Before I get started with the course notes, I have to say that this unit is proving to be extremely difficult. Today, I spent two hours attempting to answer vocabulary questions that left me feeling … well, ‘stupid’ is the word that comes to mind. My score left little to be desired and an ‘oh dear’ taste in my mouth. Not good. My notes, however, do not reflect this part of the unit. Really, if you’re having difficulty writing short stories you should consider doing a course as it’s not the same as reading someone else’s notes, it’s far better!
Fact to Fiction
Fiction is fact and imagination put together. You’ll be amazed by how many ideas for your stories come from what you’ve experienced and what you observe happening to other people.
There are two types of short fiction – literary and genre. Genre fiction has its own conventions and rules so we’ll look at literary fiction first. When you know the basics, then you can move on to genre fiction.
Ideas come from everywhere, everyone and every situation. Yet still people have trouble coming up with ideas. Perhaps the simplest way to start fiction is to start with an anecdote.
Example: One day, after work, you are running late and have to run to the station, but it’s raining and slippery so you fall over, flat on your face, but get up and just manage to get to the station on time.
An anecdote is straightforward, often uninteresting and nothing much happens. Next you must insert something interesting.
Example: One day, after work, you are running late and have to run to the station, but it’s raining and slippery so you fall over, flat on your face, knocking yourself out for a few seconds but when you stand up again you can’t remember who you are.
Now you have a situation, a problem. Now the character has to make a decision and the reader will wonder what the person will do. Now you have the beginning of a story.
Words are the writer’s only tool. It is essential to learn to use words effectively as you cannot be there to explain what you mean to the reader.
Writers should be avid readers too. It’s also important to refer to a dictionary whenever you encounter a word that is unfamiliar to you.
Stories can vary in length, but often the length will determine where it might be published.
|Length||What it Means|
|500 words||a short, short story or flash fiction|
|1000 words||a length specified by magazines or some competitions|
|2000 – 3000 words||the average length for literary or mainstream markets|
|3000 – 5000 words||a popular length for anthologies, some of the best short stories fall into this category|
|5000+||stories over 5,000 words can be difficult to place|
If you experience problems in your writing then read below as there may be a simple solution.
Starting a story – If you cannot seem to start a story, then start wherever you feel comfortable, even if it means writing the final scene first. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start.
Showing not telling – This comes with experience. You will find scenes that can be better illustrated with dialogue or more descriptive words. Find beta readers to help flush out these pesky areas.
Continuing beyond the first paragraph – If you can’t seem to write beyond the first paragraph/page then you must learn to let go and simply keep writing. Don’t stop to fix errors, including typos, just write and write for a full 15 minutes. You’ll be surprised how much can be written in a short space of time.
Knowing when to let go – Striving to continue on with an idea that isn’t working for you is not recommended. Let it go and move on to the next idea, preferably one you feel passionate about.
Dialogue – If you feel you cannot write convincing dialogue, try writing a short story without it. It will mean you’ve finished a short story. It will also eliminate the problem area. Of course, you will have to master it eventually, so sit and observe groups of people as they talk. Write down their actions, facial expressions and other movements as you listen to their conversation. This will help you integrate all these things into your short stories.