all your questions about grammar, and ones you didn't even know you had.

8. If you want to play with grammar, style, and punctuation, make sure that your readers know you are experimenting. Think of the poet e e cummings...did he not know about 'caps lock' or was he just being cute?

9. If you get the mechanics of writing right, no editor can reject you on those grounds. As extra insurance, do use your computer's spell check and consider the grammar suggestions that your word processor offers.

10. Good writing mechanics are like a strong foundation for a building. Solid grammar, punctuation and style will support any writing project you undertake.

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Checklist of Short Story Writing

Stephen Vincent Benet said that a short story is
"something that can be read in an hour and remembered for a lifetime."

1. Length should be 3,000 to 10,000 words. But, under 3,000 words can be very salable in today's market.

2. A short story is an episode; a scene or two from an unwritten larger and longer tale.

3. Time period covered should be at most a season, more usually a few days or hours.

4. Stories are 'straight lines', without the plot twists and sub-plots of novels.

5. But stories still have a beginning, middle and end, or the usual five parts: situation, complication, climax, resolution and anti-climax.

6. One POV may be all a short story can handle, depending on length.

7. Any dialogue used must be important and concise.

8. Short stories use short sentences. They will be sold into markets where attention spans are short, e.g. magazines.

9. Limit explanations and descriptions; there is no room for digression or indulgence.
Teach yourself economy of words.

10. As with all fiction, something vital must be at stake.

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Checklist on Creating Plot

A plot is not just events...the chronological retelling of occurrences.
A plot is created by the way in which the incidents are narrated to the reader.
No matter what method you use to create your plot, the story must finally include:

1. The Initializing or Inciting Incident
- delineate characters
- introduction of location

2. The Rising Action
- conflict emergence
- protagonist action/reaction
- antagonist action/reaction
- reversal
- point of no return

3. The Climactic Events and Resolution
- crisis
- dark moment
- climax
- resolution   

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Checklist on Plot Conflict

Conflict = Problems  
--  fit the conflict to the scope of your story 
e.g. small problems for cozy/traditional story --  major conflict for intricate story

1. any conflict introduced should induce action by your characters

2. that action should change the course of the plot

3. conflict should change your characters

4. that change process should be challenging.

Three kinds of conflict:

1. interactional conflict between characters

2. external; outside your characters
- strive for one central external conflict
- don't use 'serial' conflicts; too many conflicts equal melodrama
- avoid 'plug-in' conflict; something unrelated added to make things more interesting

3. internal; inside your characters
- individualize with the character's needs
- internal conflict must be addressed by the character
- resolution of external conflict does not resolve an internal conflict

--ensure that your external and internal conflicts mesh.

Some sources of internal conflict:
- personality, past history, values

Some forms of external conflict:
-setting (protagonist has difficulty fitting into environment)
-actions of villain/s (antagonist becomes a manifestation of conflict)

This checklist was compiled using Alicia Rasley's "The Story Within Guidebook; Interactive Guidebook to Plotting Popular Fiction".  The book is available from her website at http://www.sff.net/people/alicia

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© Lesley-Anne McLeod 2005
Permission granted for personal use only. Email request for other permission.