Short stories are a powerful medium. In just a few thousand words, they send us on meaningful emotional journeys that linger with us for the rest of our lives. “The Gift of the Magi” illuminates the tender beauty of selflessness, and “The Tell-Tale Heart” exposes us to the torture of a guilty conscience. As much as I love the drawn-out impact of a novel, the quick punch of a short story has an appeal all its own.
Story Embers Staff Writer
Martin Detwiler is mostly normal. For a writer. He is, like most of us, a mess of paradoxes. Dreamer & cynic, philosopher & clown, hopeless romantic & grim realist—if there’s a contradiction, you’ll find it in him somewhere or another. But at the heart of it all, Martin is a man made new by Christ, the Author of that cosmic tale we call history. He has had a passion for stories from his earliest teen years, and the transition from reading others’ stories to writing his own seemed a foregone conclusion. His greatest inspirations are C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both of whom stirred a passion for stories that combine the aesthetic and the true in such a way that the reader is given an experiential glimpse of God’s reality.
Martin lives in Ohio, and his hopes and dreams are nestled in the stars.
Cliffhangers are intrinsic to sensational writing, hurtling readers into the next chapter. Whether a hero dives into a colossal waterfall to save his lady love, or a sidekick literally dangles from a precipice, these scenes all follow the same strategy: raise the tension to a feverish pitch, then switch story lines.
When you write, you don’t aim to recreate reality. Instead, you excitedly create a secondary world. Although a few aspects resemble reality to make the story understandable, other aspects are intentionally unrealistic to make a point. If this describes your work-in-progress, you know I’m talking about speculative fiction.
A plot may stimulate readers’ minds, but even the most unforeseen twists won’t linger in their memory unless the events are deeply rooted in the characters’ lives. Strong character development engages readers’ emotions, giving them someone to invest in and identify with. It’s a crucial component of fiction, but the execution looks starkly different in a plot-driven story than in a character-driven one. By comparing the two styles, writers can learn how to capitalize on the one that best serves their work-in-progress.
One of the biggest challenges we face as writers is the process of translating our ideas into chunks of text that seem much more bland than the characters, settings, and themes did in our imaginations. Once we’ve filled the page, our next hurdle is to make our words both understandable and inviting to readers.
When you claim to speak truth, opening your mouth is dangerous. Words are not idle collections of syllables in a conversation or symbols on paper. The pen is mightier than the sword, causing both greater good and greater harm. Wars, racial slavery, and genocide are all carried out by the sword, but words provoked or justified those actions.
When you sit at your desk and take up your pen, you’re centered on the act of being a storyteller. You bring to bear all the skill and experience you’ve accumulated. But what about the moments when you aren’t shaping settings and characters? What mindset fills your head?
For better or for worse, villains are fascinating. The best ones challenge the protagonist’s worldview and ethics, pushing him closer to pivotal decisions than the smoke and mirrors of plot.
Have you ever come across a saying that jumped inside your mind, made itself at home, and informed your thinking from that day forward? This happened to me several years ago when I read a quote by Neil Gaiman that rephrased G. K. Chesterton’s words from decades earlier. It helped me understand the unique strengths of the fantasy genre.
As writers, we love exploring the internal struggles that shape our characters. During formative moments, emotional turmoil may need to take center stage, as with Thomas in Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes. Usually this scene happens near the story’s middle, when everything—including the protagonist—seems to be falling apart. Turning points deserve emphasis; otherwise the deep change in the character’s arc will seem artificial or glossed over.