In this article, we are going to look at how to create a perfect snippet. We will explore various techniques that will help your mini-masterpiece stand out from the crowd, and increase the likelihood of the admin hitting that shortlist button.
For people who have landed on this page and are wondering what on earth a snippet is, then here is a short explanation (If you're already familiar with snippets then let your eyeballs skip over the next section).
Some stories on this Site are constructed by chaining together sentences/paragraphs that are submitted by our users. These short pieces of text we call 'snippets'. When a chained story is in process, users are asked to submit a short piece of narrative that would best move that story forward. These snippets are uploaded by you to our website, and when the submission period has expired, the site admin will choose the best snippet and it will be added to the story chain. The story is then reopened for snippet submissions.
There are two ways that you collaborate and write stories with others on this site. These are called Mushups and Duos. A Mushup is available to all members of the site to submit to and - when a submission period is over - the site admin will choose the most appropriate one to add to the story chain. A "Duo" is a collaborative story between two people who take it in turns to add to the story chain.
To start off we will look at one of the most important components of a snippet and that is the "hook".
The hook is the last section of the snippet that gives the next user something to work with, something to get their teeth into. It provides the next person with an opportunity to explore a wide range of options that could guide the Mushup in exciting new directions. Let's dive into a couple of examples. The following snippets have two different versions, one with a hook and one without.
Snippet 1. (No Hook):
The cellar was empty apart from an old ancient looking chest of draws that stood in the far corner facing the wall like a sulking child. Joe clenched his torch between his teeth and with two hands gave it a heave. He held his breath as old cobwebs tore free from the wall releasing a cloud of dust. With three tugs he had spun it around. He opened the doors and found inside rows of strange garments. Each item was fashioned in a style of a Victorian child's school outfit, but it was the odd soft gossamer-thin skin type material that made his stomach recoil.
Snippet 1. (With Hook):
The cellar was empty apart from an old ancient looking cabinet that stood in the far corner facing the wall like a sulking child. Joe clenched his torch between his teeth and with two hands gave it a heave. He held his breath as old cobwebs tore free from the wall releasing a cloud of dust. The cellar echoed with the squeal of wood on stone as he swung it around to face him. He ran his fingers over the ornate cast iron handles and taking a deep breath he yanked open the doors. What was revealed to him inside made him gasp and stagger backward. Hanging inside - neatly arranged on hangers - were rows of...
It is clear in the above examples that the second one leaves more options open for the imagination of the next snippet creator. It has left a hook by leaving the snippet open mid-sentence, or mid-crisis. This creates some tension that the next user could have some fun resolving. In the first snippet, it seems like the creator has stolen all the glory by resolving the tension that they have created.
A hook can be also used within the dialogue, for example;
Her claws dug deep into his flesh as she picked him up and tossed him onto the operating table. She leaned over him smiling and pressed her face so close to his that her stubble prickled his cheek. "Do you know what I am going to do to you first?" She whispered. He strained his head sideways trying to avoid gagging on her sewer flavored breath. She threw back her head and laughed "I am going to ..."
Overusing cliches in your writing can make your snippets look stale and unoriginal. For example, writing writing "his face went as white as a sheet". It can show a sign of laziness or lack of imagination. Either one of these attributes can send off signals to your reader that you aren't really committing to your narrative.
One way to avoid using cliches is to use the classic "show don't tell" method. Instead of telling your reader how a character is acting or thinking, just show them instead. For example:
Jasper crouched under his bed scared to death as he watched the large hairy feet pass by.
Jasper felt his bowels evacuate as he watched the hairy feet pass by. He hoped the stench would not give away his hiding place under the bed.
Here we have replaced the cliche "Scared to death" with a descriptive passage that illustrated the fact instead.
Will my snippet be penalised for using cliches? Not necessarily, sometimes cliches are unavoidable but if it's a big fat cliche such as "Her blood turned to ice" then this won't be looked on too favourably because there are so many creative alternatives.
To bring your snippet to life - and to help transport the reader's imagination into your scene - try to think about adding in some good descriptive phrases. These don't have to be long rambling sentences describing every element in the scene, in fact, this can be tedious to the reader and you have a word count to consider. In fact, just one concise/considered piece of information is sometimes all that's needed to paint a whole scene in a reader's mind. Never underestimate the power of the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps, take for example the following.
His teeth were the same sickly yellow as his eyes. Pieces of fish finger and misplaced beans hung in his silver beard like a badly dressed Xmas tree.
From the above description of the gentleman you probably already have a fully formed image of him in your mind's eye. You probably don't need me to describe to you the shoes held together with gaffer tape or the fact that he hasn't changed his knickers for weeks.
Here are some more techniques that you can use when adding descriptive phrases to your snippet.
- 1. Include one or more of the senses (touch, smell, taste, sound, etc) in your descriptive writing. If you are describing a room in a house, maybe think about how that room might smell. It might carry the lingering odour of french polish and cut flowers or it might emit the cloying stench of stale takeaways and unwashed bodies. Not only does this sensory detail bring alive the scene to your reader - but it also provides the reader with extra information, so it's a double whammy. In the example above, just the smell of the room gives us a lot of subtle information to help us envision what the actual occupants of the room may be like.
- 2. The devil can sometimes be in the detail. Zooming in on one small detail can help sharpen the focus in your scene, making the image in your reader's mind more vivid. Show the reader the intricate stitching on the napkin that is being used to gag your victim, or the soft ticking of the heirloom clock as your character creeps through the stately home.
3. When describing your scene you don't have to write long rambling sentences describing every item in detail. This can be tedious to read and also when writing your snippet you have to be efficient with your word count. One good technique is to incorporate your description with the actions of the character - this also adheres to the "show don't tell" rule. For example:
She slammed the oak door with such force that plaster dust and old peeling paint snowed from the ceiling onto the group below, covering the ouija board with fine sediment.
When writing your snippets please try to keep your grammar as tidy as possible. Your submission will not be discarded because it contains grammar errors, but if your snippet contains obvious mistakes that are down to carelessness then the admin may give that snippet less weight.
Any noticeable mistakes will be corrected by the admin before a snippet is added to the Mushup.
Adding an element of surprise to your snippet can be a great way of leading the story into a different and exciting direction. The surprise element could be the introduction of a new piece of information that needs to be acted on by the main character or a new location or object.
Don't be afraid to be weird or wacky, sometimes a crazy twist in the plot can leave a whole world of options open to the next person in the story chain. Of course, not every snippet you write will have a surprise element or twist. You will have to use your own judgment and decide for yourself whether it is a good place in the story chain to introduce one.
A sprinkle of humour in horror can be a great way of relieving the tension and getting the reader to lower their guard, setting us up nicely for the next scare.
Humour should be used sparingly and in the right places, unless of course if we are trying to create a piece of horror-comedy. You will have to judge for yourself whether it is the right time in the story to include humour
Keeping it clean
Excessive graphic violence, sexual scenes and overuse of expletive language will not be regarded as publishable by the admin. The occasional f-bomb is ok if used in the correct place but we have to be careful about the acceptability of the content that we publish on our pages. The guidelines of our advertisers and sponsors have to be taken into consideration.
One trick is to use suggestion and let the reader's imagination fill in the horrific detail. One good example of this is the original film "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre". If you were to speak to somebody after they had watched the film and asked them how gory it was, they would probably say there were blood and guts everywhere, yet there is virtually none in the film. The director used careful editing and sound placement to suggest the horrific, and let the viewer's imagination apply the blood.
We hope we have provided you with some insight into what the admin is looking for when it comes to choosing a snippet. The techniques described above are best used as a reference when you are creating your entry. We do not expect you to use all or any of them in every snippet you write, but applying one in the right time or right place in a story could grab the admin's attention and make it stand out from the crowd.