Sunday, 23 February 2014

Short story writing - some thoughts

A big thanks to Shenton College here in Perth, for last week inviting me in to talk to their 'year nine' students on the art of short story writing.

Apart from being lots of fun, talking about writing for me at least is also a great way to consciously consider the process I am trying to follow. It’s very easy to simply sit down and write without thinking too much about the rules that I know work for me.  So for anyone who's interested, here are a few of my favourites:

Your creative brain is a muscle that needs regular exercise. Analyse the books you read and think about how your favourite authors bring their stories to life. Take their work apart and try to identify any elements you might want to replicate in your own writing.

Start with a connection
Find a theme or topic that you actually care about or are interested in – your writing will be far better if you do.

Flip your head and ask 'what if..?' 
Brainstorm for plot ideas and always write them down together on one piece of paper. Seeing them together in concrete, black and white is very different from collecting a bunch of  thoughts in your head.

Crazy beats cliched 
Take risks and don’t be afraid to try something that may at first appear too ‘out there’. 

If you’re stuck for ideas then think about themes that resonate for you. Write your own simple log-lines for your favourite books and films.  Are these plots you could adapt too? This is not the same as plagiarizing!

Start with a plan 
I know not all writers do this but I can’t work without one. A rough understanding of where the plot is going and how it might be resolved, informs my writing as I go. That doesn't mean things won’t change but I find it helps to avoid hitting that wall.

Remember the genre
One or two main characters dealing with a single conflict, usually over a short period of time. Avoid complex back stories and sub plots-those are for novels.

Experiment with your voice
Find what works for you - choose a point of view, tense and mix of action, thought and speech to carry the plot forward. If it doesn't feel right then change things around.

Don’t lobotomize your characters. 
If you don’t believe in them then your reader won’t either.  Get inside their heads and highlight their flaws and unique traits. No one is perfect and if they were they’d be boring. See the world through their eyes and keep checking your writing to see if it still rings true.

Hook em
Have a great hook to grab your reader. No right or wrong way to do this as long as it’s compelling, relevant to where your story is going and raises questions the reader will want to find answers for.

Less is more 
This is true for all writing but short stories are called that for a reason. No one wins prizes for word counts. If the text isn't telling the reader something important about the plot or your characters then why is it there? 

The short story arc is a roller-coaster not a mole hill. 
Scene setting and character building is all done within the plot. Introduce the problem up front and move rapidly to the climax using a series of complications. If you find yourself writing a flat patch then it isn't going to work .

Short stories don’t have epilogues. 
A good ending is a succinct one. Move the character past the conflict then finish with a neat line or two to wrap it up. Open ended resolutions can be great but are also very risky. Only use them if it’s clear the reader is left with two possible alternatives. This is not the same as running out of steam and leaving your climax hanging – that’s called a cop-out.

Did I say read a lot? Do that one again.

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