Let’s start StoryADay May off right!
Well, that doesn’t make it sound like I’m getting above my station, does it? Delusions of godhood? Surely not!
But there is a world I’ve been inventing. I’ve written parts of two novels set in this world. Every time I struggle to finish them, I run into the same problem: there are lots of gaps in what I know about the world. Not knowing, slows me down. I thought it would be easier to write in a fictitious world than to make up stories that seemed realistic to people living in the same world as the setting. I’m not sure ‘easier’ is the word I should have used. “Fun”? Yes. “Stimulating?” Yes. “Easy”? No.
So I’ve decided I’m going to devote a lot of my StoryADay May to writing stories set in the main city in my world.
This morning I’ve been slaving over a spider-like mind-map, full of different areas of life that might be fodder for stories: Family life, politics, beliefs, green issues, city life, socializing…Each little branch represents an area of city life that I might want to explore. Having decided upon that, I will (I hope) decide on what kind of conflict could arise, who might care about it, and what their story is.
I like well-defined assignments, and now I feel like I have one for the whole of next month.
I don’t like the idea of short stories being inferior…they are in not in any way diminutive. Most of the literary works that have inspired me are short stories…they can have a powerful impact,
[a short story can] combine the structure of a good joke with the impact of a miniature masterpiece.
Like many good short stories, it is poised between the novel form and poetry, fusing the strengths of each.
Philip O’Ceallaigh, Judge, Fish Short Story Prize 2013
The short story used to be the orphan of prose fiction – a bit unloved, a bit uncelebrated. But this year’s entries for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award demonstrate just how the form has grown up to be something spectacular and super-confident. The best and brightest of the new generation, as well as hundreds of world-class established authors, are not only writing short stories but submitting their favourite ones
Andrew O’Hagan, Judge
Write a heist story, starting it as late/close to the action as you possibly can without breaking it.
“The short form is hard. You need to have the scope of a novel on a canvas a fraction of the size. Your story should be something a reader will turn to from time to time in the same way that people listen to certain songs before they get ready to go out or fall asleep. You’ll need to be economical, and resist the urge of parable or one-act morality play. You need a beginning, middle and end, and a last line that resonates long after the story is over. “
— Max Dunbar, 3:AM Magazine, from a review of Sarah Hall’s short story collection “The Beautiful Indifference”
[audio:http://www.julieduffy.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/BrokenToys.mp3|titles=Broken Toys – A Story by Julie Duffy]
This is today’s StoryADay story. I enjoyed it so much I recorded it too. You can play it above, or right-click here to save the mp3 file.
See John laugh.
See John laugh and smile.
See John laugh and smile and touch his wife Jane on the elbow.
See John laugh and smile and touch Jane on the elbow and look into Jane’s eyes.
See Jane smile.
See John walk.
See John walk around the party.
See John mingle.
There is Alice.
Alice is watching John.
See Alice frown.
Here comes Mary.
Mary walks to the bedroom.
See John watch Mary.
John and Alice look at Jane.
See Jane talk.
See Jane laugh.
Jane does not see John or Alice or Mary.
See John walk to the bedroom.
Walk John, walk.
See Alice refill her glass.
Drink Alice, drink.
Where is John?
Where is Mary?
Drink Alice, drink.
Alice sees Jane.
Alice walks to Jane.
See Alice speak.
See Jane shake her head.
See Alice lean too close.
See Jane push Alice.
Alice grabs Janes arm.
Jane and Alice walk to the bedroom.
Jane runs out of the house.
Run Jane, run.
See John run out of the house.
(Good luck, John.)
Alice is in the kitchen.
See Alice’s mascara run.
Listen! A car door slams.
A man says a bad word.
Hear the engine roar.
Mary walks to the back porch.
See Mary light a cigarette.
Smoke Mary, smoke.
The best short stories can say a lot, but they don’t try to do too much.
Writing a story a day is going to be a huge challenge. Inventing characters and settings and inhabiting them for just one day? Huge.
Don’t try to do too much.
We don’t have the time or space to tell wandering epics.
We have time for one incident or one central character or theme 1.]
If your story starts to wander towards an interesting side character, slap that character’s hand and promise him he can be the hero of tomorrow’s story. If you find yourself backtracking to show too much of what happened before the ‘now’ of your story, file the idea and write a prequel tomorrow.
The beauty of writing aevery day is that you don’t have to do it all today. You can write tomorrow. In fact, you have to!
Finish Today, Plan For Tomorrow
So finish the story you started (even if you’ve fallen out of love with it) and make note of all the other ideas that were so good they butted in today.
Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.
- by the way all of this is also not true. In writing rules are made to be broken [2. Except that one about the apostrophe. I will hunt you down and smack your palm with a ruler if you put an apostrophe before the “s” in a plural! ↩