Writing Course: Elements of Short Story Writing (Part 2)

You might want to read Part 1 first.

Setting

A setting doesn’t need to specify a country, it can be confined to a town, house, room, car, park, tunnel or anywhere else. The setting needs to be there but doesn’t need to take on a role. However, some authors manage to make the setting as alive as their characters.

Setting, if used artistically, can help build your characters and strengthen the plot. Think about it, an untidy bedroom tells the reader a lot about your character.

Structure

An author must make decisions on how to structure a story. Where does the story start? Where does it end? How will the story be told?

Traditional story telling follows this pattern:

  • introduce a situation
  • the situation becomes complicated, there’s a confrontation
  • the complication/confrontation is resolved

 

Time Structure

Traditional stories move chronologically through the story from beginning to end. It is often necessary to remind the reader of facts that have already been revealed, or give them other information to help them understand what is happening. There are ways of arranging your story to help you do this.

Foreshadowing helps build suspense and prepare the reader for things that will happen later in the story. For example, if the loss of a pet is going to become an issue in the story it is better to show the relationship with the pet early in the story rather than when the loss occurs.

Flashback is when the character remembers something from their past that is important to the present. It is recommended that flashbacks be used sparingly in short stories under 3000 words in length.

Sequence of Events is a story told from beginning to end but this is not always affective. However, it’s the best way to ensure the reader does not become confused.

Details and Summary

When we tell stories in real life, we gloss over the uninteresting bits and dramatise the exciting bits. This is story manipulation and it’s something writers do when writing a story.

Pace is essential. Some parts of the story might race along while others are slower and more thoughtful. Pace is controlled by word choice, length of sentences and passage content. Pace helps make the story exciting.

Plot is easily recognised in some stories but quite obscure in others. Genre stories aim to keep the reader entertained, thrilled or terrified. The traditional plot is a series of events involving conflict, which lead to a climax and then a resolution. The best planned plot is built around a well developed character.

Some questions you might ask yourself once you have written the first draft are:

Whose story is it? Whom do you most care about? Why?
Is the character’s goal specific enough for the reader to care?
Are there obstacles stopping the character reaching the goal?
What is at stake? If nothing much then the reader will be bored.
Are the events linked? Is it clear the character is in the grip of fate or is the victim of someone or something?
Is the resolution obvious, predictable or inevitable? If so, have you got to this stage in a fresh way? Does the story encourage the reader to think?
Once you get to the climax, is the story quick to end?
Has every scene contributed to the whole and to the development of the character?

Narrative

Narrative is the section of the story that is not dialogue as well as the whole of the story’s text in terms of elemental construction.

A skilful writer will inject pace into the narrative and will not include unessential details.

Never try to ‘draw the story out’ in the mistaken notion that it creates suspense. It has the opposite effect on the reader who wants the story to ‘move on’. It is also important not to rely too heavily on ‘telling’ a story as the reader will feel important facts are being glossed over and the story becomes shallow.

Elemental Construction refers to the narrative elements within a story that structure it in a particular way. This includes the choice and balanced arrangement of the following:

Location: Why here and not there?
Time: When did or will it happen?
Narrator: Who should tell the story?
Characters: How many, who are they, and how do they interact?
Length: How long should the story be?
Style: What word arrangement will be most effective?
Type of Narrative: Plot or character driven? Present or past tense? Circular or linear in its telling?

Style

Writing is generally about two things — what you write and how you write.

Style is the name given to the manner in which a piece of writing is expressed and the quality of that expression.

Style is a complex topic but here are a few basic styles and their characteristics:

Clear, lucid – simplicity of word and sentence, orderly, coherent.

Strong, virile, vigorous, forceful – exotic or exalted nature, choice of less common words, elaborate sentences.

Graceful, elegant – careful selection of words, mastery of the meanings or words, felicitous expressions, artistic structure of sentences.

Vivacious, animated, racy – concrete and picturesque expressions, spirited flow of sentences, rapid progress in narration, judicious use of dialogue.

The classifications above are not rigid. There are many ways to describe style. For example, simple, curt, crisp, vivid, urbane, lofty, serious, conversational, rambling, strained, illogical, harmonious, consistent, bombastic, quaint, absurd, delicate, light, quirky, ornate, whimsical, sensory.

Poetic concepts are also used by some short story writers. They are devices to enhance style and include things like using words commencing with the same letter, which is called alliteration, or the resemblance of sound between two words, which is called assonance.

A Writer’s Style

Style is your literary fingerprint. It allows you to sound different to other writers. It can, if you manage to develop an individual style, become so well known that readers will not need you to include you name to know something has been written by you.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Course: Elements of Short Story Writing (Part 2)

  1. Yeah, writing style is probably the hardest bit. You can write something “good” but it may have been written a million times. As with jokes, it’s how you tell them not always what you write. Shakespeare copied all his plots but we seem to love him. These posts are a good overview. Thanks 🙂

  2. I find that what I see in my mind doesn’t always appear on the page when I’m writing. Sometimes it can be better, but more often it’s scrambled and I have to go over and over it to make it feel right. I think that’s because it’s three dimensional in the mind and two dimensional on the page, especially when so much is happening. So the best writing style, in my opinion, is one that prompts the mind to see what’s happening … and fill in the blanks. It takes practice, patience and determination.

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