Friday, July 11, 2008

Short Stories

What I'm writing: Chapter 7, short story writing notes

Although I've published half a dozen short stories, I've never felt totally in control of the process. Having to sit down and figure out "how to write a short story" makes me wonder why I volunteered to be part of the panel in the first place. But it's been interesting looking at things in hindsight. I've got my handouts printed and ready to go. I'm almost done with my speaker notes which should help keep me on track. But, as far as how I write a short story--I have to quote one of my writer buddies who's always saying, "It's organic. You just know."

Kurt Vonnegut had some interesting things to say about short stories in his collection, Bagombo Snuff Box. And who am I to argue with a master?

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.


SLING WORDS aka Joan Reeves said...

When I think of short story, I always think of the old adage: A failed poet is a short story writer; a failed short story writer is a novelist. Don't ask me who said that. It's filed away somewhere in my brain's data bank but I ran out of RAM a long time ago so the source is non-retrievable. Good luck with your presentation.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks for stopping by, Joan. William Faulkner said (I had to dig up some quotes so I'd have something to put on a handout) "I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries a short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing."

Kathleen said...

I agree with the first two comments. When writing a novel, you can move in and hang around for a while and get acquainted with the characters. In a short story, you have to let them pour out their hearts to you while standing at a bus stop, so to speak.

Terry Odell said...

Welcome, Kathleen -
And the bus better be half a block away when your story opens!

Dara Edmondson said...

I'm getting more into the short story mindset. As soon as the WIP is done, I'm delving into one I started one night when I couldn't sleep. Good advice from Mr. Vonnegut.

Deborah Shlian said...

My father used to say "I'm writing a long letter because I don't have time to write a short one." Don't know if that's original but it makes the same point. Being able to convey complexity of character and plot in a relatively few pages is high art. I am in awe of masters like O Henry. Lahiri is another gifted short-story writer- in fact I prefer her short stories to her novels. Me- I guess I am one of those failed short story writers!