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Your Most Successful Story

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Caged Maiden, May 6, 2015.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Hello Scribes!

    I've been recently debating my writing pile and what it means to have this assortment of randomness upon which I sit, with laptop in hands, furiously typing, adding to the pile. I'm talking about short stories, here. What do you think about short stories and their success?

    What is your most successful story? What made it so successful? Was it external factors that validated this story for you, or was it a personal appraisal that set this story apart from the others?

    For me, it's a hard choice. When I look at my pile of stories, I have mixed feelings. Some, I think are creative, but maybe suffer from plot weaknesses, despite the interesting concepts I used to execute the particular story.

    Others, I think were great concepts, but the story got a touch lost under my often-confusing habit of pantsing, and though the execution was sufficient to make a good tale, the story just didn't hold up.

    Sometimes, I'm more connected to a character than I am to their story. Other times, I think I've come up with a great tale, only to have it lack in the end because the character didn't "fit".

    I tend to think of my most successful stories as those where I took risks that paid off in some way, either pushing my understanding of what I can do, or otherwise opening a door for my use in the future.

    I guess in the end, I don't have a single "most successful" story, but I'm interested in knowing what your experiences are. How do you choose your most successful?
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    My criterion is embarrassingly simple: I finished it. I have more unfinished than finished. The latter are more successful.

    Beyond that, I have only one actually published (at Bewildering Stories). So I reckon that one wins the prize.

    I think there's a difference between most successful in the sense of most sales or most downloads, and most successful in the sense of "the one I'm most proud of".
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I would say the story that reaches the most people and receives the most positive feedback would be my most successful. I could sit in front of dozens of short stories I've written over time and would find something glaringly wrong with each of them the more and more I stared at them. I ultimately think readers need to decide successes more than writers. I sometimes feel most writers can't really ever love anything they make 100 percent. Just like musicians and artists and any other creative person will see small mistakes (or big ones) in something they made years ago.

    For me though, I think my most successful stories have been ones I didn't worry about so much. I just wrote them and thought they were funny. And sometimes other people thought they were funny, too. So I guess that's my only real criteria for success. Giving it to people and seeing them enjoy something I made.

    I wish I had a better "writer" answer, but that's how I feel more and more.
  4. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Like skip.knox, I consider every finished story a success to one degree or another, if only because it gives me a temporary boost of confidence in my authorial self-discipline. But more often than not, I end feeling disappointed or embarrassed by the stories I finish once I pass that stage of triumphant euphoria. No matter how awesome I think a story's underlying concept or tropes still are, if my reviewers tear it apart or tell me it's bad, my pride in it deflates and I wonder whether I should start again. If you've ever wondered why so many of my story ideas and writing excerpts share certain recurring themes, it's in large part because a lot of them are really the same underlying story that I'm struggling to get right.

    Of course, it doesn't help that I end up judging my own stories' worth by my reviewers' evaluations. Whom else can I trust to gauge a story's quality objectively? Outside my own immediate family, whose vested interest in not hurting my feelings should be self-evident, strangers on the Internet are the only people I can find to critique my stuff, assuming they even have the time or patience to read through it. What, am I supposed to inflate my own ego by believing my own stories are good even when everyone else says they're not? No one likes guys like that.

    In some cases, even finished stories can be abject failures if they end up offending the wrong people. A few months back I sent my short The Sun Queen's New Hairstyle over to the "Writing with Color" blog for critique, and they came down on it hard. I had meant the story to be a humorous and anti-racist subversion of the Emperor's New Clothes, yet because of various blunders in diction on my part, they ended up declaring it "read strongly like racist, anti-black propaganda" and that I was describing Afro-textured hair "dirty, undesirable, and impossible to manage" (this in reference to my heroine's struggles with combing her grown-out hair; unfortunately it had not occurred to me that anything resembling shampoo might exist in this Egyptian-influenced setting). And this is neither the only nor first time I've worried that my stories might cause unwanted offense. Don't get me wrong, I like provoking strong reactions from readers, but the only people I want to offend are the jerks who deserve it.

    To be fair to myself, certain other statements the "Writing with Color" crew have posted on their blog have recalled my stereotype of "social justice wannabe" kids on tumblr proclaiming to accurately represent vast and diverse groups of non-European peoples (e.g. various statements like this decrying almost any form of mixing different cultural influences for fantasy world-building). But at least they actually do appear to all be of non-European descent, which gives their feedback more credibility than the usual pretentious white kids.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Successful is a broad term and can mean different things to many people.

    One way to look at success, which is how I look at it, is if the story does exactly what you intend for it to do. If you want to make someone cry at the end and they cry, success. If you want the reader to hate a character and then love them at the end and the reader does just that, success.

    There's also commercial success where a story makes the most money or reaches the most people. That could be success.

    I think I have a bunch of stories that are success for different reasons. I have a story that for the most part is just one character and their internal monologue. It was a success because after grinding at it for dozens of drafts, I cracked the emotional core to it and that took the story to the level I wanted it to be.

    Each story I take on, presents challenges for me to overcome, and if I can overcome them and the story achieves what I want it to then I consider it a success.
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    1) First...finished, rough draft, second draft, and passably edited. Coherency counts.

    (I don't have that many unfinished stories. I have plenty in need of additional editing/rewrites)


    2) Does it hold peoples attention? If so, its a success.

    (quite a few of these, going from the comments in the various challenges in which most were first posted)


    3) in my judgment, is it worth submitting for publication? Is it as good as other stories I see in F&SF, Asimov's, and elsewhere?

    (some are. I'll have more once I get some serious editing taken care of)
  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I still haven't published anything - other than on my wiki and blog and I don't quite feel that counts.

    I feel my most successful story to date is probably the one I did about Alene for the Diversity Challenge here on the forums a while back (here: Alene – The Morning After | s v r t n s s e).
    As far as story goes, it's about halfway done. It's really just an introduction begging for a second part that explains what's going on, but I still feel it was a success. It's my most recently finished piece, and I put into it a lot of what I learned from writing my novel over the past two years.
    I think that's probably what really makes it feel like my most successful story. It's the one finished piece I have that's written at my current skill level. That story is an example of how good I am at the moment, and that means a lot to me. I took what I've learnt and I made a story from it.

    Admittedly, the story didn't do very well in the actual challenge, but I feel that that's because it kind of missed the mark for what the challenge was about - not because it's bad.
  8. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    At this point, I'll say that I haven't written a successful story as of yet. Every story I write is better than the last one, but still not publishable quality. The current story might be...I'm definitely spending more time on it than all of the others because I'm trying to work on certain skills with it. So who knows, this one might be the first to fly out of the nest.
  9. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    The one I linked, though only ~1500 words—that's mine. It was written in a day, but it was a new and different voice, and I even like the character's name. I'm working on Addison Lane's third story, due in part to more recent reader feedback. The feedback that hit me the hardest (in a good way) came from Panda. She told me I did my lesbian character right, including her pining for a straight friend, and also gave great feedback on my second Addison story.

    Because of this reaction (and also because I have daughters), I want to focus on woman warriors with my fantasy works. I also like short stories. So while I'm not wildly successful by any means, I have a sense of direction.

    And as Phil mentioned, reader feedback has a lot to do with my feeling that this is a successful (or potentially successful) story. (The story being the character's story, or series of in-progress and yet-to-be-written stories.)
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I do think reader feedback is one of the most powerful tools a writer can have when it comes to motivation. If you're just writing stuff that no one is reading (or only a handful of close friends are) then there is less inclination to finish it. But as LS said, if he feels like readers may be interested to see more stories from a particular character (which I also love by the way; it won a challenge I ran) then he'd be more interested in releasing more of her stories. Writing in a vacuum can feel lonely and make me wonder "What is the point of this?"

    Based on what others have said as well, my measures of success would go like this:

    1. Concept Success: a concept that sticks with me for more than a week; a story that keeps begging to be told

    2. Draft Success: completion; a prominently displayed "The End;" not hating it to the core of my being

    3. Editing Success: to stick with a crappy draft for more than a couple of weeks; to work through the pain even though it is excruciating; to beat back shinier ideas with a stick; to be able to look at something after a time and say "This doesn't completely suck."

    4. First Wave (Alpha) Reader Success: to get valuable feedback that I can use; to have moments that resonate with the reader somehow (funny, poignant, scary, etc.)

    5. Second Wave (Beta) Reader Success: to give a (hopefully) polished work to a reader without them throwing up; to feel comfortable even sharing this with people outside my critique circles

    6. Final Look Success: to be able to say, "Yeah, I think this is ready for the world;" to put it out for wider consumption

    7. Stranger Success: to have strangers say, "Wow, this is cool" or even say, "Well, this isn't for me, but I can see you'd have an audience for this"

    8. Word of Mouth Success: to get reviews, tweets, shares, positive comments, and more people picking up what I wrote

    9. Next Story Success: to be able to sit down and work on something new; to continue being a writer
  11. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I've said this before, and I don't mean it facetiously: if all you want are eyeballs, write incest porn. Nothing I've written has been so widely read, and in my darker moments I suspect nothing I've written will ever be so widely read.

    As for actual quality, I judge that by whether the story expresses the feeling I had when I wrote it. By that standard, In the Cosmic Waiting Room was a recent success.
  12. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Successful is such a difficult term to pin down. For me I could have a few candidates. Thief was successful because it was the first book I ever finished and pubbed. Maverick because it's sold the most copies. Dragon wins the contest based on review stats and stars.

    But really I think, my most successful book has not even been written yet. (Unless it's either The Stars Betrayed or The Arcanist -both of which will be out in the next few months!)

    Cheers, Greg.
  13. Ruby

    Ruby Auror

    Hi Caged Maiden,

    Like Skip.knox, my most successful story was the one I finished! :D

    I wrote it for a challenge on here, soon after I joined the wonderful Mythic Scribes site. Legendary Sidekick awarded it Best Comedy, which was very flattering. You were supposed to write about 6,000 words and I went past that and was allowed an extension. Then I thought, "This is ridiculous, stick to the rules!" :eek: and then the ending materialised.

    "The End".

    I look forward to writing this again sometime soon.
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  14. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

    From my fanfic writing days, I can more or less echo Feo's point - the thing that gets you the most eyeballs / comments / popular acclaim isn't necessarily going to be the thing that you're most proud of, or think you wrote best. Reader numbers are just a matter of circumstances that you have no control over - the current zeitgeist, who reads it and who they tell about it, being in the right place at the right time and pushing the right buttons. Of course, it's also interesting to see what's an immediate hit versus what is still getting a steady stream of readers and comments eight years later.

    But there are still the things that I felt really good about - that I looked at when I was finished, and even months or years later, and said, "Yes, I did exactly what I wanted to do there, and I did it hard, efficiently and elegantly" - that got a small and appreciative readership, but never popular. I still view those as very successful pieces. Because all I can control is the effective delivery of my intention. I can't control popularity. I can't control circumstances. I can just try to do my thing as well as I can.

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