What Drives a Story?

When I first started writing, I wrote short stories.  I love ’em, and sometimes I think it’s harder to write an awesome short story than it is to write a book.  Books take longer, yes, but they also give you more wiggle room.  In short fiction, there’s no room for mess-ups, so I think it’s harder to tell someone how to write a great short story than it is to explain the parts that add up to a good book.

For a book, we know the drill:

  1. A hook that grabs the reader’s attention
  2. A protagonist we can empathize with, who hits a major problem that he has to fix because it deals with an internal problem that he has to fix:)
  3. Tension that cranks up the longer the book goes
  4. Conflict of some type in every scene
  5. Characters, both major and minor, who stay with us, one way or another
  6. Pacing that keeps the story’s momentum moving
  7. A big, dark moment near the end that leads to resolution of some type
  8. A satisfying ending, either happy or not

What do you say about writing a short story?

My early short fiction was all based on ideas, sort of like delivering a punch line.  The shorter the story, the truer it held.  One of the first stories I “sold” (for free copies) was about a house that had been loved and cherished by the people who’d lived in it until the city changed, owners died, and it became a vacant building where kids came to drug up.  The house suffered until it called for its dead owner to return and save it from having to witness any more.    (It’s better if you can’t read the words.  I wrote this a LONG time ago, and I cringe when I read it now).

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The story hinged on an idea.  I think most short stories do. With a few more pages, we can become attached to a character, but even then, if the story’s short, we only watch one slice out of that person’s life.  But what a punch that one slice can deliver!  The more pages you add, the more elements you can add to the whole.

For friends who’ve told me that they can’t write short, it might be because they’re trying to use the same elements to write a short story as they do to write a book.  Yes, we still use a hook and strong verbs and specific words instead of general ones.  We still vary sentence length, so the tools are the same, but the technique’s different.  A short story has a tight focus.  Every part of the story is used to deliver on that one idea or slice of life.

And if you’d like ideas on how to write short from a pro, here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s advice: http://www.openculture.com/2015/04/kurt-vonneguts-8-tips-on-how-to-write-a-good-short-story.html

For extra good measure, here’s advice from one of my favorite short story writers, Nancy Pickard:  http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2011/05/warren-and-nancy-pickard- discuss-short.html

 

My author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

My webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

On twitter:  @judypost

 

 

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