We’ve been doing a lot of work on what makes a satisfying short story at the writing group, and here’s an easily digested summary of what we’ve discussed.
A memorable short story will say something about the human condition, encapsulating one idea succinctly, with each scene building towards a crisis point, followed by a point of realisation or moment of clarity. The issue you address at the start of the story should be the issue that is resolved at the end.
A good short story starts in the middle of the action and as close to the climax as possible. At the end of the story, the main character should be in a better place than at the beginning, enabling them to move forward.
This has been a most productive and exciting day. Over 5,000 words. I’ve tried to make them sensible words – and I hope the story hangs together in a pleasing manner. But where did they come from? I’ve no idea – there’s obviously a well of words inside me and I hope it never dries up.
Tom Clancy once posed the question, The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense. There can be no unexplained happenings and certainly no coincidences, because fiction abhors a coincidence, just as nature abhors a vacuum.
Writing, per se, took a bit of a back seat today, hence the poor word count. However, I haven’t been idle.
The most productive part of my writing day is spent staring into space. Agatha Christie said that the best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes and I would have to agree with the sentiment. Lying, sleepless, in bed is another good time, much to the disgruntlement of my long-suffering partner. The intermittent illumination, the scratching of my pencil and the turning of the pages of my notebook to catch my thoughts before they disappear into the ether, never to be recalled, do nothing for my relationship.
I’ve tried waiting until the morning, but I’ve discovered, to my eternal regret, that mostly I remember nothing. Nada. Zilch. Sometimes, if I’m very unlucky I remember that there was something I wanted to remember, but I can’t remember what it was.
Like Man Friday’s footprint, a ghostly impression on an otherwise blank canvas.
Sometimes this challenge feels like an insurmountable task – I’m Sisyphus, condemned to push that damned stone up that damned mountain for all eternity, for ever having it roll back to the bottom before I can reach the top.
Good, natural dialogue is difficult to write. Not done skilfully, it can sound stilted and awkward, as if it’s being spoken by puppets.
I’ve been writing a lot of dialogue today, moving the story along with what’s revealed in conversation, rather than in narrative and description, and I was heartened to find this quote from Elmore Leonard: All the information you need can be given in dialogue.