08 April 2009

Make My Job Tough

I obviously am privy to A LOT of short stories, besides the ones I read for fun. My perspective has changed over the years in regards to what constitutes a short-listed story and how to create such stories myself. For instance, I've been mulling over a new short story lately. I do a lot of thinking before ever laying fingers to keyboard. First up, I need to have an ending. For me, it's the rabbit that draws the dog. I'm also getting to be more of a boring plotter in my old age. I find it easiest to lay out character traits and a basic plot, usually on a story line drawn crossways on a piece of paper, with hash marks indicating plot points, obstacles, and reversals. Below the line I tend to jot out the internal arc of the character--tweaking plotpoints and character traits so that they weave together tightly. (Incidentally, I did that for my novel, a WIP, as well. On posterboard, though.) If I'm successful, I end up with a story that could only happen to that character.

All that sounds manufactured, right? Well, whether it springs unbidden from the depths of unconsciousness or is a neatly plotted out story line that took a year to detail, stories are manufactured. I think sometimes writers believe if an idea isn't simply inspired--it just came to me, like I was channeling it, dude--they think they're faking it or something.

We're writers. We're faking it. That's. Our. Job.

Despite my leanings, I don't particularly advocate one method over another. I'm friends with extremely successful non-plotters. Their brains just don't work in outline form. That's cool. But I do think they're more a rarity than struggling writers like to admit, and frankly, a short story doesn't give an author much time for discovery.

I can often pick out the pantser short stories, mostly because they fail to cut authorial discovery. For instance, I just read a story which spent five pages describing a character. I finally caught the threads of a plot on page seven. The writing was decent and the character interesting, but character description does not a story make (to go all Yoda on you.) This was a clear example of authorial discovery--the writer told himself all about the character and forgot to cut it out later.

By the time I see a story, the writer should have a clear idea of the resolution from page one. Give me a plot with stacked odds and dire consequences. Make sure every plot point digs at terrors and weaknesses specific to that character. While you're at it, weave in a subplot that twists the knife even deeper.

Do yourself a favor and make my job tougher.


writtenwyrdd said...

Good points. First drafts are for authorial discovery; then you excise the authorial discovery with extreme prejudice. I find it tempting to leave more of that stuff in my longer writings because I do love them so; but improve with practice. :)

The oddest thing made it simple for me to cut, and it was a silly thing, really: I just created a Precious Purple Prose file for the WIP and dropped the scene in question into it pre-edit so it would remain whole forever. Then I got to business with the actual story file.

Pure Headology as Granny Weatherwax would say. But it worked for me.

fairyhedgehog said...

I do something similar to that, writtenwyrd. I find that if I've still got the excised portions to go back to "if I need to" I can be far more ruthless about cutting.

lesleylsmith said...

Good tips, writtenwyrdd and fairyhedgehog! I'll have to try that. :)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I save most of my sizable deletions as well, though as time goes on I tend to just delete them and throw them out, especially in short stories. But acknowledging and accommodating the more emotional aspects of making art is essential.