Writing Short Fiction

INTRODUCTION:

The question concerning story ideas is universal. “How did you come up with that idea for your story?” And the answer may be just as universal, but not necessarily very satisfying. “I don’t know. It just came to me.”

Your life, comprised of events, experiences, people, feelings, emotions, perspectives, and conclusions, can be considered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and how you creatively inter-relate and interlock them determines how many story ideas you can devise. The number must be in the thousands. Generically, these pieces would be labeled “plots,” “settings,” “characters,” “scenes,” and “dialogue.”

THE PATH TO A STORY:

What leads to a story may be the same as what jars your memory and creativity, serving as the needle which threads its way through the experiences of your life and results in a unique knit you never thought you could sow in such a manner. The clink of a glass, the smell of the ocean, or the soft voice of your secretary can suddenly cause the planets to align and spell “story.”

You could most likely not initiate this process even if you tried. You do not necessarily make it happen. It happens to you-and often at times when part of your brain is focusing on doing something entirely different, such as baking a cake, sweeping the floor, or tilling the soil in your garden. In the greater depths of your mind, creativity works backstage while you continue the mundane tasks at the front of the stage.

Perhaps the process can be reduced to inspiration, whose dynamic eclipses anything understood on the physical plane and can only be deciphered by the very word’s definition when dissected-“in spirit.” This, more than anything, may be the location of creativity, if not the very essence of it.

A memoir can be considered a piece about what happened. A short story, through rearranged pieces, can be considered what could happen if you had no limitations as to how you could connect its elements.

“If you’re like the vast majority of writers… what you start with is a vague intuition, like a hard-to-scratch itch, the uneasy feeling that accompanies something-an errand, an anniversary, a date-you’ve forgotten, but that lurks in the mind’s corner, a nagging specter,” according to Mark Baechtel in his book, “Shaping the Story: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Short Fiction “(Pearson Education, 2004, p. 9). “This is how stories most often begin: small apprehensions, a twinge of spiritual discomfort, a certain stillness in the house… “

READER PERSPECTIVE:

Writers, without doubt, write for themselves-what they need to say, feel, express, complete, satisfy, and clear from their systems-and secondarily do so for their readers. But you may clarify your story’s meaning by asking yourself what you wish to do to your reader through your literary efforts: inform, entertain, provide suspense, love, or have a laugh.

Writing, like sculpture and painting, is art and art is expression. Through that expression, the writer sees himself and the reader catches a glimpse of the writer and, ultimately, himself-that is, how he relates to and sees part of himself in what he reads, expanding and enhancing his self-understanding.

Like a mirror, if the reader sees himself in the writer, he sees the commonality or truth in all of us, the shared essence.

TEN IMPORTANT FICTION WRITING TIPS:

1). Stories are about events, even if small in scale that change the life of the primary character. It does not mean that they must undergo an epiphany of sorts, where they suddenly understand themselves and their place in the universe. But even in stories with the slimmest of plots, the reader must witness an irrevocable change. The main characters may not necessarily be aware of it themselves, or even its implications, but at the close of the story, the reader should be.

2). Stories are built on scenes. Scenes are significant action that deliver information readers want to know. These revelations continuously raise the stakes of the story and cause the reader to want to know more, keeping him riveted until the final line.

3). Stories must feature a character or characters the reader cares about, whether or not the reader actually likes him/her or them. The reader’s connection to them is developed through watching them struggle with their competing fears and desires, and wondering what they will do.

4). Characters must talk, but what they say should not be used as a vehicle for delivering information the story itself can provide in other ways, such as through narration, thoughts, and/or actions. For example, the following dialogue would sound artificial, egotistical, and serve as almost an oral resume: “As you know, as the director of the operations, who has been employed for six years and holds a summa-cum-laude degree in Astrophysics from Cornel University with a minor in chemistry and served on the yearbook committee… “.

5). Man is his desire or the desire of man is a measure of his kindness.

6). Characters live in the world and are products of it. How they see their current lives, as well as how they think about their futures, is directly connected to where they come from. And what they notice about their world-their setting-is directly connected to their biggest concerns of the story.

7). Stories take their own time. Often, the surprises our characters bestow upon us-the secrets they reveal, the unexpected actions they take that move the story in a direction we had not originally imagined-are gifts that we can only receive by being open to them. This can mean that when we feel “stuck” on a story, we have to put it aside, no matter how much we want to force its conclusion.

8). Because every word counts in a story, we must scrutinize each one for accuracy, clarity, and economy. Every word, phrase, sentence must serve the story’s purpose. The author is often unaware of that purpose until he has given his work time to “cool.” This is where the beauty, power, and necessity of revision comes in. In this vein, some authors are actually lousy writers, but great editors.

9). The same way a skilled chef can turn a stale piece of bread into gourmet cuisine, a writer can write about anything-and should-in order to stretch his imagination and skill beyond his comfort zone. A writer usually writes about what he knows, but when he eclipses this boundary, what he can know can equal the universe.

10). An author writes-and reads–because he cares about the mystery of life, the myriad aspects of the human condition. His writing should, to a certain degree, scare him, since to play it safe becomes a waste of time. His characters will never thrill him-or his readers-with their secrets, if the author is too scared to ask for them.

SEVEN TIPS TO BETTER WRITING SUMMARY:

1). Characters should be developed, multi-dimensional, and fleshed out, and undergo some type of change or growth by the story’s end, as should real people in real life.

2). They should influence and act upon the plot, not react to it like detached bystanders.

3). Injecting something fresh or innovative can breathe new life into an old, tired, tried-and-true, classic plot.

4). Plots require obstacles, problems, and tensions. The more important the protagonist’s goals, the more these obstructions will add turmoil and drama to the story.

5). Make sure that your readers will care about your characters; otherwise, they will not invest their time in paralleling their journey.

6). Readers should be grabbed in the first paragraph.

7). Eliminate unnecessary details, words, and back story information in order to “lean” your writing.

Article Sources:

Baechtel, Mark. “Shaping the Story: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Short Fiction.” New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004.

"Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri – A Beautiful Collection of Short Stories

Beautiful narration, romantic stories and at times unimaginable circumstances! Short story spun out of day-to-day chores and occurrences. The stories are very well written yet are vague at most of the times they don’t have a set starting or a definite ending, they kind of just end abruptly, leaving the reader in a bit of suspense and to derive lot of conclusions about the future. This is another reason why these stories stay in reader’s mind for long.

The novel begins with “Temporary Matter”, a story of a young Indian couple who drifts apart and hates to be in each other’s presence after they lose their first child. Due to some maintenance job in their residential area, the electricity is cut for an hour in the evenings. First evening the wife begins the game of telling the partner something that they feel, or have done which they have never shared before. This goes on for a couple of days and both of them are able to tell each other things that they had never shared before only to share the most painful and cruel of all secrets on the last day of this temporary arrangement of power cuts.

This short story follows by “interpreter of Maladies” where an Indian guide takes an NRI family to see the Konark (Sun) Temple near Puri and how he starts fantasizing an all-together new life, when the wife shows some interest in his everyday job of interpreter/ translator at a doctor’s clinic. Does his fantasy come true or does it crash right in front of his eyes?

Another interesting tale of this collection is “When Mr.Pirzada came to dine”, a story set during the days when Bangladesh was formed after partition from Pakistan. A story set far away from Indian about an Indian Hindu family, who invite Mr.Pirzada home to dine with them and the elders get so close that they all not just share meals but pray for the welfare of Mr.Pirzada’s family and young daughters in the war trodden Bangladesh until one day, the war comes to an end and Mr.Pirzada manages to go back home. Very beautifully narrated story this is!

Then there was an interesting story “This Blessed House”, in which a newly married couple move into a house only to find out that the house is special and a blessed one. How do they come to realize this? You need to read the book to find out…

All an all an amazing collection, wonderful narration and very simplistic language which puts a reader at ease. Definitely worth a read!

Ideas for Writing Romantic Short Stories

There are great romance stories just out there, waiting to be written. And there are a great number of ideas that you can work on to make your romantic short story the best ever. There is historical love and contemporary love, there is futuristic love, and what about straight romance? Maybe something really sensual or sweet?

Before you are given more choices to deal with and you start to have trouble deciding, let’s talk about a fundamental truth about romance writing that a writer is meant to write a story that he really himself wants to read. It’s no fun, for almost all people, to write.

But yes it is really enjoyable and gives them the due confidence that they too can create art through a piece of a great romance story. A great romance story that a reader will enjoy is actually a hard work. It is tough to decide whether the time-period is too long, is the sensuality level bland and is the whole plot dull? Yet people begin writing romances that they wouldn’t want to read.

Suppose the story somehow finds its end, but due to a less zealous approach, the first reader of the book becomes the last- the editor. Amazingly, not every book is going to be a bestseller but the love that can be felt by the reader after reading the book has a greater chance of turning out to be a great romance story. Here are some tips and techniques to be used in case you are thinking about writing a great romance story.

#1. What is it going to be?

a. The stranger couple with no previous idea of existence of the other. Fate brings them together and they could be one forever or separated depending upon how you want to have the climax and the setting.

b. The individual who have been in acquaintance for a very long time can be utterly romantic too.

c. The unrequited one can also be intriguing and sweet.

d. The love that is not meant to be like fate, the universe et cetera.

e. Friends could also turn out to be in a romantic relationship who have been knowing each other’s deep secrets.

#2. A ‘where’ is also a great romance story.

a. A prehistoric time maybe a great time to describe how love might have been at those times.

b. A wonderful setting of a hill station, the love scenes of a couple enjoying their time can also be a great romance.

c. A particular setting of a rather small geographical area could also be choice depending upon how well do you know about the traditions and customs of that place.

#3. How old is the couple in the action?

a. They could be teens- wild and free.

b. Or like really old who have just met after having invested a long time with their previous love.

c. Or a married couple shining their way through every obstacle or say lemon life threw at them.

#4. Strange love stories?

a. A girl falls in love with a unicorn in her dreams. The lucid dream state is the only place where they both can have their time and enjoy love. A love that cannot be always leaves an imprint on the part of the reader.

b. A singer falls in love with the moon. The moon seems to respond to her, as the moon in fairy tales does. This exists only in her mind.

c. A couple happily married for 10 years and going to have a baby, goes through a death in the family and everything falls apart. The arrival of their daughter brings new hope and meaning to their lives.

#5. The mythological ones.

a. There are so many tales and parables that are a part of mythology, be it Hindu mythology, Greek mythology or even tribal mythology from Africa and India.

b. Also gods and goddesses falling in love with humans are the best tales when superpowers of gods merge with that of human.

c. A beloved fighting or struggling the gods to save her love can also be a great romance story. Of the powers bending before love and love conquering in spite of all the absurdities their lives have been through.

Among all above plots, there are still a thousand more where the end is not the usual or the beginning is weird. Out a place, love or the type of love there are innumerable possibilities, in the way a great romance story could be portrayed to make it a grand affair of success.