A short story is a piece of literary work meant to entertain the reader. Be it about the author’s personal experiences or an item of fiction, a story should be written in such a way that the reader can identify with the main character, relate to him, feel for him, hate and love with him. Above all the story must have credibility.
A short story consists of a beginning, a middle and an end and is anywhere between 1 000 to 7 000 words long or 3 to 20 odd typed double-spaced pages.
Before starting you should decide on your plot, theme, setting, mood.
A PLOT is nothing else but a plan which you intend to follow. This can be done by jotting down notes as to various points which add to the development of your story.
THEME. Each story should have a theme or some sort of message you wish to convey to your reader.
The theme of a story is nothing but a sentence around which a plot is built. Such as: Children shouldn’t play with guns. Life wasn’t meant to be easy. Don’t be cruel to animals, crime doesn’t pay. etc.
By continuously asking yourself: Who, when, why, where, what? You will be able to turn your answers into a happening.
The SETTING is the location where it all takes place, e.g. In a room, a street, a town and so on. It goes hand in hand with the mood of a story.
The MOOD is the way in which it is written but not to be confused with your own style or voice. For instance a murder story would have short, punchy sentences to give it the necessary suspense. And obviously wouldn’t take place on a bright sunny day at a children’s picnic.
Whereas a romance story moves at a somewhat more leisurely pace and the setting depicts lengthier descriptions of the soft lawns in the park, the snow white summit of a mountain, the deep blue of the sea, in short you look at the surroundings through rose coloured glasses.
And a children’s story is told in an easy to read reasonably short sentenced style. Children are easily bored and don’t have the patience to struggle through long-winded descriptions. Usually the facts only are being stated rather than leaving things to a child’s, imagination.
CHARACERTISATION. This is the way in which we describe our characters. First his name will give us an idea of his identity. An English lord would never be called Joe Blow for instance nor would we call a gangster Jonathan Hargreaves. An Asian lady would never be known as Betty Broome nor would we call a street girl Mary. We ‘show’ a man’s appearance by the way he wears his tie or hat, by his concern of soiling his polished shoes rather than describe his outfit. Showing things is better than telling as this leaves the reader room for imagination. We also ‘show’ a man’s habits by the way he whistles when he gets into his car or pulls his earlobe during a moment of concentration. We give the reader an idea of his age by letting our character run his fingers through his thick black hair or by ‘seeing’ him wiping the perspiration from his balding forehead. If he walks into a building in suit and tie, carrying a briefcase the reader presumes he is a businessman or company director. But if he enters the same building in overalls and rolled up shirtsleeves he is obviously a cleaner or handyman of some sort. Be true to your character, never let him deviate from his usual attitude unless the nature of a situation strongly compels him to. A born coward for instance would never take on a heavy weight boxer. A born joker could never hold a sombre sermon. A He-man never begs or whispers and a wimp could never appear as a macho male chauvenist. Get under his skin. See the world through his eyes and stay with him throughout the whole story.
The beginning of a story should be the introduction to the character, the situation he is in or the problem he faces, the location and the mood of the story and should be no longer than three pages at the most. The shorter, the better. The opening should be such that the reader becomes immediately intrigued and curious to a point where he just has to read on. If the first sentence for instance says something like: “Trembling all over, Susanne stared at the shadow outside her window….” curiosity is aroused at once. Some stories start close to the end and are being told in flash backs. Similar to a movie that starts with an tremendous explosion or shows the hero in a compromising or dangerous situation.
The middle of a story is the largest area of your ‘canvass’. It serves to develop and expand the story. To introduce dilemmas, action and interaction and hurdles the character has to overcome. Don’t let fate solve his problems. He has to overcome them on his own accord. You also introduce further characters if your plan calls for them or a sub plot.
Each previous sentence should lead to the next. Avoid unnecessary words and verbal diarrhoea. Keep your story compact and. practise economy of words. Keep it exciting with lively dialogue.
A sub or cross plot is designed to throw your reader of track, to divert him from presuming a foregone conclusion. For example: A young couple has returned from their honeymoon. He soon settles down to an everyday routine but his young wife who still has her head in the clouds gets bored with herself and feels miserable. Eventually they have a good heart-to heart, he buys her a bunch of flowers and they live happily ever after. This is an ordinary, straight plot. If however, in her misery, she meets up with an old flame who woos her off her feet and she begins to wonder of she has married the right man…this is a cross plot. She eventually comes to her senses, hubby surprises her with two theatre tickets and they still live happily ever after.
The ending of a story is where all loose threads are tied into one common knot and the final climax takes place. Don’t rush through it as though your at the end of a marathon. End your story at the same pace you have started it.
Avoid using cliches unless one of your characters is the type who would use them. Better still, be original. Instead of saying that ‘Joan vas green with envy at the sight of Louise’s expensive necklace’, try something like ‘nothing would have pleased her better than to see those diamonds turn into glass chips and cut her rival’s fat neck.’
POINTS TO LOOK FOR WHEN WORKSHOPPING (REVIEWING, ASSESSING, CRITICISING…TAKE YOUR PICK):
a) As a writer:
1. Is the opening exciting or should the story start with the second or third paragraph? Perhaps even close to the end with all information given in flashback?
2. Does each sentence help to move the story along? Does it lead to the next sentence?
3. Check sentence structure. Are the sentences too long, too short or do they vary in length as they should?
4. Check economy of words. Are they really all necessary? Is the same word used too close together?
5. Is the continuity all right? Are there any discrepancies? Does the writer repeat himself?
6. Are the characters true to their characteristics? etc. etc.
As a reader:
1. Does the opening grab you? Do you want to read on?
2. Is the story too predictable or do you wonder what the outcome might be?
3. Do you find the story entertaining or does it bore you?
4. Does it have a theme? A message?
5. Do you understand what the writer is trying to say? etc. etc.
To make your suggestions etc, write your remarks with a pencil on the margins or between the lines (if the script is l\ to double spaced as should be for an assessment), underline words you’re not sure about or put a bracket around them. Write things like:
a) Is this necessary?
b) A different word might be better. (Suggest one).
c) Perhaps this sentence could be rearranged.
d) I love this part.
e) Try using fewer adjectives.
f) Excellent description etc. etc.
Finally write a general comment on the bottom with your name.
This exercise will help all concerned with necessary feed-back through opinions offered which might help the writer to refine his talents and improve it if necessary.
REMEMBER: Honesty is very important.