The example I gave, Shakedown by Elizabeth Gonzalez, had a fairly traditional narrative structure. While it wasn’t clear how the two storylines would interact, at first, it was an easy-to-read story.
Yesterday I reviewed Shakedown by Elizabeth Gonzalez, a story that doesn’t seem to be able to make its mind up whether it wants to be about the renovation of an old steam train, or about a fiesty old man in a Pennsylvania mountain town. It’s a wonderful example of a quiet climax: no car chases or bullets flying, but a satisfying story climax nonetheless. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Sleight of Hand”
I picked this book up because a, it was written by a Pennsylvania writer and b, because of the glowing review written for it by Karen Russell and short story writer and novelist whose writing I love (literary but not stuffy).
(Incidentally, this is a great way to discover new writers: Continue reading “[Reading Room] Shakedown by Elizabeth Gonzalez”
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Let’s be honest: fame and fortune would be nice, but it’s not really the reason we write, is it?
We write because we need to. It should be enough but sometimes we want more. This post will lead you through three ways to get yourself closer to your image of ‘writing success’. Continue reading “Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing”
In James Blish’s Surface Tension (which I reviewed recently), the author took the idea of space travel and did something a bit different with it: instead of humans arriving on a new planet and terraforming it to suit themselves, they genetically-engineer versions of humanity that would thrive on the planet.
Now that’s what I call ‘subverting reader expectations’. But it’s still a satisfying story that sticks to the rules of an off-planet adventure story (lots of ‘wonder’ and new environments, inter-personal conflict, conflict with the environment, bad guys, a struggle to unite the ‘good’ forces and to survive. Even a little romance.)
Write a story that subverts reader expectations but still works in genre Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Turn A Trope Upside Down”
Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)
Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing. Continue reading “SWAGr – Accountability for Feb 2017”
Surface Tension is a science fiction story originally published in 1952 and so qualifies as being either from (or near) the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of science fiction. (I found it in The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer.)
Fear not, this is not all heros saving damsels in distress and wearing silly outfits in space. It is very different from anything I’d ever read from that era, and from most sci-fi that I’ve read from later eras. Continue reading “[Reading Room] Surface Tension by James Blish”
I’ve always been impressed with how much fiction StoryADay friend and participant Alexis A. Hunter pushes out into the world: over 50 short stories in publications like Apex, Shimmer and Cricket.
In 2017, she has committed to writing a new short story every month.
That sounded like my kind of challenge, so I asked her more about it. Continue reading “Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter”
This time next year, you could be staring at a list of achievements that are directly related to the goals that matter to you…
The Allure of the Fresh Start
I love the idea of a fresh start, don’t you?
It doesn’t matter when it happens (New Year, the first day of spring, the start of a new academic year), I’m always ready with my list of “this time it’ll be different” resolutions.
- This time I’ll get my assignments done ahead of time!
- This time I’ll write every day, even if I don’t feel inspired!
- This time I’ll floss three times a day!
And What Happens Next?
You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?
I’m excited to follow through on my plans for about three days.
Then I start to force myself to stick to the new regime.
Then I start to miss a day here or there…
…and suddenly it’s June and I’m flipping through my journal and I find that massive, guilt-inducing list of Things I’m Going To Do Differently This Year, and my shoulders slump, and I spend the next three weeks in a slump, wondering why I can’t get anything done.
I’m steeped in (as well as 6th Grade homework) Lisa Cron’s fabulous latest book Story Genius, in which she makes the compelling point that you cannot begin to tell your character’s story until you know about their past.
It’s a delightfully obvious (and surprisingly overlooked) observation that ought to be front and center in every writing class. So here we go.
Interview a character from one of your stories. Find out as much as you can about their past and what formed the character they possess on Page One of their story. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character”
Here are the stories I’m going to read this month.
Feel free to read along, or make your own list (post some suggestions or links to your list in the comments, maybe?)
I’ll post some reviews, if I like any of them, and report back on my progress in Jan’s SWAGr post.
DECEMBER READING LIST Continue reading “My December Short Story Reading List”
Steal the first line of your favorite book and write a totally different story
- Don’t agonize about your ‘favorite’ book. Just go to the shelf and pick one.
- Type out the first line and then think of ways you can take that introduction in completely different directions.
- Read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronaut of Mars, for an example of how you might do this. Or listen to the audio collection it comes from.
- Consider writing a tiny, flash-fiction story that you can start and finish today.
- If you’re brave enough, post your story in the comments.
This week’s writing prompt is completely stolen from the first story in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories (edited by Junot Diaz)
In the story, a man visits his elderly parents. A chance remark reminds him of an incident in his childhood where he was clearly in the wrong, and someone else suffered.
Without being heavy handed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie allows her character to reminisce, taking us through a bright moment in a child’s life, before showing the act the man would later regret. There is very little commentary, just lush scene-painting and evocation.
Write a story inspired by one of your regrets
- Write this story using a nugget from your own past: an act or words of which you were later ashamed.
- Alternatively, combine a story you heard from someone else with the emotions you felt when you did something wrong.
- Don’t use this as a vehicle to feel sorry for yourself, now. Rather, use your experiences to conjure up for the reader the feelings, the physical experience of your shame.
- Don’t write this autobiographically (unless you really love memoir). Give your feelings to another character.
- Consider giving the feelings of shame to a character who is very unlike you, and see how they would react to facing the consequences of their own actions.
- Try to not consciously teach the reader a lesson. Instead, explore the experience and let them draw their own conclusions.
- Try to evoke the experience of doing something you know to be wrong, getting caught, or getting away with it but regretting it anyway, in ways that a reader might recognize from their own experience (that’s why I suggest focusing on the physical reactions).
- If the point of storytelling is to connect with other readers, sometimes its our worst experiences that give us the vivid emotional memories that allow us create a vivid story.
This story opens the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Junot Diaz.
It begins with a man visiting his parents, where a chance comment sparks a memory from his childhood. It’s clear, as the story goes on, that the man regrets his action as a child, but the author manages to convey this without ever being as heavy-handed as to say so.
The Opening Line
The story opens with a line that tells us a lot and paints a vivid scene in delicate brush strokes.
Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small over furnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon.
Think about how much we know:
- The son visits, but is only acting ‘like a dutiful son’. He doesn’t want to be there, but he goes, by rote, because that is what one must do.
- “Enugu” tells us that where this story is taking place. Even if we don’t know where Enugu is (do you?) it tells us where it is NOT taking place.
- “Small, over furnished flat” suggests that the parents have downsized after a retirement or other change of circumstances
- “That grew dark in the afternoon” – the son is not happy with this place. It suggests to me that the parents once had a larger, lighter, more expansive home. The son feels claustrophobic in this new flat – how much of that is real and how much psychological, we can’t know yet, but it certainly introduces the concept straight away.
The second sentence begins
Retirement had changed them…
For me, as a reader, this pulls me in straight away. I know this is not going to be wholly a naval-gazing story about a middle aged man. It’s inviting me to ask questions: how has it changed them? How has/will retirement change me/my parents?
And the changes that the son chooses to focus on are interesting: his parents are more credulous than they used to be. Several times he insists “my parents would have scoffed at these stories”. It’s not clear where the story’s going, but the ‘first act’ of the story ends when a lurid story relayed by his parents bring up a former acquaintance — a servant or ‘house boy’ — from his childhood, who has got into trouble as an adult.
“…the ringleader was Raphael? He was our houseboy years ago, I don’t think you’ll remember him.”
I stared at my mother. “Raphael?”
“It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.”
My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory.
My mother said again, “You probably won’t remember him. There were so many of those houseboys. You were young.”
But I remembered. Of course I remembered Raphael.
And we’re off. Of COURSE we’re going to keep reading, because once again the writer has invited us to ask questions. Why does he remember Raphael? What went down between them? And what does it have to do with his later rabble-rousing?
The rest of the story recounts the narrator’s life as a twelve year old boy, the son of older, intellectual parents who could afford to have servants help raise him and tend the house.
But Aidiche doesn’t really tell the story. She paints it. We live through the boy’s obsession with Kung Fu; we feel the sanded down wood of the nunchucks Raphael makes for him out of old mop handles; we see a still-life of the ‘patient’s altar’ his parents make by his bed when he is sick (“orange Lucozade, a blue tin of glucose, and freshly peeled oranges on a plastic tray”)
And when the story ends, we know that the seeds of the man’s later regret are planted in the moment the twelve year olds. The author doesn’t have to beat us over the head with it.
This story is a wonderful example of how to infuse a moral message into a story without making it read like a fable. It also illustrates how to introduce readers to a different culture, without great sections of exposition, but rather through select details and dialect/language choices.
It’s Write On Wednesday Day! (That’s really clumsy. I’m going to have to never do that again!)
The Nov/Dec/Jan holiday season is fast approaching. I know you don’t want to think about it, but if you’re interested in putting out a short story for the holidays, this is actually kind of last minute.
Publications have long lead times for date-specific stories, so if your holiday stories aren’t already written, now’s the time. Magazines and online pubs LOVE themed stories (Christmas stories; New Year issues; Thanksgiving horror stories!).
Or perhaps you’d like to create a story for friends and family to say thanks for all their support (or: na-na-na-na-na-na-you-see-I-wasnt-lying-around-watching-daytime-TV-all-year).
Write a story tied to a Nov/Dec/Jan holiday
- You can use this to flesh out characters from a longer work in progress.
- You can include characters from your real life.
- You can use this as a calling card/thank you note/Christmas letter if you send holiday greetings cards
- Mine your own memories, but don’t feel you have to write memoir. Take an incident from one of your family holidays and recast it on a steampunk airship or a city made of living bone towers or at the Tudor court.
- Don’t feel it has to be a narrative story. One of the delights of the short story form is that it can be much more than that. Consider writing a list of holiday gifts your character has to buy, complete with passive-aggressive commentary; or a series of increasingly frantic tweets from the Thanksgiving dinner table…
- Create a compelling character and set them in a ridiculous situation, or a ridiculous character and put them in a banal situation.
Have fun with this. Amuse yourself. Remember, nobody ever has to see this story, so you can be as cruel or as kind as you like!