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Short Story Writing
Transcript of Short Story Writing
Ms. Janinn M. Almeyda
De La Salle University
What is a short story?
A short story is a form of fiction that ranges from 2000 to 6000 words, showcasing the author's ability to develop character, interrelationships between characters, setting, and plot.
1. Setting details woven into the text
2. Development of at least one character through the character's words, thoughts, actions, and through the words of other characters and/or the writer
3. A problem/conflict which is developed as the story (plot) progresses
4. A resolution to that problem (climax)
5. A conclusion
6. Snapshots (readers visualize)
8. Dialogue (optional)
What makes up a short story?
1. Getting Started
What does your protagonist want?
(Think of something more interesting that: the athlete who wants her team to win the big game and the car crash victim who wants to survive.)
When the story begins, what morally significant actions has your protagonist taken towards that goal?
(“Morally significant” doesn’t mean conventionally “good”; rather, your protagonist should already have made a conscious choice that drives the rest of the story.)
What unexpected consequences — directly related to the protagonist’s goal-oriented actions — ramp up the emotional energy of the story?
(Will the unexpected consequences force your protagonist to make yet another choice, leading to still more consequences?)
What details from the setting, dialog, and tone help you tell the story?
(Things to cut: travel scenes, character A telling character B about something we just saw happening to character A, and phrases like “said happily” — it’s much better to say “bubbled” or “smirked.”)
What morally significant choice does your protagonist make at the climax of the story?
(Your reader should care about the protagonist’s decision. Ideally, the reader shouldn’t see it coming.)
2. Writing the First Paragraph
Begin with tension and immediacy.
I heard my neighbor through the wall.
The neighbor behind us practiced scream therapy in his shower almost every day.
3. Developing Characters
In order to develop a living, breathing, multi-faceted character, it is important to know way more about the character than you will ever use in the story. Here is a partial list of character details to help you get started.
Imagining all these details will help you get to know your character, but your reader probably won’t need to know much more than the most important things in four areas:
Appearance. Gives your reader a visual understanding of the character.
Action. Show the reader what kind of person your character is, by describing actions rather than simply listing adjectives.
Speech. Develop the character as a person — don’t merely have your character announce important plot details.
Thought. Bring the reader into your character’s mind, to show them your character’s unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.
A teenager in our day, she sprawls on a bed and studies a photo on her cell phone: a good-looking boy with coffee-colored hair. Tonight she will see him. Tonight at eight-thirty. She recites it excitedly--Eight-thirty, eight-thirty!--and she wonders what to wear. The black jeans? The sleeveless top? No. She hates her arms. Not the sleeveless. "I need more time," she says. (excerpt from The Time Keeper)
4. Choosing a Point of View
As a writer, you need to determine who is going to tell the story and how much information is available for the narrator to reveal in the short story.
Yes I saw a tear roll down his cheek. I had never seen my father cry before. I looked away while he brushed the offending cheek with his hand.
You laughed loudly at the antics of the clown. You clapped your hands with joy.
Third Person. The third-person narrator’s perspective can be limited (telling the story from one character’s viewpoint) or omniscient (where the narrator knows everything about all of the characters).
He ran to the big yellow loader sitting on the other side of the gravel pit shack.
5. Writing Dialogues
Dialogue is what your characters say to each other (or to themselves).
Each speaker gets his/her own paragraph, and the paragraph includes whatever you wish to say about what the character is doing when speaking.
“Where are you going?” John asked nervously.
“To the racetrack,” Mary said, trying to figure out whether John was too upset to let her get away with it this time.
“Not again,” said John, wondering how they would make that month’s rent. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
A. John sat up. “Wh– where are you going?”
B. “Where are you going?” John stammered, staring at his shoes.
C. Deep breath. Now or never. “Where are you going?”
D. John sat up and took a deep breath, knowing that his confrontation with Mary had to come now, or it would never come at all. “Wh– where are you going?” he stammered nervously, staring at his shoes.
6. Using the Setting
Setting includes the time, location, and atmosphere where the plot takes place.
Include enough detail to let your readers picture the scene but only details that actually add something to the story. (For example, do not describe Mary locking the front door, walking across the yard, opening the garage door, putting air in her bicycle tires, getting on her bicycle–none of these details matter except that she rode out of the driveway without looking down the street.)
Use two or more senses in your descriptions of setting.
Rather than feed your readers information about the weather, population statistics, or how far it is to the grocery store, substitute descriptive details so your reader can experience the location the way your characters do.
I sat nervously as paper hearts fluttered over the glittered gymnasium floor. Then, he took my hand and led me to the dance floor. His embrace caused my own heart to flutter and dance with the streamers above.
7. Setting up the Plot
A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. -Jane Burroway
Explosion or “Hook.”
8. Creating Conflict and Tension
Conflict is the fundamental element of fiction, fundamental because in literature only trouble is interesting. It takes trouble to turn the great themes of life into a story.... -Janet Burroway
Conflict produces tension that makes the story begin. Tension is created by opposition between the character or characters and internal or external forces or conditions. By balancing the opposing forces of the conflict, you keep readers glued to the pages wondering how the story will end.
Possible Conflicts Include:
The protagonist against another individual
The protagonist against nature (or technology)
The protagonist against society
The protagonist against God
The protagonist against himself or herself.
9. Building the Climax
This is the turning point of the story–the most exciting or dramatic moment. In
A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the climax revolves around Sara’s returning Mr. Carrisford’s monkey and subsequently revealing herself to be the long sought-after daughter of Carrisford’s dead business partner.
In some stories, the climax will involve a drawn-out physical battle. In others, the climax can be nothing more than a simple admission that changes everything for the protagonist. Almost always, it is a moment of revelation for the main character. Depending on the needs of the story, the protagonist will come to a life-changing epiphany directly before, during, or directly after the climax. He will then act definitively upon that revelation, capping the change in his character arc and ending the primary conflict, either physically or spiritually.
10. Finding a Resolution
The solution to the conflict. The art of a short story is to show the reader something unforgettable—so make the ending of your story unforgettable. In short fiction, it is difficult to provide a complete resolution and you often need to just show that characters are beginning to change in some way or starting to see things differently.
Some ways to end a story:
Open. Readers determine the meaning.
Karen’s eyes looked up the sky while the child was struggling to own the little space across the front of the mother's chest.
Resolved. Clear-cut outcome.
While John watched in despair, Helen loaded up the car with her belongings and drove away.
Parallel to Beginning. Similar to beginning situation or image.
They were driving their Honda Civic down the highway while the wind blew through their hair.
Her father drove up in a new Honda Civic, a replacement for the one that burned up.
Monologue. Character comments.
I wonder how life is without experiencing the only love that never fails. Or shall I ever want to wonder and ponder? No. Not anymore. Not again.
Dialogue. Characters converse.
Literal Image. Setting or aspect of setting resolves the plot.
The house was empty now and the sun was shining once more.
Symbolic Image. Details represent a meaning beyond the literal one.
Looking up at the sky, I saw a cloud cross the shimmering blue sky above us as we stood in the morning heat of the city.
It's time to WEAVE your NARRATIVE!
TASK: Borrow your favorite TV, movie, comic, or any interesting character/personality you know well and put him/her in one of the situations depicted below.
Step I: Planning
1. Which two characters (one
-from the make-believe world or from the past AND the other from reality) will meet each other in your story?
2. What are some of their main physical and personality characteristics?
3. How and where will these characters meet?
4. What conflict will they have with each other, or what force will they join together
5. What major conflict will you include in your story?
6. How will you resolve this conflict?
Step II: Writing
Now that you have gathered your plot elements, begin writing your short story, deciding first how you will set the scene. Be sure to use descriptive images to entertain your reader.
Links to References and Additional Readings:
Keep writing and improving. :)