Sunday Style: Crafting the Short Story

My next-to-final session at the WOTS conference was Crafting the Short Story. I came away with some good information about the elements of a story, as well as ideas for how to get words on the page.

The instructor began by saying, “Welcome. Come home to yourself in your writing.” What a wonderful greeting and way of looking at writing. Indeed, for me I’ve realized that writing is a way of coming home and of examining my life. The more I talk to writers, the more I see that is true for many of us. To have that less technical aspect of writing acknowledged and encouraged was a wonderful gift in this class.

In contrast, I also enjoyed the technical focus of the session, including the focus on the elements of fiction:

  • Characters: the heart and center of any story
  • Dialogue: heart of the scene
  • Motivation: characters’ desires and yearnings
  • Conflict: trouble ahead, rising disorder
  • Climax: rising disorders collide
  • Simile and metaphor: a way of describing one thing in terms of another
  • Point of view
  • Scene: close up and slowed down, showing
  • Plot
  • Narration: telling
  • Voice: from the character and narrator
  • Style: writer’s thumbprint

I provide this checklist as a way of considering if my story contains all of these elements. In fact, in reviewing one’s writing it seems like this type of list might be a good review tool — to see if there is something missing or something that could bring a story to the next level. I have more specific notes about each element, and I’m happy to share them — please leave a comment if you’d like more information or details about these elements.I’m happy to share!

I also liked the way this instructor described the action of a short story: an incident leads to complication which leads to conflict which leads to rising action which leads to crisis and then, finally, there is falling action. Somehow having the action in a short story laid out in this way made it seem more like a puzzle. My job as a writer is to fit all the elements and action together in a way that makes sense.

And, as for how to get those puzzle pieces out of your mind and onto the page:

  • Write what is in front of you for 45 minutes.
  • Set aside one hour each weekend and write, in the same space each weekend, for that hour.

In reviewing these concepts, I think in some ways one can apply them to other genres as well. A good essay requires many of the elements that are in fiction, and likewise the telling of any tale, whether it be fictional or memoir, has the same rise and fall of action.

Putting these notes together as a post for Motherlogue makes me eager to think of the next short story I might want to write. May these notes do the same for you.

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2 Responses to Sunday Style: Crafting the Short Story

  1. Leah says:

    Great checklist, and great puzzle piece analogy! I have a short story I need to do final revisions on this week for my creative writing class. You’ve given some excellent suggestions to consider that should help with the process.

  2. Jenni says:

    I agree with Leah, the puzzle analogy makes it feel possible for me, a non-fiction writer, to give fiction a try. Breaking it down makes it seem less daunting. Thanks for sharing!

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