Don Shea Don Shea, Writer & Editor
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YOU CAN'T TEACH TALENT BUT YOU CAN TEACH CRAFT...

If you have a manuscript you think could use an objective (yet sympathetic) edit and/or review, please contact me and let's discuss your project.

I have been teaching creative writing workshops and working one-on-one with individual writers in New York City for more than 15 years, focusing on the short story, but also including novel segments, creative non-fiction, and very short flash fictions. I taught at The Writers' Voice, West Side YMCA, for six years, and have also taught creative writing at the New School, the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, and various private workshops. I am currently a writing tutor at Bard High School Early College, a New York City public school for gifted students.

My students tell me I am particularly skilled at reducing stories (eliminating the extraneous) and restructuring stories (accentuating the dramatic).

Rates are flexible and can be negotiated by the hour, the project, or the line count.


A DOZEN CRAFT PRINCIPLES FOR STORY WRITERS

  1. ENTRY POINT — find the right beginning, the "hook." Enter your story at a high point of reader interest. Don't feel obliged to establish place and characters before putting your story in motion. And don't be bound by the idea of a linear narrative progression.

  2. CLOSURE — consider the analogy of a symphony. The opening paragraphs announce the themes of the story, the body of the story develops them, and the closing paragraphs reference and resolve the opening themes, often with a grace note. The best endings are both "surprising and inevitable."

  3. THEMES — limit yourself to about three balls in the air — that's usually enough to juggle in one story. (You may have a great tale of a man, a dog, and an earthquake, but do you really need the confusing and intrusive astrological references?) Complexity is neither necessary nor sufficient for depth or gravitas. Don't "freight" your story with too much symbolism; don't make it work too hard.

  4. ORIGINALITY/VOICE — there are almost no truly new stories, but try to develop an original voice and find a fresh angle of vision for your material — if you don't try to find new ways of telling the old stories, you will have to write better than everyone who came before you, and that is a lot harder.

  5. TAKE RISKS with your material — Fiction provides a mask, so use it. Don't pull your punches and don't be polite. Chances are, what you resist telling us is exactly what would make or enhance a good story.

  6. RESPECT YOUR CHARACTERS — Use the omniscience and freedom you enjoy as a writer wisely. Present your characters with sympathy and depth. Literary fiction deals with complexity of character; commercial fiction deals with good guys and bad guys. Every narrator/hero can benefit from a dash of self doubt and the occasional stupidity and every villain can use a redeeming quality or two. (NB Revenge on your family is not a sufficient reason for writing fiction.)

  7. LESS IS MORE — This is not a minimalist aesthetic; it is a fundamental principle of good writing which is independent of "style." Write tight. Remove every unnecessary word & gratuitous thought, however clever.

  8. DIALOGUE — Use only to define character or advance the story. Remove every line that does not do one or the other. Eliminate "chit chat." Dialogue should sound like natural speech minus the extraneous. Read your dialogue out loud — if it sounds unnatural, you will hear it. (NB Use contractions in dialogue and interior monologues/spell out in exposition.)

  9. ADVERBS — Fitzgerald said "Let the verb drive the sentence." The verb is the action, the 'muscle' in the sentence, and adverbs are often superfluous (she wept unhappily) or misused to prop up a weak, non-specific verb (he said angrily vs. he snarled, or grumbled, or sneered). Find the right verb; use adverbs sparingly.

  10. ADJECTIVES — choose with precision. Except in dialogue and first person narration, avoid most generalized adjectives like 'wonderful,' 'terrible,' 'nice,' etcetera (she had very pretty eyes vs. shimmering emerald eyes or dark luminous eyes). Be specific. Particularize.

  11. EMBEDDED FLASHBACKS— try to avoid flashbacks within flashbacks. If you feel the need for these, consider revising and simplifying your overall story structure.

  12. BE CONSISTENT — with Points Of View, voices, and tenses. Don't change horses on your reader in midstream. And don't be sloppy. Pay attention to the details of the structure you establish.

 

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