Thursday, 29 December 2016

6 Great Creative Ideas for Your Winning Short Story - Beat that Blank Sheet

Photo Copyright Janet Cameron
One of the key points about writing short stories is that they are about one thing and one thing only. It might be helpful to think of them as a slice of life, or a single situation. They must not prevaricate or diversify as a novel might, but must be cohesive. During the course of the story, something must change, although in atmospheric stories or stories about a situation, although little may happen - there must be revelation.

Stories can encompass human experience, mood and atmosphere, or the ironies of life. Don’t have too many characters and, bear in mind, it’s easier if you keep the time-frame fairly tight.

1. The Story Based on Crossed Wires or False Accusation

A character is challenged by some disaster, false accusation or threat to his/her reputation or well-being, but remains true to what s/he believes, sticking doggedly to personal principles. After a series of obstacles, the character may be vindicated – or not – whatever serves the story best.

2. A Story that’s a Situation

This is a story that sets up a situation, and then uses gradual revelation to expose the layers beneath. This story is not necessarily linear, but rather moves from the apparently superficial to a revelation of psychological and emotional depth. Show your reader exactly why Joe and Erin’s marriage is never going to work, or why two siblings will never forgive each other. Generally, stories have a beginning, middle and end, but in this case it might be easier to view your story as having a top, middle and bottom layer.

3. The Story Based on a Metaphor

This story has a metaphor running through it to enhance the plot. The metaphor runs concurrently and is intertwined to enhance and emphasise key aspects of the storyline. It could be a trivial anecdote to prop up the serious main message. For example:
fruiterer = rotten apple
litter = human baggage
makeover = but it’s the protagonists’ marriage that needs the makeover.

A good example of this device is Patricia Duncker’s short story “The Stalker” – the abuse of a woman juxtaposed against an archaeological dig.

4. The Atmospheric or Mood story

Settings often reflect the state of mind, mood or emotional condition of a character. Create a setting to mirror an emotion: loneliness, joy, despair, resignation, celebration, guilt, anxiety, triumph, failure, grief, etc. Weather and nature can parallel a character’s emotions or trigger a memory, as well as serving as to enhance the action.

Use the external world to reflect or mirror what is happening within. For example, imagine a landscape, seascape or townscape, even a fantasy location. Alternatively,, a house, gothic or grand, or a room, contemporary or from past times. Write the beginning and ending for a story using one of these imagined places.

5. The Feel-Good Story

Speaks for itself!  But remember the resolution should be brought about by the actions of the central protagonist, and never by an external source. For example, the young woman who is financially strapped and cannot finish college solves the problem through her own efforts, never by the kindness of a friend or an unexpected lottery win.

6. Twist Stories

The twist story is one that misleads about the narrator or character. This is always proposed as a ‘no-no’ on writing courses or manuals, because such stories are seen, quite rightly, as a cheat or a trick. However, the reality is that many successful stories of this type appear – the trick is absolutely realistic prose and dialogue that carries the reader along so that the surprise is one hundred percent authentic.

The twist should be revealed in the last short paragraph, even the last sentence. You can mislead about a character: For example, an assumed ‘new buyer’ for a young couple’s house turns out to be the mother-in-law checking daughter-in-law for housewifely skills. You could also mislead about a situation: A woman is taking her driving test for the second time – to the scorn of the office. But - it’s her advanced test.

You could try table-turning, by confronting your central protagonist with a difficult situation that s/he is able to turn around to his/her own advantage. Brinkmanship is another ploy. The standard scenario (which wouldn’t fool most people for one minute) is the story of a nice old lady who’s a crook, or maybe a cheating vicar. These are real clich├ęs and probably best avoided, unless you can find an unusual parallel theme or angle to make the story work.


If you are a new writer, you may need to try writing different kinds of stories before you find your writer's voice, but it will worth the effort. It may even surprise you.

Source: Own teaching learned from multiple sources.

No comments: