© 2013 Tracy Crump
One mistake authors make in trying to write for Chicken Soup for the Soul and other anthologies is covering too much ground. Chicken Soup wants short stories, not our whole life stories. But how do we hone in on our tale?
William Zinsser, prolific author and Yale professor of writing, addressed this issue in his book How to Write a Memoir. He said, “Memoir narrows the lens and focuses on one period in the writer’s life that was unusually intense or colorful or influential.”
That’s a Chicken Soup story in a nutshell.
But for Chicken Soup, we must narrow the lens even more to one event, one personality trait, or one aspect of a relationship. As Zinsser said, “Think small.”
That was no problem for me when I submitted to Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul. Each of my five stories (only two were published) centered on one patient, and most involved just one shift. In the same book, another author, Jeri Darby, wrote about the financial, emotional, and physical struggles she faced and conquered in attending nursing school. Though her story covered a longer period of time, she focused on a single event: the experience of becoming a nurse.
In the Father and Son’s Soul, I contributed a story called “Dad’s Shadow.” Though it spanned several years, the story concentrated on the relationship between my husband and our younger son. In Here Comes the Bride, my story highlighted one event, that same son’s wedding, but the heart of the story detailed differences in personalities between my daughter-in-law and me.
Sometimes it’s not as easy to pinpoint a story. My friend April asked me to critique a piece she wrote for the New Mom’s Soul. With the deadline looming that night, I had no time to be diplomatic. I slashed and burned a third of the story that recounted how she met her second husband and pointed out it had nothing to do with the topic of the book.
She made the suggested changes and submitted the story. Chicken Soup accepted it. A year later, she rewrote the section she cut and submitted it to the Love Stories book. It, too, was published.
It’s tempting to offer the whole meal, from soup to nuts, when we write for anthologies. Instead, keep the book’s theme in mind and give them just the tastiest bite.