Let’s talk about short story writing! On the one hand, short stories are simpler than novels because – as the name implies – they are short. On the other hand, the target is a lot smaller which means the margin for error is a lot bigger.
I’ve compiled a few of the things that I think make short stories a specific breed of difficult, and also a few notes on my personal process for writing them. Obviously, everyone’s creative process is different, but I’ve discovered that it’s actually harder to find solid resources on short story writing, opposed to long-form stories like a novel.
At the end of the day, short stories are a challenge because they don’t always (or in my experience, ever) fit the traditional three-act structure. That might sound crazy coming from someone who talks about story structure a lot, but it’s true. Depending on how short your story is, it’s probably not going to have a clearly defined first, second, and third act – at least not in the same capacity that a novel about the same topic, character or situation would. On the flipside, examining your short story through the lens of the three-act structure can be beneficial as well.
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Music: Twine by Podington Bear © Chad Crouch
In today’s episode, I’m reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book is not only one of Atwood’s most acclaimed novels, but the basis for the American television show by the same name. If you know anything about Margaret Atwood, you know she has a flair for dark, gritty, and utterly captivating dystopian and speculative fiction with a political or feminist slant. Sound intriguing? It is. But in order to get her ideas across effectively, it’s important to have good characters and story structure as well – and that’s exactly what I wanted to explore when I picked up this book.
Additionally, I’m taking a few minutes to talk about the importance of action and reaction scenes in novels. If you’ve ever read a book or watched a show and came away thinking “Wow, I don’t care about those people at all,” it’s possible the story failed to find its action/reaction stride. This not only applies to the individual scenes in your book (how they flow and push the story forward), but it also relates to the relationship between your book’s first and second half.
Books mentioned in this episode:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
PS – I also mention “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” but I’m talking about the movie, not the French comic book “Empire of a Thousand Planets.”
Stories are a chain of events, and each event, or scene, evokes the next. It’s easy to imagine a sequential yarn of happenings: This occurs, followed by this, and this, and so on. But what about the space in between the toppling dominos? In reality, an event can happen in the course of one or two sentences. The space between these events is equally important. Consider the following:
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Every story needs clues, even if they aren’t mysteries. Picture this: You’re at the end of a good book, the plot is thick, and Bam! Out of nowhere, the author ties in a character or object from an earlier scene. Situations like this leave readers asking, “How did I not see that coming?” This is foreshadowing, and it’s an important part of your work in progress, whether you realize it or not. Continue reading →