Too often, writers get stuck in the mystery and the mystique of writing. They worry about how people will respond to their story. They are afraid that readers will dislike the story and think that the writer is a fool or a terrible writer or something equally hurtful. They freeze up and cannot write.
One of the most freeing events of my writing life was getting my first one-star review. Not everyone has the same affection for small-town gossip. Not everyone accepts that people are not perfect.
When I got that bad review, my first thought was, “Good. Now I know that a bad review will not destroy me.”
I mentioned Nobel winner Alice Munro and thought I’d share this place where I found 19 of her short stories available to read online. She also explains why she wrote short stories.
Back to the short story. Now, I am not saying this is the only or the best way to create a short story. It’s a way that works for me. One of the problems about writing a short story is that all too often we think we can just sit down and pound out a story.
And that is possible. But it sometimes takes us forever to get to that pounding and then we procrastinate and delay and by the time we sit down to write the story has turned into a monster and we rush to finish it.
I’m a big fan of the slow drip method. Stephanie Bennett Vogt uses that phrase in her space clearing mission. It’s not about writing but about everything you do in life.
It’s how I break bad or unhealthy habits. Example: I used to drink pots of coffee and it was doing harm to me. I could not imagine life without that coffee cup in my hand. Coffee with cream morning, noon, and night. It took me almost a year to cut this back to one cup of coffee — black — in the morning.
This 7-day short story adventure is about slowing down and doing one small thing a day for your short story plan. Yesterday you figured out who the character was and the situation she is in. Today you pick one of three action points in the story.
You can have the beginning, the midpoint, or the resolution.
[Pause – I’ll be back in 15 minutes]
I’m back. I chose to write the midpoint. In my story, Agnes does not want to see her daughter married off the to unpleasant and smelly old man, Walter. In this scene, Phillipa talks to her mother about her dreams of the future and it breaks Agnes’ heart hearing her beautiful daughter talk about how she will fall in love with a handsome man. Agnes has to tell her that her stepfather is arranging a wedding to Walter for her.
This is the moment where the action moves out of Agnes’ mind and into the reality of the household. Agnes now has to learn if she has courage to do the right thing for her daughter.
Your mind will try to get in your way and you will think that your story is awful, weak, boring. You will decide to trash this notion and try to come up with a better idea.
Don’t do it.
Write the scene. It can be a hundred words. It can be a page. The important thing is to get it on paper.
As for the writing, I plan to curl up in my chair with my favorite pen (I have several favorite pens) and my clipboard with loose leaf paper and handwrite the midpoint scene.
Tomorrow we’ll look at beginnings. I know, I know. You might be writing your opening paragraph today. It doesn’t matter. After we do the first writing, we need to tighten up the story and sometimes the opening starts too soon.
The important thing is that we have to start sometime, somewhere.
Today is the day you start. This is an adventure. It does not have to be taken seriously. Don’t overthink it. Don’t come up with excuses. Don’t worry about the writing.
Writing a story is like eating an elephant. You do it one bite at a time. This is how I began. I sat in my comfie seat with my writing tools on the footstool. My bullet journal, my sticky notes, my pens, clipboard, and notepad.
Not everyone likes to start with handwriting their stories but I’m thinking and scribbling and I like this way because I can do it anywhere, any time.
My bullet journal is simply a blank book where I write down things I need to do or remember. I put a little checkbox next to it. All I had to do today was write about the short story. (So far.)
The first thing I thought about was the type of short story I would write.
Genre. What genre? Romance, historical, mystery, suspense…? I like historicals, especially medieval. Short stories are a training ground for testing out a genre. What is involved in writing a medieval?
It’s better to start here in a short story than it is to try to write a long book before know the level of research involved.
Right now is not the time to think about the choices too much. This is an adventure in writing.
So I chose medieval. Now what? I need to know who is involved in the story. Who is the character?
In a short story there is one character at the center of the story. Of course there are supporting characters but the story is about this one main person and how he or she deals with life. So I also need the conflict.
What is the character’s problem and how does she handle it? I sketched out some notes. I also figured this might be a short story that will be 5,000 to 7,000 words long. It might be shorter or longer. But I like to have an idea of the length before I begin. While I was making notes on the notepad, I had a cup of coffee and turned on the television for some background noise.
I called the main character “woman” because the important thing is to get the words going. Details can come later.
That was yesterday. I woke up this morning, wondering if I wanted to stick with medieval as the genre. I think it’s part of our brain’s interfering way to try to stall our progress with second guesses. I’m not changing the genre.
I typed up the notes in my LibreOffice program on my Dell laptop. I set the time and place and made a few notes on what I knew and what I needed to know:
1. Check names
2. Describe their house
3. Describe Walter
I don’t need to do this now — I can even do this after the story is done as a draft. Right now, I need to describe Walter because I already can see Agnes, her husband, and Phillipa. I’ve applied a few adjectives to Walter but I can’t “see” him yet.
Decide on a genre. That’s all you need to do for today. You might be surprised at how other elements will pop into your mind.
Welcome to my storytelling site and to the Short Story Adventure.
I have been a prolific ghostwriter if not a prolific novelist or short story teller. I have studied writing and short stories for a very long time. Hint: I got a degree in English in 1970.
This is the prologue to the adventure of writing a short story. I can tell you that when I decided to write a short story the first thing I did was look for the paint-by-numbers guide to creating a short story.
I’ve read about character arcs and “show, don’t tell” and dialogue and — well about everything that is part of the whole writing fiction experience. In this challenge, I want to share with you the process that works for me. For the most part, this is about the mindset you bring to writing the short story. You are telling a story not creating a work of art.
There is no secret but the person you should care about most — the reader — has some expectations that need to be met unless you just want to write for yourself.
What is a short story to you?
To me, a short story captures a changing moment in a person’s life. There is always one story that captures the essence of a person’s nature. There are different forms of short stories.
In this challenge, I’m focusing on genre short stories.
In 2013, Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in literature for her short stories. I’ve been reading her short stories for years and they are amazing.
Meanwhile, if you are a Kindle writer or thinking about writing Kindle books, short stories are considered to be growing in popularity.
Over the next week, I will post daily about how I write a story. Join me if you are interested. Post a comment or send me a private message on the contact form.
I’m not saying that I write award winning short stories but I do write stories and the important thing at this moment is that a short story writer actually writes the story. Thinking about it, talking about it, and planning to write it does not get the job finished. It gets the job started.
[Speaking of getting the job done, I made a video to go with this but the video didn’t turn out too well. So I left the sound in and planted my picture up there. I swallowed a few words but this is new to me so it will take me a couple of days to let the technology sink in.]