Katie Stephens - In Her Own Words
After spending twenty-nine years as a teacher, musician, and academic writer, the transition to penning fictional works has been an exciting and rewarding adventure. Iíve always been a dreamer, creating stories in my mind. Between college, working, and raising kids, I failed to find the time to write them down.
I spent several months after retirement in limbo, doing a bit of writing, wondering where the second half of my life was going to take me. I felt unhappy with the results of my attempt to write and almost gave up. Then I found an amazing site on the Internet called Scribophile, a social writing network where you can post works and receive critiques from other members on the site. I learned quite a bit about my writing through these critiques: not just correct grammar usage, point of view of the characters, or voice, but how to make my stories come alive for my reader.
Iím a person who needs total quiet when I work, so I create my stories when no one can bother me. I let my imagination wander before I fall asleep at night. I developed an entire NaNoWriMo novel a chapter at a time in the shower. Often, I use a prompt and allow the story to mull around in my mind using the theme. (This is how I wrote ďHome.Ē The prompt was Ďwinterí and my mind started making connections not only with the season of the year, but also how the four seasons can reflect a personís life in its entirety.)
After working on the idea or story line, I develop the characters by asking myself questions: Where are they (scene)? What outside forces or personal decisions led them to this place (plot)? Where do I want my main character to be at the end of the story (climax and conclusion)? What age are my characters and how do I want them to speak (voice)? What other characters or plot devices can be included in the story to help move it along? How can I make my characters special, so people would want to read about them or identify with them?
Even when writing fantasy, setting the scene and describing the character is less important to me than creating the characterís voice and making a believable connection with the reader. My first edit of a story adds more detail, so the reader can picture the scene and characters. I love dialogue, for what is communication without it? I donít want my reader to be bored with paragraph upon paragraph of description. I want them thrust into the story from the first line and forming a connection with my main character, either from a similar event in the readerís life or perhaps sympathy for the characterís plight.
Once Iím satisfied with the story, I post it for critique on Scribophile, or ask a family member or friend to read it and comment. The more people I get to look at a piece, the more suggestions and questions I can ponder during the re-write. In the long run, itís the author who needs to be comfortable with their work.
I donít like to feed a story to my readers. I give them tidbits of information and allow them to figure out the rest. I think this approach involves them in the story, creates a bond between the author and the reader, and lets the reader feel they are a part of the story. Maintaining this style is the foremost reason I write flash fiction and short stories, rather than novels. I see novel writers allowing readers a glimpse into an enormous world of their creation, while authors of flash fiction and short stories have very little time to pull the reader into the created scenario. Every word is meaningful and deviation or rambling becomes disastrous.
Fiction is an escape, taking readers from their real world lives. I believe the best fiction should involve the reader in such a way that they can imagine themselves in the scene, as the hero or heroine, as the villain, or as the person clinging to hope. The perfect fictional creation is the one a reader canít put down until they reach the end of the story.