Short Story Brainstorm
This week, a piece of 'homework' set by the MA on the Short Story module was for us to mind map all the components we feel, without referencing anything, theory books or actual fiction, comprise a good short story.
There is nothing like being put on the spot.
Good is subjective, so I qualify my response by adding: from all the short stories I have read since 2006; chiefly from paper copy anthologies (Bridport Prize Bristol Prize, Cinnamon Press Competition), magazines and newspapers, but not excluding quality websites, such as Fleeting.com or the MyTelegraph.com Short Story Club.
This won't look great without any mind numbingly amazing graphics (should I ever get around to them being a wordsmith), but here goes, in no particular order than the beginning and end. For me, a good short story should contain:
1. An opening which is 'in media res' i.e. hits the ground running;
2. A definitive time span - minutes, hours, a day, days, maybe a week, perhaps a month. Longer periods are best suited to the novel;
3. A main character, whose point of view we follow;
4. Minor characters whose viewpoints we may be exposed to in the protagonists story;
5. A structure, a world if you will, that is unique to the protagonist and writer (through research if necessary). In this world, something occurs, a trigger point if you will where the world is changed, drastically or imperceptibly. Say, because of an earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale. Equally, a stone thrown into a calm pool can produce ripples that will cause character interaction, that will lead to events hence drama;
6. Conflict - an obstacle to overcome, emotional as well as physical;
7. A theme - this is the hardest thing to write - it is generally done unknowingly as it is special to the writer, it is their subconscious coming out to play;
7. Competent grammar and a distinctive layout;
8. No nonsense, concise dialogue;
9. A concrete flow of language in whatever style or mixture of styles, e.g. rich, poetic, plain, but it compliments the main character and their world;
10. An ending that the story has always been about (often unknown by the writer at the start, or even sentences before the end of play). It is not closure as in novels where all the ribbon threads are tied together, prettily, but a stop point that is light, airy, has room to expand, to become a balloon huffed and puffed by our minds.
Okay. That was pretty much off the cuff, spellos and all. What do you guys think? Anything to add or take away? All thoughts or comments gratefully received. If you have nothing to say, no problem, I hope this post helps you in your short stories. Novels are a different kettle of fish entirely.
On May 4th 2013, I attend the innaugural Newcastle Writing Conference in The Great Hall, Nothumbria University. Stephen May's not a keynote speech is inspriational: “If you are a writer who doesn’t write, you will always be a bit miserable... write because you HAVE to.” And this quote got a resounding YES from the agents, editors and publishers present: “There is a secret to getting an agent. Write a good book, send it, wait. There are no secret passwords.”
Short story "Luke's Sketches" published by Cinnamon Press in the anthology "The Book of Euclid & other stories & poems" edited by Rowan B. Fortune.
Review of short story anthology "The Little Book of Northern Women" given thumbs up by the author J. Y. Saville.
Haiku "Flock to a Shepherd" shortlisted by Cathy Galvin and Louise Doughty for the Word Factory TV.
Article "Bagpuss" published by The Fine Line in the anthology "The I Word" edited by Kate Gould.
Short story "Plank, Tank, Sock, Gloves" shortlisted by Louise Doughty in December for the Telegraph's Short Story Club competition.
Short story "Be Prepared" shortlisted by Louise Doughty in August for the Telegraph's Short Story Club competition.
Short story "Luke's Sketches" shortlisted by Louise Doughty in May for the Telegraph's Short Story Club competition.
Short story "Flock to a Shepherd" shortlisted by Louise Doughty in February for the Telegraph's Short Story Club competition.
Review of "Life! Death! Prizes!" given thumbs up by the author Stephen May.
Short story "Fun and Games" shortlisted by New Writing North for the Newcastle Journal.
Review of "Dreamer's Cat" given thumbs up by the author Stephen Leather.
Review of "TAG" given thumbs up by the author Stephen May.
Short story "Shadow Pains" long listed for the Aeon Award competition.
Short story "Lessons in Love" long listed for the Aeon Award competition.
Short story "Saint Christopher" published by the Writers' Forum magazine.
Short story "Aim High, Reach Higher" shortlisted by the Writers' Forum magazine.
Short story "Paper Dinosaur" shortlisted by the Writers' Forum magazine.
Short story "Shepherd Thy Flock" won Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau spring competition.
Short story "Blackbeck" came third in Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau winter competition.