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.
Story Embers Staff 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.
When faced with an empty page, finding the ideal place to begin your story may seem impossible. The task can become such a burden that you might avoid starting altogether. In Story Genius, Lisa Cron summarizes the problem thus: “What, specifically, will happen to start the chain reaction that will cause everything to happen?” She’s describing what is often known as the hook. Because it’s the very first taste of your story, it can be the most difficult to determine.
Have you ever filled out a character questionnaire and wondered how the protagonist’s birthday, favorite color, and hobbies are supposed to enhance your story? Many of the questionnaires you can find online focus on superficial details. But even the ones that probe deeper may fail to flesh out a character’s worldview. Every person has one, whether they acknowledge it or not, and it defines who they are, how they think, and why they live the way they do. Without it, you’ll struggle to shape characters readers can empathize with.
Writers don’t live in a vacuum. We create within the context of the everyday, and happenings in our own homes, as well as the world outside, can affect our rhythm. Sometimes normalcy transforms into a beast that knocks us flat on our backs. When a loved one dies, we face job loss, or a friend hurts us, the creative flow trickles to a stop. Motivation, consistency, and energy evaporate.
When crafting a story, writers spend as much time agonizing over the characters who populate it as they do the events that happen. Without relatable, realistic, and distinguishable characters, readers will feel disconnected, no matter how interesting the setting or plot is.
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.
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.
I’ve noticed a vacuum developing in fiction. Popular novels, particularly fantasy and young adult, tend to exclude child characters. And if children do play a role, they’re caricatures of how small people actually behave.
After you’ve written a paragraph, have you ever stopped to squint at the words, wondering if you’ve chosen the right ones to convey the mood you intended? Did you manage to craft a distinct voice for your viewpoint character, or does the narrative sound too much like you? Are your commas placed correctly?
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.”