Selling Stories

Originally posted to SuiteU, part of Suite101. SuiteU is being removed from the site. I wanted to save the ecourses so this resource would not disappear.

Selling Stories

By Diane Goldberg


Welcome to “Selling Chicken Soup Stories!” Get a nice cup of tea or coffee and get comfortable while we explore how you can turn your cherished memories, personal triumphs, and funniest stories into the sort of essays featured in the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Keep one thing in mind as we begin our journey: this course isn’t only about writing, it’s about you — your hopes, dreams, values, beliefs and experiences! Because whether you are a fourteen year old soccer star, fifty year old gardening grandma, or sports fan who uses baseball to unwind you’ve got a story other people want to hear.

Everyone has moments and memories that guide him or her down the pathway of life. And like all adventurers we can lighten our load, improve our efficiency, and reach our desired destination if we learn from those who have gone before. All of us have defining moments in our lives that prove to be benchmarks, turning points, and memories that gain us strength. Whether we are nineteen or ninety, we all know what it is to laugh, cry, love, learn, feel, and change. It’s the “kernel of universal” in our unique experiences that’s the soul of a Chicken Soup story. And this course is designed to help you find that kernel.

Of course, getting a story into the Chicken Soup series is far from easy. In fact, gamblers might tell you the odds are against you.

Stephanie Thatcher, Marketing and PR Coordinator at Chicken Soup for the Soul Enterprises, explained in the material I received prior to the release of Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul:

“Competition was tough! We did radio talk shows, sent out press releases to magazines and newspapers across the U.S., and went global on the Internet soliciting hundreds of stories. We received over 5,000 stories from around the world, and every single one was read by at least one co-author.

Those stories with ‘soup potential’ were edited and submitted to co-authors for grading on a scale of 1-10. Stories that received over a 9 were re-edited and submitted to a team of two to five readers at Chicken Soup for the Soul Enterprises. Stories that THEY graded over a 9.5 were assembled into a manuscript of 180 stories. That ‘reader’s manuscript’ went out to 40 people all over the country, who graded the stories AGAIN. Anything that scored below a 9.25 was dropped, leaving us with about 150 stories. Balancing scores with the need for a good mix of subjects, style, etc., we painfully whittled the stories down to the 101 finalists.

See how good you had to be to get into this book!”

And this course can help you be that good.

During the lessons we’ll look at how to avoid three main errors that get writers an automatic reject. And, whether you want to tell the world the story of the choir director who changed your life or what your three year old taught you — or if your ambitions lean toward selling more material to a variety of magazines — these are things the course addresses!

We’ll go through some interesting exercises so you can refine your message. Many writers write the story before they know what they want to say. The more you know about you, the easier it is to know your message.

We will look at the Chicken Soup series to see what “soup stories” have in common! In the process you’ll learn a proven method of analyzing series, newsletters, and magazines to see what & where to submit.

Most importantly, you’ll discover writing a Chicken Soup story requires two elements: craft and soul. You have the soul; this course will teach you the craft!

So, if you have a drawer filled with unfinished essays languishing because you haven’t a clue what to do with them or where to send them, this course is for you! Some of the skills you’ll pick up will stand you in good stead if you’d like to try your hand at writing narrative genealogy or memory books for children / grandchildren.

In short, you should find the skills taught as interesting and useful as I have. What you are about to learn is exactly what I did to write the three pieces I’ve sold to Chicken Soup books as well as the others that made it to the final selection.

I’m also going to dispel a myth: that a “Chicken Soup” story is all sweetness and light, full of enough sugar to send a diabetic into a coma. Nothing could be further from the truth! What makes these books best sellers is the excellent editorial skills that create a mix of heartwarming, bittersweet, unabashedly upbeat, funny, and filled-with-attitude stories. Which brings me to the core of the course: everyone has a Chicken Soup story to tell, including you!

You have been intrigued by the Chicken Soup books. Have you read any of them? Do you have some stories for upcoming books in the series? Now you can learn how to write that kind of story. Let Diane Goldberg tell you how.Traute Klein, biogardener


Lesson 1: Getting Started

This lesson focuses on how to find your story and voice to prepare a story for submission to the Chicken Soup series, and how to avoid common errors that cause rejections!

Before you start the course it is essential you own or borrow at least one of the Chicken Soup books — you really need it to learn how to write your own Chicken Soup submission.

The short quiz called the final exam should be taken after lesson one. We don’t have other tests because the real test is writing your story. You’ll be writing your story throughout this course — that’s quite enough home work!

Rejection Blues

Years ago a popular motivational poster advised, “Eat a live toad first thing in the morning — the day can only improve from there.” While I don’t advise munching on amphibians instead of toast, I do think it is a good idea to “do the worst first.” If nothing else, once you’ve dealt with the hardest part of a task, the other bits flow smoothly. So, we’re going to start off dealing with the worst part of a writer’s world: rejection.

When you submit to the Chicken Soup series, you will not necessarily get a rejection if your work is not selected for publication. If your work makes it down to the wire where they have 150 or so stories to go, they will write you and let you know. You’ll hear from them again if your work is accepted. If your work makes it into the final batch before the 101 stories that make up each volume but is not selected, you may receive notice that they want to retain your work for consideration should they do another similar volume.

Be very patient with the Chicken Soup staff. Each title receives around 5,000 potential entries. If you submit to a volume planned for a way down the road, it can sometimes take years (really!) before you hear from them — even if your work is selected.

Regardless of who you submit to, it is helpful to always read the submission guidelines carefully to be certain that you know as much as possible about when you can expect a response. Many writers’ market resources list response times. But often market listings are out of date so it is always best to write or email a publication for current guidelines to insure that you have accurate information. We’ll talk about other reasons you want those current guidelines in a while.

Be certain you follow the guidelines to get a response. The Chicken Soup series usually uses regular postal service for acceptances and contracts so whether you mail in your essay or use the web-based submission form, be certain you include your contact data. For any publication, be certain you follow their requirements, if their guidelines state that you should enclose a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope,) do so or you won’t be likely to hear from them.

A while ago, a writer told me that she read an advice article that suggested that writer’s refrain from sending SASEs because “it makes it too easy to reject your manuscript.” Loud sigh here. I know that it is difficult to come up with fresh original advice for novice writers, but I fail to see the point of deliberately disobeying a request from your prospective customer. Editors are customers. Even if what you are writing is typed, scrawled, or inscribed primarily for self-expression, the point at which you try to sell it changes everything. Editors become potential customers and as such they are always right.

Think of writing as a job. It can be a job you love and one that carries great personal reward. When you are writing a Chicken Soup story sometimes the act of writing itself can have a huge pay off in insight and satisfaction, but is still a job. If the editor asks for an e-mail address, a contact address or a SASE, your failure to comply shows him or her that you can’t follow directions and that you simply aren’t up to the job.

Of course, even those of us who follow directions meticulously, get loads of rejections, our mail carriers have hernias, and our families wonder what on earth we get in e-mail to make us cuss and moan so much. But, following directions does present a better first impression; it may get your manuscript in the door.

In the next section we’ll look at other things you need to know to avoid automatic rejections.


Lesson 1: Getting Started

What every Chicken Soup Writer Should Know but Doesn’t Want to Ask

I have two friends who have written pieces that I think are close to “sure things” for the Chicken Soup series — but we’ll never know. They are both professional writers with fairly impressive credits. So, they are familiar with the rejection/acceptance two-step and have functional word processors and desks crammed with paperclips, stamps, and envelopes. As pros, they know that a fee of $300 for work they have already done is not a bad price, and they also know that many magazine editors perk up when they see Chicken Soup sales listed on a writer’s resume.

I’m not an editor for the Chicken Soup series. I’ve never even played one on TV. But, I have had a bit of success with my submissions and I really think both of my buddies could share a forthcoming table of contents with me and a few recognizable names like Oprah Winfrey and Dave Berry (just to name drop two of the luminaries happily ensconced in the pages of the USA’s best selling series.)

We’ll never know though.

Because neither of my friends will submit her story to the series.

These two are pros. They aren’t scared of a rejection slip or twenty. It comes with the territory.

The reason both of them gave me for failing to submit is the same: “I can’t write that Chicken Soup stuff.”

When I discussed it with them, it became clear that neither of them had ever read a Chicken Soup book. Which brings me to the first thing you need to do to avoid automatic rejection: Be familiar with your market.

You want to write Chicken Soup stories? Then read them. Read several books and note two things: how are these stories alike and how are they different? You will find a general “spirit” shared by Chicken Soup material. These are stories that seek to brighten the reader’s day or provide strength to a reader. But, they aren’t all sweetness and light or all isn’t-everything-wonderful. Some Chicken Soup stories are tales about overcoming adversity; others are stories where the writer shares a hard-learned lesson. Media stars and single moms with two jobs share those pages.

The second thing you must do once you are satisfied with a story is submit it. For folks just starting out dealing with the wait or dealing with a rejection is the hardest part of the process. I recomend a long bubble bath and a soothing glass of wine when faced with rejection, other people are convinced of the healing power of chocolate.

Keep in mind that number one of the deadly mistakes is not being familiar with the market. It works both ways – this nasty double-edged sword— you might decide not to submit to a market that is a perfect home for your prose, or you might knock on a locked door to no avail. Writers are often guilty of both those errors.

For example, Chicken Soup guidelines say that: “The story should start with action; it should include a problem, issue or situation. It should include dialogue and the character should express their feelings though the conflict or situation. It should end in a result, such as a lesson learned, a positive change or pay-off.” You or I might write a brilliant opinion piece about why it is better to spend time with your kids reading instead of parking them in front of the television. The piece could quote research and might be very useful for other parents. Would it be a Chicken Soup story? I doubt it. But, a story about what happened when your family decided to unplug the tube for a month might be. That piece about kids and television might be just what a parenting magazine wants. Know your market.

Now, I know you are thinking — wait, she said SUBMIT and now she is saying DON’T SUBMIT. What’s up?

I’m saying:

Study the publication, study the guidelines and submit the piece to the publication that it seems to fit.

What are the other avoidable errors?

Don’t send in a sloppy unreadable manuscript littered with misspellings and tainted with grammatical errors.

Here’s where I confide a horrible secret: I’m not the best little pixie in the forest when it comes to checking my spelling. I’ve occasionally sent in a piece with embarrassing errors. I know that all the writer’s advice you read tells you that your manuscript will be burned and you’ll spend eternity in the sub-basement of the New York Public Library if you ever submit a manuscript with even one tiny error. It is not true. I hesitate to admit this but I’ve even sold a piece or two with errors in them. All of that aside, it is best make every effort to submit as error free a product as you can. Do not make the insulting assumption that it is the editor’s job to “fix” it.

The third avoidable error is something I am certain you would never do. I’m just telling you about it so you can shake your head at those poor folks who do.

Do not send harassing or insulting mail or email to an editor.

(I know, I know. But, people do. Really.)

Even helpfully telling the editor why she should respond to your story or change her mind and buy it mightseem a bit off-putting. If you must follow up on a manuscript, a simple inquiry as to whether it has been received (along with a SASE) is all you need do. If an editor has rejected your manuscript, kindly refrain from explaining to her why she’s made a mistake, she’ll realize the error of her ways when you win the Nobel Prize in literature.

It is especially important to use company manners when dealing with any series editors. Chicken Soup has a whole slew of volumes in development and you may want to submit to a forthcoming volume.

Now, go get your favorite Chicken Soup book, some paper and a pen, and a nice cup of coffee before going to the next section because we are going to do a little work.


Lesson 1: Getting Started

Exploring Inner Space

I really believe that the core of a good Chicken Soup story is personal experience that strikes a universal cord. That does not mean that everyone has had (or wants) the same experience. In my piece in Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul ,I discussed how I am often swept away to la la land when I watch commercials or see movies with romantic themes but prefer my husband’s practical assistance to diamonds. In Chicken Soul for the Single Soul, I recalled my grandma’s advice on marriage. In Chicken Soup for the Sister’s Soul, I described how my sister and I, very opposite types, took care of each other after our parents passed away.

I hope that people who prefer diamonds to garden mulch read my piece and were able to smile at the unique things their partner brings to their relationship. I hope that young women who did not have a grandma’s wise counsel will borrow the wisdom of my grandma, Anna Goldberg. And, I hope that sisters who are still fortunate enough to have both of their parents will read about my sister, Donna Jones, and me then take a moment to see that being different from each other can make them closer.

Taking it a bit farther, using the example of my story in the “Sister’s Soul”. Maybe you don’t have a sister, or maybe you and your sister share many traits. But, perhaps you have known someone very different from you and forged a friendship with her. Maybe you can relate to the experience of seeing different styles as complimentary not contradictory, if so a spark from that story might light up your day.

Now, let’s turn to your favorite Chicken Soup book. Choose at least five stories that you really like. Reread them and then answer the questions that follow. Write the answers down — you will use them to write and evaluate your own stories.

  • What feeling did you have at the end of the story?
  • What did the story remind you of?
  • Is there a story in your life that evokes the same feeling?

Now keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers. Let your mind wander. Many times one person’s story leads to another totally unrelated story in the reader. I’ve read stories about walking in the woods that have reminded me of walks on city streets.

Sometimes we deviate from what we are writing to write another thing altogether. I was writing a travel piece on a cathedral years ago. I started thinking about what a lovely place it would be for a wedding. A while later I wrote a love story about two ghosts who haunted the area pushing two lovelorn tourists together. I suspect the story I wrote for Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul may be related to my frustration at being a tad too ill to garden on my own for awhile. I snarled in frustration while trying to write gardening articles and ended up writing about my husband helping me garden.

Put your notes aside and look at the entire book. Skim through it and note whether stories are happy, sad, inspiring, funny, or spiritual. You’ll soon see that while there is a Chicken Soup story a lot of different flavors fit into that pot.

The editor wants the best mixture of stories in each volume. So, if you submit a top quality happy story to a volume where an overwhelming majority of the other great stories are happy you’ll face stiffer competition that the author of an inspirational but slightly sad story in that same mix. So, while I want you to learn as much as you can about writing your story as well as you, there is also an element of luck

Everyday I tell myself that I have to write like it’s a level playing field even though I know that it isn’t. That said Chicken Soup is one of the most level fields around. They publish a lot of first timers and unknowns.

Recognizing that luck plays a part in the process helps me cope with rejection and keep writing. I’m going to ask you to take some time to figure out what can help you. I really believe that every writer has to find some way to cope. I’ve also noticed that some days a rejection slip is just a bit Too Much, and I sometimes let them hover on the edge of my desk for a day or two before opening them.

With the Chicken Soup series you may be years away from an answer when you submit so it creates a good space for learning how to deal with the volatile vagaries of publishing.

Ask yourself what rejection means. If you are a reasonable sort you’ll respond, well, it means that the work is not right for the project. A plus and correct answer. But it never feels so simple, does it? Nope. Not when you have poured your heart out and spent hours trying to fashion the best piece you can.

Here’s what I want you to do with each rejection until it becomes automatic. Look at the piece and review the publications guidelines. Did it fit? Look at the publication — if Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul carried a funny story about a woman shopping for polka dot shoes being abducted by aliens, they won’t want your story about a woman shopping for polka dot shoes being abducted by aliens. Material must fit but cannot replicate something the publication has run recently. Then, review your manuscript and see how you’d change it today. We change and learn all the time. Maybe the piece can improve.

Now, start looking for another market for that rejected piece.

If you find yourself having strong feelings about rejection that make it hard for you to focus on the tasks, take some time and write out what reject feels like to you. Save your notes, they could be the core of a great piece.

And, as we end lesson one, saving your notes is important — save your journal entries, save your random thoughts — most great Chicken Soup stories come from the random souvenirs we save from thoughts and memories.


Lesson 2: Finding Your Story

Here’s where we look at finding the story you want to tell, refining it and focusing it.

Many of the exercises we will do are specific to writing the sort of story that we hope will appeal to Chicken Soup editors, others are useful for any sort of writing.

Catching Ideas for Soup Stories

Ideas are everywhere. But, they are sly sneaky little buggers flittering away when you pull into traffic or answer the phone. Ideas hover like malevolent fairies on the edges of sleep and the alarm clock conquers them sending them scurrying back into the half-world where thoughts slumber silently.

Ideas for Chicken Soup stories are quite common, but like hummingbirds, sunsets, or the first steps of a baby they’re often elusive and difficult to grasp. Before we work on trapping ideas follow the link to the Chicken Soup for the Soul web page and print out the guidelines. While we’re trekking through thoughts to trap Chicken Soup ideas it will help to reread those guidelines every day. Usually I’ll give you a reason for doing a task, but trust me on this one. Until you write a soup story that satisfies your own creative hunger, read those guidelines every day, preferably early in the day. Keep a pen and paper handy so you can jot down ideas that flit across your mind when read the guidelines. It will also help to review the listing of titles in development and those with current calls for submission at least once a week.

The human mind is a miraculous thing. It’s far more complex than any computer. You don’t know what you know. For example, on the current listing of story call outs I saw a call out for Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul. I haven’t ridden in decades. If you’d asked me yesterday to write something about horses I’d have shrugged, made a junior high type face, sighed, and sipped my ever-present coffee. If you had pushed me, I might have been forced to explain that I don’t know anything about horses.

But, I’d just reread the guidelines and was thinking in Chicken Soup terms. Horses. Hmmmm. Horses. What horse memories do I have? Well, when I was an unpopular eighth grader I bonded with Becky because was both liked horses and we rode together. It was the first friendship I had formed out of interest instead of proximately and taught me about the ease of companionship built on shared fun instead of middle school drama. What else? I recall going to a riding stable with my younger sister one day when Mom was especially exasperated with my sullen behavior and overhearing her tell the man at the stable what a good rider I was. I was allowed to ride a difficult to control horse and seem to recall Mom looking at me with pride. Then later, in college I had a creative writing professor who often quoted Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel’s where Gulliver concludes that people exist to serve horses. When I think about this professor it sends me back to college, and trying to write and my memory and imagination are galloping across interesting terrain.

Yeah. I can find a story in those memories.

So can you. Look at the “Story Call Outs” and “Upcoming Books” to see what thoughts dance across your consciousness.

Now, do your homework. Find three ideas that fit at least one of the upcoming Chicken Soul titles. They don’t have to be fully fleshed stories. Simply look for a few things that the title triggers.

Even if you already have a lot of ideas about what you want to write, this exercise is a good one for recalling treasured memories that you may have misplaced. I’m glad I recalled my friend from middle school — she also taught me about ice hockey. We all lose the odd trinket in the jewelry boxes of our minds and reclaiming lost baubles brightens a day.


Lesson 2: Finding Your Story

Exercises for Idea Catching

Okay it’s mental aerobics today and soulful calisthenics as we go into training to pursue ideas and get them into shape.

Some people have lots of ideas. They will read Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul and recall all the wonderful women from piano teachers to bridesmaids that have enriched their lives. Many of us have known special people or been to inspiring places and know that we want to share the insights, feelings, and thoughts from those people and experiences. But, how do you take the fragment of an idea, recalled laughter, the image of your college roommate that coaxed you out of chronic wallflower condition and turn it into a story?

You do a few exercises to get your ideas in shape.

Mental exercise is a bit like physical exercise. Some folks can swim endless laps inside cocooned by the warm water while other women need birdsong plus sunshine to walk outdoors. Exercise is not one size fits all. So, I’m listing a collection of idea shapers. Try each of them a few times and keep doing the ones that work for you.

The reader should wonder ‘What happens next?’

In any story the reader’s curiosity compels her to read on to the end. You can start with a bang if you let her know from the first line that something is indeed going to happen. One of the biggest beginner flaws in all sorts of writing from Chicken Soup efforts to genre fiction is the writer who confuses a vignette with a story. Many vignettes are beautifully written pieces. Often creative writing instructors praise them to the heavens. But, they are not stories. No matter how well wrought, a vignette is not a story. Review the guidelines; Chicken Soup stories have a beginning, middle, and end. In short: something happens. To practice making things happen, do the following exercise.

After I _______________ I ___________.


It looks simple but after a few repetitions it gets a tad difficult. I do it often and it sparks all sorts of stories from Chicken Soup style to speculative fiction.

Let yourself go from the real world to the fantastic. After I spoke to my mother I looked out the window where my daughter dug in the dirt. After I hung up the phone I turned to my husband and told him the tumor was benign. After I finished dinner I bought a plane ticket to Pisa.

Another exercise that I find helpful is to describe a scene that evokes a strong emotion. Maybe I recall the hospital room I was in after I had my son or perhaps I recall a coconut cake Mom baked for my eighth birthday or an air show Dad took me to when I was eleven. After I write at least one paragraph describing the scene I ask myself what happened next. That’s what I want you to do, describe a scene and then ask what’s next. Did the baby cry? Did the candles burn out? Did the planes fly in formation? Write a description of what happened next. Then follow it with a description of the next scene. Many of us recall events through a series of visual memories. Write each scene in your mental movie. Tell your reader what happened next. Do not think of this as writing your story although it may become the core of your story, what you are doing is telling the reader what happens.

A Chicken Soup story makes readers feel.

Think about a time when you really were satisfied by your interaction with others. Are you the class clown? Do you enjoy being the irreverent jester who lightens the load of the gloomy among us? Are you a peaceful soul with fond memories of averting a family argument by bringing in a cake at the right moment? Do you relish the moment when your seven year old ‘fessed up to a cookie snatching secure in the knowledge that Mom really believes honesty is the best policy?

Or, maybe you admire peacemakers but haven’t quite got the skills? Perhaps, you’ve learned that emotional upheaval is not worth the price.

Take a few minutes and reflect on what feelings you want to bring forth in others.

Alternatively, think about events and people who have given you feelings that you never want to forget. Do you often think back to the time Mom and Daddy told you that you were the prettiest girl on earth? Can you shut your eyes and see your children’s drawings covering the refrigerator?

Now, here is the hard part. Choose one feeling and write a description of the mental image it summons. For example, I just thought of ‘love’ and immediately my grandma’s face flashed into my mind. I saw her porcelain parchment skin; her heavy knuckled hands slender where the wedding band stayed for over fifty years, and I heard the lilt in her voice when she said, “Look who’s here.”

A Chicken Soup story is about something that is important to you.

What’s important to you? Initially that seems an easy question, many of us know the big things that are important and can quickly answer: family, children, friends, community and other large life areas that we value. We find ideas in the small things that shape our lives. Family may be important to you but what are the things around you that frame that thought, anchor the memories, and keep family in your heart. I immediately thought of a rather ugly vase I bought with babysitting money over thirty years ago and gave to my parents as a gift. It’s a cheap ugly vase. It only cost eighty-eight cents and I bought it at Woolworth’s. My parents who had rather sophisticated tastes and lots of “nice things” kept that vase in a prominent place in the living room. After they passed away I put the ugly vase on my mantelpiece. It became a treasure to me because they had kept it. The hideous vase their eldest daughter bought with the first money she’d earned on her own.

So take family and look for pictures, for scenes, for fragments of dailyness that form the miracle that is family.

If you do these exercises correctly they should take a lot of time. So I’m going to have a few nice cups of coffee, and suggest you do the same before we move on to the next section.


Lesson 2: Finding Your Story

But, I already know I want to write about . . .

But, I already know what I want to write about!

I want to write about the time my mother took me to the fair and won a bunch of stuffed animals in a ball tossing game and the guy there couldn’t believe a little lady had that much punch on her fastball.

Or maybe I just know I want to write something about summer twilights on Aunt Eleanor’s porch when the fireflies first came out.

Often we have general ideas about what we want to write about and yet have a hard time turning that idea into a story, even if what we want to write about is an event with a beginning, middle, and end.

With a general idea of what you want to write but no a clear concept of how to will translate that theme into a story you can feel stuck. You can stare at paper or the blank computer screen and feel frustrated. But, breaking through that frustration and turning the wisp of an idea into an essay is a process you can learn.

As always, one-size-fits-all is a myth. Try these exercises and see which ones work for you. I’ve found that different approaches work for me at different times with different ideas, so I do all of them at various times to take ideas from the vague wispy stage to paragraph on paper.

The first thing I do when I have a general idea that won’t gallop out of my brain and onto the page or monitor is run away, or more accurately walk. If I have struggled, stared, consumed coffee, and littered the desk with candy wrappers to no avail. I get up, jump ship, and take a walk. It helps to stick a note pad in my pocket. The muse often drops in when she doesn’t feel pressured.

Alternatively sometimes I sentence myself to writer-prison. I decide to stay at my desk, coffee-less and forlorn until I write something down about the idea without regard for quality.

These two contradictory approaches have both been equally successful.

Other ideas require a sterner stalking.

Emotional Anagram

If you’ve ever played word games you are probably familiar with anagrams. An anagram is a phrase or word formed from the letters of another word. For example, Evil can become Live. In to do an emotional anagram I think of the idea I want to write about, for example when I wrote The Right One the piece published in Chicken Soup for the Single Soul, I knew I want to write about my grandma’s views on marriage, I had an image of her room and a recalled conversation. I scrawled “grandma, marriage, advice” at the top of a page and started listing every word that came to mind. Some of the words that came up were: love, warmth, sparkle, fate. I kept going. I found myself recalling her exact words about not “settling” for a lesser love. Once I had scribbled a long list of words the story started taking place.

E-mail Yourself

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to write when you are not writing?

While the act of writing may seem impossible when you are thinking in terms of finished product it is often easy to tell a story or an anecdote to a friend. Forget writing for Chicken Soup or any other publication for a few minutes. Send an e-mail to your own address telling yourself what you want to write about and why. I used this exercise when I was working on my piece for Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul. For it to work effectively you’ve got to spew it out — no one but you is going to read it so ramble on.

In my case, my email to me went something like this: I really want to submit a piece to the romantic soul thing because I am so sick of romance being a pre-fab recipe of one dozen roses dutifully delivered on appropriate occasions. Yeah, I’d like to occasionally get some super-duper present or something but all the stuff that is supposed to be romantic seems to have been co-opted by kids with big credit lines — I mean, what does an expensive meal have to do with romance?

I rambled on for quite some time. Then I hit send and zapped my e-mail off to me. When I read it I found that the reason I wanted to write a piece to submit was that I thought I had something important to say on the subject, in my rambling e-mail I found what it was I wanted to say.

Make a list and check it twice.

If the idea will not quite come together, but I have an idea of a topic, I often list everything I think, feel, or know about the topic. For example, next to my keyboard I have the list that became this lesson. At the top of the page I wrote: what if the person knows (in general) what she wants to write about but can’t quite bring it together? Underneath that I wrote: take a walk — don’t forget to mention notepad, anagram game, and a few other things. Some of the things I scribbled belonged in other lessons; I circled them and made a note to the side. Some of the items repeated parts of other chapters; I drew a line through them.

It’s easier to get organized when you can see what you’ve got to organize.

Now before we go to the next lesson, choose something to write a Chicken Soup story about. Choose something that:

  • can fit the guidelines
  • you care about


Lesson 3: Let’s do it! Writing your Chicken Soup story.

Ready set write!

You know your topic, your message and what emotion you want to evoke. . . Time to get the job done.

Where to start.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is instructed to ‘begin at the beginning’ would that it were that simple!

When a writer finds the perfect opening line for a piece it seems as if the rest of the story flows almost effortlessly from the opening line. Sometimes it really does happen that way, walking down the street, taking a shower, making coffee and the perfect opening line pops into mind like a fast blooming blossom or the answer to a quiz show question.

When that happens it is wonderful.

After you’ve chosen your topic, know your message, and have an idea about what emotion you want to evoke itmight happen to you and then you are well on the way to writing your Chicken Soup submission.

What if it doesn’t?

Then you’ll have to get started anyway, which is not necessarily the worse thing that can happen. I’ve noticed that when the perfect opening eludes me at the beginning of a piece that it is lurking around waiting for me to find it. Your perfect opening might not conveniently come to mind, but you will find it. (Sort of like car keys that refuse to hide in the first place you look but show up eventually.)

The trick is to start writing.

Don’t wait on the right opening. Start scribbling. I know that sounds difficult. But, think of a story as a three dimensional place, like a room you can enter. You can enter the room through a number of doors, you can walk in backwards, you can climb in through the window. Once inside you can look at the room from the ceiling or start at the floor and gradually work your way past the carpet to the legs of the tables and chairs. Just get inside the room.

All roads lead to your story.

Even if you are on your third cup of coffee and the screen is still blank and you’ve rifled through your e-mail to self and your notes and you feel that you’ll never put pen to paper or finger to keyboard you can get started. Here are some paths you can try:

Describe the physical setting of your story: I was sitting at my desk trying to write a story, the desk was littered with candy wrappers. . .

Describe how the story makes you feel: When I think of my Grandma I do not feel loss, every time I recall her wrinkled face I feel, for an instant, the warm glow of love. Not love that is measured in A’s on report cards or clean rooms or chores completed. A different love, a love that asks nothing.

Report on something someone said: “Would you like to borrow my coat?”

Tell the reader something you said: “I don’t like scrambled eggs,” I said. “I never have.”

You aren’t looking for the perfect opening line.

The goal is to just start writing. Don’t worry about whether your beginning is a good or bad one, just start. Once you have a description of a setting, a feeling, or a statement keep writing as much of your story as you can.

Don’t edit yourself while you write.

Chicken Soup stories have an emotional impact on the reader. Some stories in other publications simply convey information, others cause readers to think about things that are uncomfortable —every sort of writing has its own purpose. Chicken Soup stories are different: they uplift, they encourage, they share strength. Don’t kill the feeling. Once you start writing, keep going even if you repeat a point or are not pleased with how you phrase something.

To avoid getting stuck you may want to make parenthetical notes to yourself in this first draft. For example, in my first draft of my story in Chicken Soup for the Sister’s Soul, I have notes about many childhood and teenaged memories with question marks beside them. When I was writing I recalled many things, some of which I used in the final story, others I filed away for later work.

Save every draft and every start.

You may find that you’ve included material that you want to use elsewhere. As we get to the editing process you may find that you need material from earlier drafts.

So, here we are. Now put something on paper before you move to the next section.


Lesson 3: Let’s do it! Writing your Chicken Soup story.

Okay — I’ve started . . . Now what?

At this point we’ll assume that you have something down on paper or screen. You may not use what you have written as the beginning of your finished product but it is the beginning of the process of preparing a submission.

I need to be a little personal here. I really want you to succeed. I have a great daydream of getting e-mails from people who have taken this course telling me that they’ve got stories in forthcoming volumes of the Chicken Soup series.

To Succeed You have to Try.

So, if you don’t have something down on paper get it down before moving to this section. Please.

Now what?

Review the Chicken Soup guidelines. The editors want stories with a beginning, middle, and end. We’re now at the middle phase of the first draft.

Side note: You might have gotten lucky on the beginning and written all the way to the end. If that is the case, then have a look at the middle section and make notes while the rest of us catch up with you.

Looking at the first bit you have on paper, ask what happens next.

1.If you have a description of a physical setting, who enters or leaves the setting? Does someone speak? Who? What do they say? Does a person, animal, or thing leave the setting? How do they leave? Or, maybe someone comes into the setting. Who? What happens?

2.If you started with a bit of conversation, what is said next?

3.If you began by describing a feeling, does the feeling change? How does it change?

4.If your beginning describes a problem, what are some of the things that you consider possible solutions? How do you choose one? For example, if you are writing about being a single mom enrolled in college with a full time job who wants more time with her kid and gets it from taking a non-traditional job, you might begin tell the reader how sad you felt dropping your daughter off at daycare, knowing that a neighbor would pick her up and put her to bed while you went from work to class. You could then discuss considering dropping out of school or moving in with your parents before telling the reader about taking a job delivering singing telegrams to give you a more flexible schedule.

What if nothing happens next?

Not to worry. It simply means that you wrote the last scene first. It isn’t a problem. For example, using the single mother who delivered singing and comedic telegrams as a model. The story may begin with: “I adjusted the frilly apron of my French maid costume and checked the address. Helium birthday balloons bounced around the back seat of my geriatric Ford while my clown costume slumped to the floor.” Here we have the problem already solved and see the unconventional albeit happy outcome.

If you have written an end scene first either write back to the problem. For example, “Dressing like a gorilla on Tuesdays and a French maid on Thursdays is an unusual path for a physics major but . . .”

Side note: when we get to the editing lessons you may find that you want to rearrange the order of your story. But for now, just get that middle down. Or, if you already have ‘gotten the middle down’ make notes to see if there is any information you left out of the middle.

Move to the next section of this lesson once you have a beginning and middle to your story.


Lesson 3: Let’s do it! Writing your Chicken Soup story.

End Game

Ending a piece can be as difficult as starting it.

So, let’s keep in mind what makes a successful Chicken Soup submission. A Chicken Soup story leaves the reader with a feeling. Like a bowl of its namesake it should comfort, satisfy, and heal. So your ending should do one or more of the following things:

1.Provide a chuckle.

2.Answer a question.

3.Present a solution to problems raised in the story.

4.Uplift the reader.

5.Give the reader a sense of the possible. In other words, encourage the reader to believe that overcoming adversity is an option and that people can make a difference.

Before writing your ending review your personal favorite Chicken Soup stories. What does the ending of each of them do for you? Now, what do you want your story to do for a reader?

Using the example of the single mom in school who wanted more time with her child from the last chapter, the writer may want the reader to know that if you look for answers in unlikely places you can find them. Or that sometimes silly ideas aren’t so silly. Or that a motivated person finds answers.

Take a minute here and think about what you want your story to do. Do you want it to provide a chuckle on a bleak day or maybe reach out to someone else going through a difficult divorce?

Once you have that idea firmly fixed, write the ending.

If you’ve already written the ending — check to see what it says.

If you know you want the ending to show a reader that even after a difficult divorce she can love again or that even if her sister is very different she can be close to her, write an ending that shows these things happening.

Saying: “Even after a difficult divorce I learned to love again” doesn’t give a reader insight into how this lesson is learned.

Writing: I grew up wanting a forever marriage, thinking mommies and daddies were an eternally matched set. Watching my almost stepdaughter walking down the aisle ahead of my on my second wedding day taught me that second families are simply another definition of love. In that brief passage we see through the writer’s eyes and maybe our perception changes with hers.

So, at the end of your piece keep describing the feelings and scenes that make the thoughts make sense.

Don’t end with what you know. End with HOW it is that you know what you know.

If you are having trouble finding your Chicken Soup endings try these exercises:

Fill in the blanks:

I knew _____________ when __________.

Because (name of person) was ________ I will always be ________.

After _____ I knew that___________.

Miracles are not always large events, some times they are ________.

Another exercise you can try is to examine how the experience you are writing about changed you by making a before and after list. List everything that you thought was true before you had the experience or met the person that you’ve written about. Then list what you believe now that you have had the experience or know the person. For example, there is a forthcoming Chicken Soup book planned for coaches. Let’s say you thought that playing a sport was fun for kids who excelled and were stars but pretty grim for kids who warmed the bench and made errors. But, maybe you had a coach that taught you the value of team work and what it takes to turn a group of players into a teach. Well, before you knew this coach, you may have believed that your own contribution was unimportant. After you knew him you felt valued. List every before and after you can think of, using the same example, before you had a special coach you may have thought that baseball wasn’t fun, now you think it is fun. Take your after list and turn it into a paragraph.

Children know a lot.

One of the things they know is that stories can start with Once upon a time and finish with and they lived happily ever after.

While your story may not end with happily ever after, look for a conclusion that could be followed with a similar statement — and we laughed whenever we thought about the dress, and we always kept the vase, and I graduated with honors. These statements probably don’t belong in your written piece but if they fit in your head after the last line that’s a good sign that you have summed things up.

Side note: this trick for working on endings only applies to stories that are personal and have a message that uplifts. If you are writing horror fiction or an article about selecting siding, they can sound kind of silly. Remember we’re working on a Chicken Soup submission.

Now, as soon as you have your entire piece written in rough draft form we can move to the next section of this lesson.


Lesson 3: Let’s do it! Writing your Chicken Soup story.

Finished? Not hardly.

Now we are going to take your rough draft to the next level. We’re going to smooth it and tighten it before we polish it. We have a lot of work to do.

Humor me for a minute. I want to remind you again that everything does not work for everyone. The tips and exercises I recommend may not all work for you but I’d like for you to try to view the process as akin to trying on new clothes for an important occasion. Try on each exercise and put the ones that work in your writing wardrobe keeping in mind that something that does not help you with this Chicken Soup submission may be a perfect fit for the next one, or for another piece you are writing.

We’ll start the process by printing out your story if it’s on your computer. Take your draft, whether typed or hand written away from your desk to a different location. A private, no one will hear you location. Start by reading it out loud. You may find that you’ve left out some words, that your brain may have thought, My sister and I went to grandma’s house. But you typed, My sister I went to grandma’s house. Write in any left out words.

While reading aloud you’ll likely find some words or phrases that seem awkward or that you just don’t like the sound of, if a change occurs to you mark that down. If you cannot think of a change circle the phrase so you’ll remember to return to it.

Now go back through your draft and highlight or circle any information that is redundant. For example, if in the first paragraph I tell say, “My sister was nine and I was thirteen when Mom bought us a dog,” and in the next paragraph I say, “I was four years older than my baby sister,” I need to prune out one of those statements. Don’t prune on first reading unless something is glaringly wrong.

Take a deep breath, might be time to take your manuscript out to the backyard with a glass of iced tea. Go through your draft again and look for information that is out of sync. In my mind, I refer to this as oh-by-the-way statements, bits and pieces of information that come later in the narrative than they should. For example, if right now I wrote, you should read the Chicken Soup guidelines that would be an oh-by-the-way of the highest order. That information belongs in a much earlier bit. If you immediately know where the misplaced portion should go, draw an arrow indicating it, if not just circle it.

Now, before we move onto the next section, we have one more set of circles. Circle or correct any spelling or grammatical errors you find. Even though you are far from your completed product it doesn’t hurt to start getting them out of the way.

If you come across anything that needs to be explained further or find that you have left out an essential bit, note that on your draft. Often when I find those things in the description I omitted or the thought I did not express pops into my head — if that happens go ahead and make the correction.

Now, you’ve got a marked up draft and you’re ready to move right to the next section. But, if you are feeling a tad tired after this work, take a break before the next section.


Lesson 3: Let’s do it! Writing your Chicken Soup story.

Kind of, Sort of, Maybe Rules

In Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut tells his readers, Everything I am about to tell you is a lie. I am now lying. In the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Willie enters hobbling on a cane which he then flings off before moving effortlessly. In that spirit I am going to give you some “rules” that I have found useful for writing Chicken Soup stories, along with the warning that you might write a great piece while breaking them.

Put your poor marked up manuscript aside while we go through the rules. Then, pick it back up again and make marks to indicate things you might want to change in view of the rules.

There is always a better beginning than there is to any sentence.

Most sentences that begin with “there is” are improved when you ditch “there is.” For example: There is a tree outside my window where birds nest. Birds nest in the tree outside my window. There is something wonderful about shopping for new clothes. Shopping for new clothes is wonderful.

Of course, Neil Young got way with the line, “There is a town in north Ontario,” as an intro to “Helpless” but he had a fantastic voice and good guitar work to help out “Helpless.”

People speak words.

We do not groan, laugh, chuckle or hiss sentences.

“I can’t believe that dress,” Darla laughed. “I can’t either,” Shelly groaned.

“I can’t believe that dress,” Darla said. She laughed then covered her mouth. “I can’t believe it either,” Shelly said. She shrugged. “I thought it looked better on me.”

Granted the second bit does have a touch more information but watch out for verbs that do the impossible, try to speak and laugh or speak and groan it’s like chewing crackers while whistling.

Adjectives should add meaning.

What is a delicious meal? Some people think it’s escargot others prefer pizza. Who is a beautiful girl? What is a wonderful vacation? Delicious, wonderful, pretty, nice, and many other words do not have an exact meaning. Their meaning is largely subjective and I’d like mushrooms on my pizza please. They are empty words.

Chicken Soup stories are not very long. Making each word count will make the story more powerful. Avoid empty words whenever possible unless you are describing how a character in your stories perceives something. For example: Joan thought her newborn was the most beautiful child ever born. Uses a word without an exact meaning to give you information about how Joan perceives her child. In this usage, beautiful is a good choice. If I want the reader to know how the baby objectively looks, simply saying: The newborn was beautiful, does not tell the reader anything. I write: The newborn was chubby, dark lashes shielded his almond shaped eyes. His coffee colored skin was flawless. Then the reader will have a mental image of the baby.

Use subjective words such as beautiful, pretty, orderly, sweet or funny to describe a character’s perception. Use more exact descriptors such as blonde, tall, muscular, or short to describe objective sights. Subjective can be a matter of opinion. Objective is an observable phenomenon.

Avoid unnecessary adjectives.

Teenagers are all adolescents. Verdant means green. Treasure usually constitutes a fortune. Most girls that might be called beauties are lovely.

The teenaged adolescent went into the verdant greenery in search of a fortune in treasure to lie at the feet of the lovely beauty. Be careful with adjectives that describe qualities that are implied by the noun, they can sound silly.

Don’t sound too writerly.

Chicken soup stories are above all real. If you cannot imagine anyone saying it, it might be best to rethink writing it. Watch out for words that seem to show up on pages and avoid daily communication. Bald pate for bald head is a good example. It’s a phrase that shows up in print but not in speech. She sampled the turkey. At my house we eat turkey, or we may taste it while cooking but the only time we sample it is at the deli counter in the supermarket.

Many of these words work well in novels or longer pieces but in a short piece you can’t have the reader jolted out of the narrative by unaccustomed words. That does not mean you should avoid using uncommon words if they fit your piece it does mean that you should not force it. If some one if is breaking into your house you probably call the police, not law enforcement. You may even call the cops, I doubt that you telephone for a public safety officer.

Pick up your draft again.

You may not want to change a word based on these rules. You may find other words that don’t feel right. Mark anything you want to change and you’ll be ready for the next lesson.


Lesson 4: Getting your story in final form.

Finishing the final draft, polishing, revising and submitting.

Okay, So, I have this marked up manuscript . . .

The first thing you need to do is save a copy of your manuscript as it is now.

Writing is a circular road and many times we write things that don’t belong in the current piece only to find that they work well in later stories. So, save a copy of your work in its rough form.

At this point some folks can merrily traipse through their prose pruning the extraneous branches and buds leaving only the story. I’m not one of them. I use a few different techniques for getting a work into shape.

Keep in mind that a Chicken Soup story is a narrative.

Divide a piece of paper into three sections, beginning, middle, and end. Make short notes about what information or description belongs in each section. For example, if you have written a story about going back to college, it is important for the reader to know early on that you wanted to return to school and complete a degree program. That information belongs in the beginning, not in the last paragraph as oh-by-the-way I had wanted to return to school for five years.

Check to see that information and description are in the correct part of the story.

The all important first sentence.

It may be the best of sentences or the worse of sentences . . . with apologies to Dickens, I could not resist. Your first sentence should be the best of sentences that you can write.

Okay, back on task: your first sentence should immediately make the reader curious about what happens next and in a short piece, like those in Chicken Soup books it should introduce either the character or the character’s world.

For example, my first draft of my piece in Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul began, “ I watch commercials for cruises and jewelry stores.” That doesn’t tell you much about me, does it? Anyone with a TV has does that.

I went on for five sentences about different commercials for perfume or travel.

By the time I read through it I could see a reader wondering (if she even bothered to read at all) what on earth the point of this ramble was. In the third paragraph of the draft I found the point, I’d written, “I am easy prey for advertisers.” That tells the reader a lot about me, that I’m a tad vulnerable, that I want to believe some things even if I suspect they aren’t true – no, I can’t make a million dollars stuffing envelopes, or have perfect skin in two weeks but . . .

So, the real starting point was when I told the reader that, “I am easy prey for advertisers.” Then I used the best descriptions of romantic commercials to explain which sort of ads got me dreaming.

Let’s begin the next draft.

Find your opening sentence.

Move everything in the piece where it belongs. For my “Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul” story, I let the reader know in the beginning that while I don’t have the accoutrements of romance surrounding me, I read tons of romance novels. In the middle, I let the reader know about some things in my life that I value more than romantic dreams.

Putting the piece in order.

Once the information is in place, you should have a complete story. If you don’t have a complete story, imagine talking about the experience to a friend, what would you tell him that you left out?

Or, maybe you have too much story — do you take a sidetrack into an idea about your fourth grade teacher when you are writing about your sister?

Side note: It may be rather difficult for you to say these two paragraphs are the beginning, these eight the middle and so forth — that’s all to the good, a story should flow seamlessly.

So, now you have a complete story and you are ready to move to the next section.


Lesson 4: Getting your story in final form.

About those marks on your manuscript

Time to get rid of all the chicken scratches on your Chicken Soup submission. Excuse me for being perky but this is the part of revision that I find the most fun.

Get out your marked up copy and the draft that has a coherent narrative.

Now, cross check the two versions.

Make a mark on your newest draft where ever you find an uncorrected error, questionable phrase or suspect word in your final draft. If you find a misplaced comma or a different word occurs to you while you are marking, go ahead and make the change now. You will find that a lot of those errors or possible problems were corrected when you whipped your manuscript into story shape in the last section. As you mark this draft you will more than likely get rid of a lot of your problem places.

The marks that remain are the difficult ones — the there be dragons demonizing your lovely story. While they are the hard part it’s also fun to puzzle a piece as though it’s a Rubik’s cube and finally line up the colors. That said, it can be anxiety provoking — when I am down to the last few stray words or awkward phrases I often find my heart rate increasing and my nerves tap dancing against my skin.

Now, get a cup of coffee, walk around the house, go check your answering machine light, water a house plant — DO ANYTHING for a minute or two to give those phrases and words that remain iffy a chance to hop around in your head.

I find that it is important for me to wander around unmolested by interruptions. A random question about the availability of grapefruit juice or whether I want to watch a video can shatter the spell. You might want to take your walk in a part of the house or yard that’s private.

When you are ready return to your submission and go over each mark,make certain each word feels right to you.

For example, in my Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul piece, I played with the first sentence. I wrote: I am a sucker for TV commercials. And, I wrote: I am easy prey for advertisers. I read both of them aloud. Over and over. I am easy prey for advertisers simply felt right.

You might want the reader to know that on a particular day the sky was extraordinarily blue. That can be said countless ways, the way you choose to say it can tell the reader something about the sky and something about the story or the narrator. The more they know the more interesting the story will be. In a short piece, like a Chicken Soup submission, you need to be economical — make each word do as much work as possible towards scene setting, characterization, and story telling.

For example:

The sky was robin’s egg blue.

We don’t know much about either the story or the narrator. This is a fairly common often-used description.

The sky was Petty blue.

If we know about NASCAR we know that the sky is an intense blue and the writer is probably a NASCAR fan, we may even surmise that what follows is a NASCAR themed story.

The sky was that magical shade of blue that slices through winter doldrums on a cold clear day.

We know the time of year, that the weather has been bad and is now clear and there is a slight suggestion that on this day something momentous — the brightness after a storm—may happen.

Get the blues. Look at these descriptions and see what you know out of the blue.

The sky was a soft blue like the shade sported by all the popular girls during the spring of her sophomore year.

The sky was painted-Madonna blue.

The sky was faded denim.

The sky seemed almost artificial, the Technicolor blue of postcards.

The sky held the memory of blue amidst the gathering gray.


Now make every word in your piece count for something. Clear up those grammar glitches and take your draft in hand. We’ve got one or two more tasks before we submit the story.


Lesson 4: Getting your story in final form.

Let it flow . . .

Writing is communication. It can be clear or confusing. You may want the reader to pause and ponder a point, you don’twant him stopping to wonder what you meant.

Read your submission a few times. You may find it helpful to read out loud. Look for natural breaks in the flow. Do they work for you or against you? Is your meaning clear or does an occasional writerly impulse muddy the prose?

For example: Today, long before but yet between darkness and the first fire of dawn I awoke in the achromatic netherland between sleep and shower only to find, as I had before that the night demons still lurked half shadowed in the corners of my mind. I hear her yet again and as before calling to me but whether she was there or in my dreams I did not know nor did I want to know.

The passage has a rhythm but the rhythm pushes the reader along through a series of phrases that overwork the idea. The reader has to think far too much to understand what is happening and might not find it worth the effort.

Making your reader think is not the same as making your reader work.

Many of my favorite novelists and short story writers make me work. I love them for it and will happily forage through a forest of phrases to follow the twists and turns of their plot. But, a Chicken Soup submission has a different job to do; it’s there to help me, to comfort me, to inspire me. In a Chicken Soup submission the reader may stop and think about ideas but he should not have to reach for the dictionary to decipher the vocabulary or return to the first paragraph to see who is speaking.

Helping your reader understand what you mean.

Help your reader by using words that won’t require interpretation. Referring to the passage above. We are all familiar with the colorless quality things have in dim light, we’ve all woken up before dawn when things seem gray. We don’t all use achromatic often.

Help your reader by using those words in interesting ways. For example: The tall man struggled out of the small car, his legs, long legs stretching toward the ground, isn’t as interesting as, “The tall man unfolded his cramped body. The car was too small for him.”

Helping the reader get through the piece. Pacing can help or hurt your submission. What you want is to pace your story so that the reader pauses where you want her to think, speeds up when things are tense, and slows down when things are serene or sad.

Listen to how you speak. When you are excited or angry the words may come out in a rush. When you are contemplative you speak more slowly with more description. Read your piece and decide if you are happy with the way it reads. If not, some quick fixes may help:

To speed up the flow, increase tension, or build drama, try shorter sentences or one-word statements interspersed with short sentences.

For example:

Night. Once again I watch my roommates primp and plan. Joan asked me to go to the movies with her but I couldn’t face a girl’s night out. The slam of the door, the car starting. Alone. On Friday night. Again.

To get the reader to pause and think try midlength sentences with a short fragment or even fragment used as a paragraph between them:

For example:

I left the doctor’s office blinking in the sunlight, something in my eye? Not really. Warm as the day was, I huddled in my sweater and concentrated on walking. Odd how even walking can seem difficult when you’ve had bad news. Right, left, right, left. Car just a bit further on, right, left. Bad news? Bad news is a large light bill, a broken VCR, a passed over promotion.


More than bad news.

To slow down the pace use descriptive passages in complex sentences or the occasional sentence with a subjunctive clause.

For example:

Jilly and May had been best friends since college, since scrambled egg suppers on hot plates and long searches for the perfect sweater had framed days dotted with crushes and textbooks. The problem started, if it was a problem, more likely a misunderstanding, when Jilly got engaged.

As you review your submission to check the pace of the piece you will often find that simply making a long sentence into two shorter ones or compounding shorter ones will take care of any problem you have.

We’re almost ready to finish. Just make any changes needed so that your story will flow like you want it to and then we’re ready for the last bit.


Lesson 4: Getting your story in final form.

The End — and we all lived happily ever after.

I’m really excited and I hope you are too. If you have followed all the steps we’ve taken you have your very own about to be submitted story almost ready to send to the Chicken Soup editors.


It has been a difficult journey in places.

But, despite the difficulty we really are almost at the end.

If you are like me, it has not been all work. I hope that parts of this process have stimulated your imagination and that you’ve enjoyed recalling people and events that have enriched your life. If you haven’t figured me out yet, let me tell you that I think life can often be hard, unpleasant, and discouraging. Which means that when I find something that brightens my day, inspires me, motivates me, gives me a good laugh or reminds me that despite traffic, mosquitoes, and electric bills life can be wonderful I treasure it. I hope that you’ve found many of your own hidden treasures while taking this course.

Just a few more things to take care of . . . .

So, here’s our check list.

Print out a copy of your submission, it is always easier to copyedit from paper.

Do a final read through out loud for grammar and pacing errors. If you have any doubts about proper grammar use the link to check it through the Guide to Grammar Link.

Do a final read through of the Chicken Soup Guidelines to make certain that your piece fits the guidelines.

Go back to your computer and save your piece as RTF or TXT and single space it. If you are going to submit via the on-line submission form at the Chicken Soup web site you’ll find it easier that way.

Go to the “Submit Your Story” portion of the Chicken Soup web site and look through the drop down menu of titles so that you can choose which one you are submitting to, you’ll use the no specific title only if you are really unsure about where your story fits.

Before you submit, prepare a list of key words that fit your story. For example: if you have written about a baseball coach who encouraged you and how your life has been enriched by continuing to be a sports fan beyond retirement age, you might want to use: baseball, retirement, enriched, fan, and self-esteem as some of your key words.

Once you settle on the key words and know which volume you are submitting to, carefully fill out the contact information, copy your story and paste it into the form. Please COPY the submission and paste, do NOT cut and paste. Never send your only copy of a submission anywhere.

Now have a nice cup of coffee and reward yourself for completing the task.

While it will be quite some time before you hear back from the folks at Chicken Soup, you aren’t waiting. Waiting is for people who have nothing else to do with their time. You have plenty to do: find more memories that make great stories, write more stories, and live a life full of people and experiences to add to your stockpile of stories.

Congratulations for making it this far — and good luck!



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