The long and the short of it


This week I decided to take a shortcut. Or rather, I decided to stop working on my first novel – temporarily – and enter a short story contest. I was itching to actually finish something. Working on a short story from beginning to end was the perfect opportunity to test what I think I have learnt about writing fiction.

It started as a simple idea, and I didn’t really know where it was going until reaching the end

Thanks to Joe Bunting’s 7 Steps to Write a Short Story, I wrote the basic story in a couple of hours: I was so happy to reach the end. Now Novel’s 10 steps to a great read helped me crystallise my intriguing scenario and determine who (or what) I was writing for. The benefit of writing the story with no preparation was that it just poured out of me. It started as a simple idea, and I didn’t really know where it was going until reaching the end. I wrote it from the heart and was surprised how emotional I felt.

But – typical me – as always I was concerned about the structure. I was curious to understand how it should differ from that of a novel. Philip Brewer’s article on short story structures was a guiding light. I particularly liked his reference to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and how not all of these steps need to be explicit - it can simply be enough to imply them:

  1. The hero is confronted with a challenge,

  2. rejects it,

  3. but then is forced (or allowed) to accept it.

  4. He travels on the road of trials.

  5. gathering powers and allies, and

  6. confronts evil – only to be defeated.

  7. This leads to a dark night of the soul after which

  8. the hero makes a leap of faith that allows him to

  9. confront evil again and be victorious.

  10. Finally, the student becomes the teacher.

The odd thing is – my short story is nothing like a hero’s journey. It is about family life and how the dynamics change as people come and go. But I applied the hero’s journey structure, and it worked beautifully.

It was important to get the dialogue right

Because my story is about family dynamics, it was important to get the dialogue right. The 9 Rules for Writing Dialogue by Novel Writing Help encouraged me to give each of my characters an agenda and speak using their own language.

Thanks also to Marcy Kennedy for her advice on writing good inner dialogue – making sure you:

  • only use inner dialogue for the point of view character, and

  • only share thoughts that advance the plot.

The short story was written, edited and cut several times – with thanks to hubby for reading several versions, and to ProWriting Aid for a final sense-check on editing.

At the end of the writing process, I was both elated and exhausted.

Maybe in a year, or in ten years time I will read my first short story again and scoff at its flaws and immaturity. But right now I’m feeling rather chuffed.

First short story: ✔

First novel: work in progress.

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