Tag Archives: short fiction

Short Fiction: A Weekly Dedication – Week 2

I just finished reading my short story for the day – Flannery O’Conner’s, “A Good Man is Hard to Find“. I’m surprised I made it through 12 years of grade school, and a combined 8 years of college without ever having read it.  Perhaps if I had remained in a literature program, I would have, but I don’t think it would be completely off topic to have a story like this one examined in a psychology or sociology class so my confusion remains. Just like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, this one sets you up quietly to be dropped on your head with the ending.  That’s as much as I’ll give away for those of you who have not read it.  Those of you who have, I would think, know what I mean.

This week, I also read a fun little O. Henry story. His story was called, “Tobin’s Palm“.  The twist ending, in this case, turned out to be somewhat uplifting.  There are always those endings that are left open to interpretation, whether everything ends “happily ever after”, and when given the choice, I usually choose to believe in the “happily ever after”.  Especially since this week was rough for endings.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth was the Lovecraft this week. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is actually a novella, so it took a little longer than one sitting to finish.  This being one of his later stories, though, he had certainly honed his craft by the time of it’s writing.  The buildup was slow, but just added to the suspense and mystery surrounding the title town.  The narrator plays the cynic unbeliever, so the reader falls right in line with him believing none of this could be true.  It was hard to put this one down.

I was disappointed in Poe this week.  “Loss of Breath” left something to be desired, and required a great suspension of disbelief, so much so that I found it hard to get on board.  The title phenomenon is taken to the most absurd extreme, and it lost a lot in the telling.  The antiquated writing style indicative of the day is something I can usually ignore, or at least grow accustomed to, when reading a good story, but with this one I ended up focusing on it.  Somehow, the flowery language made the whole thing that much more absurd.

I think my favorite this week was Dorothy Parker’s, “Lady With a Lamp“.  At the beginning, we get the idea the two main characters sometimes go quite a while without seeing each other. This time one was shocked to discover the other was terribly ill. The POV was intriguing as this is one of Parker’s “monologue stories” (my own term, as far as I know).  Some of my favorite stories of hers have been told in first person as an extended monologue, usually in the form of thoughts that run through one’s mind in certain situations.  This time, the “monologue” was actually just one side of a conversation about why the speaker’s friend is ill.  And over the course of the conversation, we discover a lot.  Though the ailment is never directly mentioned, it doesn’t take long to figure out what has happened, and considering, I have to wonder if this story created a huge scandal when it was released in 1932.  Five stars.

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Short Fiction: A Weekly Dedication – Week 1

I read this article that said reading short stories is an excellent way for a writer to get examples of narrative structure in quick succession.  As we all know reading is extremely important for writers to hone their craft, but as many of us tend to delve into novel writing, we also tend to read more novels for inspiration and example.  Per the advice in this article and for the reasons given, I decided to start reading short fiction on a (somewhat) daily basis.  Lucky me, I discovered that I was unknowingly surrounded by it!  Here is what I read and gained from my first week:

I began with O. Henry’s “The Plutonian Fire”, which was somewhat of a treatise on the nature of writing – the lengths we writers must go to and the deceptions we sometimes must act for the better of our craft.

I read another O. Henry after that –  “The Princess and the Puma”; the “Princess” in this case being the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Middle America.  This story – being very similar in theme to the Poe I read today, “Spectacles” – demonstrated the folly of the vanity and pride of men. In the case of the O. Henry story, pride of masculine vs feminine roles, and in the case of the Poe pure vanity of appearance.  The end result in both cases is likely to elicit an “Oh-you-silly-man”-style giggle.

Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” – an excellent example of the feminist themes for which this author is so celebrated – is heartbreaking.  And it is an interesting contrast to Dorothy Parker’s piece, “Mr. Durant” which shames the title character indirectly for his callousness.

Finally, H.P. Lovecraft, who I have wanted to read for sometime, and for which I have my cousin and her clever idea for wedding favor to thank.  “The Beast in the Cave” was a great example of the thriller/horror genre that Lovecraft is touted for.  However, I learned a very important lesson about reading short fiction. You see, I have for years, got into the habit of flipping ahead to see how much further I have to go before the end of a chapter of\r at least a natural stopping point.  Now, this is fine when reading a novel (save for the danger of seeing a statement so enticing that you won’t put the book down anyway).  However, this is very dangerous when done with short fiction.  In order to not ruin your own reading, I will use an example to illustrate this danger.  I happen to look at the last line, which for all of it’s twisty surprise-iness is this story’s equivalent to, “He’s Keyser Soze.”

Moral:  Don’t read ahead in short fiction!!

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A Picture And A Thousand Words

They say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  Care to see how many you can get?  Try this exercise:

Go through an old photo album, and look for a picture with people, whether or not you are in the picture doesn’t matter.  If you prefer, find a photography book, or check out an artist’s show, or look some up online.  The important thing is that there be at least one person in the picture.  Once you’ve found a picture right a short “story” or explanation of what is going on in that picture.  Focus on describing the moment captured in film, not what happened before or what may happen after.  Just describe what’s happening in that picture.  But do so in detail.  What is the activity and why is it happening?  What are the relationships among the people pictured?  What do they think of one another?  (If the picture you choose is of a memorable moment in your own life, try to stretch your creativity, and come up with a different story than what actually happened.)  Hopefully, you can find a good story somewhere in there.

 

 

 

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Y – “You”, Another Pronoun

“You”

So, I spent sometime on the pronoun “one”. Now, for “you”. For this, I would like to present a challenge.

When we write, what POV do we usually choose? As a general rule, a writer will pick either first or third person. A first person narrator is almost always an active character in the story, but not necessarily the protagonist. He/she can sometimes be an outside character with information on the story and characters within, but will generally be fairly limited in his/her knowledge. In rare cases, such as The Book Thief (in which the narrator is Death) or The Lovely Bones (in which the narrator is a young girl who has been killed), the narrator may be omniscient, but usually first person operates on a limited amount of knowledge that can be reasonably known by the character who is narrating. A third person narrator has a few options that make it an “easier” POV to work within. There is the subjective narrator who can describe feelings and/or thoughts of one or more characters, or the objective narrator who focuses only on action of the characters. Alongside this element there is the knowledge of the narrator, being either omniscient – an all knowing narrator with knowledge of all times, people, places, and events including characters’ thoughts; or limited – usually focused on one character’s experience and feelings and thoughts. But the second person narrator is extremely rare in fiction, and difficult to pull off well. According to a Wikipedia article on Narrative Modes, a good example of this form is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. (I have not read this, but it is now officially on my list, if for no other reason but that I want to see how he does this.) It is also employed by writers of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were popular in the 80s and which I love and miss. (Every time you read it, you can make it a different story – two, three, four, or more books in one!) As this POV is so rarely used, and very difficult, I wonder how many readers may take advantage of the challenge to write your second person story. The nice thing about reading this type of story is the reader is immediately required to submit as an active participant in the story. If written well, I suspect this type of narration can be highly engaging to readers as they are literally pulled into the story from the beginning. If you choose to take part in this challenge, please share in the comments what you learn from it and your successes with your story. We are interested to hear how your experiment turns out!

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I – Inspiration: Mmmm… Magic!

We never can be sure when it’s going to hit, or what causes it.  Maybe a song you heard on the radio had a lyric that sparked something.  Maybe an international news story gets you wondering what it’s like to live over there, under those conditions.  Maybe a documentary on the History Channel sparks something.  Who knows?

But when the inspiration hits you hard, it’s magical.  You sit down at your computer, or your notebook and you just start letting it flow out of you.  It comes so easily.  You probably don’t even notice that your pen isn’t leaving the page, or your typing is ceaseless.  Your hands and wrists don’t hurt, even though hours are passing by.  You have no idea, because you’re in the zone.  If you were hungry once, it’s passed.  You might be thirsty, but you’re too busy to notice.

In that moment, when the story is coming to us so seamlessly – like you already have it memorized and you’re just transcribing it now –  this is what we all wish and hope for.  I remember reading something about a famous author writing his most famous work – it might have been Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, or Faulkner and The Sound and the Fury; I can’t remember – and he managed to do it in only two weeks.  My MS took six years, and I remember thinking, “What a jerk!  For a masterpiece like that (whichever one it was) to come so easily.  I hate him.”

But just a few weeks ago, for the first time in years, I was hit by one of these waves.  Ten handwritten pages kept me up until 4:30 in the morning, and I had to force myself to go to sleep.  I was so jacked up on my own inspiration; my own creativity, it was like drinking an espresso.  My mind wasn’t turning off.  And suddenly, I understood how Faulkner or Fitzgerald, or anyone else for that matter, could finish upwards of 97,000 words or more in just two weeks.  And there’s a part of me thinking, maybe I could do that.  Hopefully, the wave will keep up.

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F – Flash Fiction: Discovering How To Be Brief

“A novel is just a story that hasn’t yet discovered a way to be brief.” – George Saunders

If there is one thing I’ve learned over my years of writing – in classes, for fun, for “work” – it is that I am quite verbose.  Give me an essay to write in 3 to 5 pages, sure you might get 6, but there will only be one or two sentences on that last page.  As you may have noticed if you’ve looked at my archives, I struggle to keep it brief even here.  I’ve always said of myself, “a novel is easy, short stories – challenging, poetry – daunting, and haiku is right out!”  So when I first learned about flash fiction, I thought, “Now that’s a format that could actually drive me insane”.

For those that are not familiar with the term, flash fiction is a style of short story that tells a complete story  in 1000 words or less.  And it’s not easy.

But, as you may have noticed, I love to challenge myself, so naturally I tried my hand at it.  The initial draft took about… Oh, I’d say 45 minutes to an hour to write.  It was so easy; it just flowed right out of my pen, and on to the paper in about 1500 or so words.  For the next 2 to 3 hours I was editing – not my favorite part of the process – and feeling like I was simply gutting my story.

But in the end, I managed to get it down to 667 words.  (I think that was including a three word title.)  For someone like me, this is a great accomplishment, and still one of my best works. (Now, if only one of these magazine editors or competition judges would agree!)

 

 

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Dr. Seuss Can Do It. Can You?

Anyone out there interested in writing for children?   I’ve always wanted to, but I find I’m not very good at it.  I never have been, even when I was a child.  So, here’s a writing exercise and challenge for all of us.

Write a story – ideally for children, but it doesn’t have to be – between 500 – 600 words, using only the Dolch Word List.  (If you’re like me, the limited word count is challenge enough.)

When I’ve finished the challenge myself, (and if my results are at all decent) I’ll post the story here.

Have fun, and good luck.  I know I’ll need it!

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