Many writers, myself included, tend to devalue short stories because of their brevity. “Real” writers are supposed to craft novels. Some of the most famous authors of the twentieth century, however, were masters of the short story. Think William Faulkner, Ray Bradbury, Oscar Wilde, Flannery O’Connor, and O. Henry. At only 5 or 10 percent the length of a novel, a short story may seem far less intimidating, if not downright easy, to write. But short stories come with their own set of challenges that can help hone your skills for larger projects.
Former Story Embers Article Writer
Rose Sheffler is a Kentucky native who began her writing career in the seventh grade by hijacking a simple assignment and turning it into an elaborate creative piece. Her teacher reprimanded her for not following the instructions and said, “You should be a writer.” She studied English Literature in college, with a focus on creative writing, and returned to teach seventh grade English at the same private school. Her favorite genres are fantasy, historical fiction, and fairy tales.
This summer she completed a manuscript of new fairy tales and hopes to have them traditionally published. Until then, she homeschools her three kids, feeds her philosopher husband, grades papers, engages daily with her church community, talks to herself, updates her blog, reads too many children’s books, considers the brevity of life in the face of eternity, and takes bookish photographs for Instagram.
A new story is hard to write. And generating ideas to fill it is even harder. When you’re staring at a blank page, Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes might haunt you: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
When was the last time you were bored? During my childhood, those who dared utter the forbidden phrase “I’m bored” were saddled with a chore or two (or three). Boredom is often viewed as idleness, and the solution is to fill that void with productivity. What if I told you that, as a writer, boredom holds an advantage?
Worldbuilding is, at its core, an imaginative divergence from reality that begins with a question. It’s most integral to fantasy, science fiction, and Dungeon Masters, but regardless of the genre (or role-playing game), the void that the characters float in remains colorless and empty until the author wonders, “What if…?” The infinite possibilities and choices can be overwhelming, paralyzing you before you even begin your first draft. How do you keep track of all the pertinent details? Are you wasting time naming the flora and fauna or actually moving your story forward? Before you rush to your favorite search engine and type in “worldbuilding questionnaires” (trust me, hundreds will pop up), you need to remember these three guidelines.
All writers and readers have an opinion on literary tropes—which ones they like, dislike, and think are overdone, as well as those that reserve the author (or consumer) a spot in the third circle of hell. If you’re new to the party, tropes are common literary devices or clichés. They can be phrases, situations, or images, and they’re born from familiar patterns of storytelling that audiences find compelling.
For writers, especially “serious” writers, fanfiction can feel like the elephant in the room. Everyone is aware of it, and many of us have tiptoed into it. Yet, because of the stigma that clings to it, we avoid talking about it. The genre (if it can even be classified as one) has no gatekeepers or editors, and readers often use it to extend stories they love—usually with an odd or disturbing twist. You could fill a library with all of the erotica and overdramatic depictions of the worst tropes (consider yourself warned). Several popular mainstream books-turned-films began as fanfiction, including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen’s delightful novel repackaged with zombies and zombie fighters) and Fifty Shades of Gray (a smutty mutation of Twilight minus the vampires).
Strong women, as they’re portrayed in a lot of fiction and films, have a problem. They act like men (albeit hot men with curvy bodies and perfect hair, teeth, and nails). This bothers me, and it should bother you too, because we’re being fed a lie. Male and female perspectives each possess great worth, and both genders are vital aspects of the human experience. Neglecting one or the other in a story guts the truth’s potency.
Many of us sit down at our desks with a list of criteria we believe we must meet before we can be confident that we’re honoring God with our writing. Our stories need to be thought-provoking, spiritual, and compelling, to name a few expectations I’ve heard or held myself to. The commission to impact others weighs heavily on our hearts because we know that our writing is an outflow of our Christian witness—and we long to capture our Creator’s magnificence in our own small sphere of creativity. But when we ask how our faith should influence and set us apart as writers, the answers vary as widely as all of humanity.
A month ago, I had a shocking revelation about my current work-in-progress: my main character lacked a distinguishable personality and clear motives. I’d spent over a year on the story and written almost 100,000 words. How did I manage to screw up one of the most important parts?
For thousands of years, audiences have been enamored with stories of heroes going on quests to save the world. From Robin Hood to Luke Skywalker to Wonder Woman, the trope’s variations are endless. But recently a new trend has taken over fiction and film. The traditional hero has been replaced with a more relatable “hero” who’s afflicted with as many flaws and vices as he is virtues (sometimes more). Instead of Saint George slaying the dragon, we encounter characters like the Punisher, a tortured man who murders bad guys in the name of justice.