Random Ramblings

#162 : Writing a Short Story – Guest Post by Bragadeesh Prasanna

If I had gotten a dime each time this question is asked, I would have enough to buy a milkshake today. I mean, this is a question that is not being asked a lot. People just pick up the pen or open a word document and start writing. This is a very good thing.  If you want to become a musician, you don’t just listen to the masters of the instrument. You actually pick the instrument and practice it. I think it is necessary for all the acquired skills. There has to be enough practice and trial and error.

But before that, if you are planning to get into creative writing field, or to become a story teller, it is really important to read. You might have heard this often, in order to write, you should read. What does reading teach us? The different genres? The vocabulary? Or the use of the language? I guess the important part of reading is too, it makes us observe. Reading gives you perspective on how you look about things outside as well as inside.

So if you plan to write short stories, read a lot of short stories. If you plan to write novels, read a lot of novels. That is how it works. I would recommend “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver and then reflect on it and then if you still feel like writing, pick up your pen. You are good to go.

Have a Grand Opening:

I don’t mean to say you have to have a fifty car chase or a helicopter crashing on some mountains. Your short story opening paragraph is the gate pass for your readers. You need to make it interesting. This first paragraph should have your characters and the setting, at least partially and make your reader get intrigued. It can be anything. In his short story “Drive My Car” Haruki Murakami (You will be getting lot of examples from this author. He is my God Father. Of Course he doesn’t know it), starts off with a sweeping generalization. “Based on the many times he had ridden in cars driven by women, Kafuku had reached the conclusion that most female drivers fell into one of the two categories: either they were a little too aggressive or a little too timid. Luckily – and we should all be grateful or this – the latter were far more common. Generally speaking, women were more cautious than men behind the wheel. Of course, that caution was nothing to complain about. Yet their driving style tended to irritate the others on the road”

If you were a man reading this, you may have read it with a smile on your face and occasional nod. If you were a woman, then you may have found this little annoying. Either way you read it further.

Make your first paragraph count.

Characters:

Short stories need character of their own. With all due respect a man who goes to office everyday at 9 in the morning and return at 5 in the evening and his family history, should be only used in novels. Short stories do not have time and space for ordinary characters. For a short story to be great, you need your characters a bit more than ordinary. Like the blind man who teaches a normal man to draw cathedrals, like a man who befriends another man who slept with his wife, like a man who wants his friend to pursue his love interest because deep inside he feels that he is inadequate for her. The reason is simple. Short stories are short stories by word counts. You will have very less time to establish a character arc, so just make them bent at first and then straighten them up at the end. Or not.

Who tells the story?

Who tells the story is very important on how the story comes out later. If you are a very organized person, you will have corkboards with sticky notes with small markers which mention what happens first and in the middle and the end. But if you are like me, who writes with the flow, you should just chose how you decide to tell the story. You can use first person, it will help you divulge a lot of information of the character, his inner demons and secrets that nobody had known before and that will bring a certain kind of vulnerability to the character. Which means, the character will be more or less real. Unless you write, “I picked up the eye-liner from my cupboard and with a single stroke drew a perfect wing in my right eye. And it was my first attempt” Nobody will believe that, unless you are a fairy.

Second person takes intimacy to another level. If you are writing about a story which has too many intimate details like a stalker and a victim, or a policeman tailed by an assassin or a break up, second person narration works like a charm. It has been the favourite story telling technique of the political leaders around the world. Pay attention next time, when they truly trying to get on your side, they talk more about what you do than what they are going to do.

Third person is a very tricky space, you need to have a lot of practice to do that. The common pitfalls is to make sure which character has the mike or camera in their hand, when your reader follows the story.

Dialogues:

This is an optional one. But if you think you are going to include dialogues in your story make sure the dialogues are not forced. If your story is about a driver who is driving a cab at the airport and covers double shift, make sure he sound tired. Use the words you use when you are tired. If you are writing about people who are not in your own social and financial status, research on the words they use and the witty comebacks they have. Even when you have a good plot, characters and an ending people would die for, if your dialogues are forced, people will lose interest.

“What did you have for dinner?” She asked.

“I had idlies” He said

“I had dosa” She said. This is bad dialogue. This can be covered in a single sentence which won’t bore people out of their minds.

Use dialogues in moderation. It will automatically become your strong point of the story.

Conflict – or build up – or simply the story:

So you have characters, dialogues and narrative technique but what are they doing? Where are they doing it? Short stories are something we come across every day. When you listen to gossips in office canteen or the excuse of your peon on why he was late, everybody is telling a story. It is how they string up the facts and add some more to make it more believable for you. The best of these story tellers always have our attention. This brings us to the way we structure our stories.

Hook – An opening or a hook. It can be a weird character or a weird setting. Anything to grab the attention.

Conflict – Something that disrupts the normal course of events

Exposition – Background information, back stories.

Complication – Make it tough for your characters

Transition – Let the characters put up or brave the complication.

Resolution – What changed at the end of the story?

If you think about any of your favourite movies or books, you will find them abide by this structure. Once you mastered this structure you are allowed to play with it, bring non-linear narration into play or you can even simply tell the story backwards. But you should know the structure.

Short stories are not about flowery language or bamboozling plot. It has always been about coherence. If you can tell a story in a coherent way that appeals the leaders, you won.

As said earlier in this long article, read a lot of short stories, write and submit to peer groups, gather critiques and then work on your short story. Any good short story you have read should have gone through numerous revisions. And that is how it should be. Don’t get bogged down if your plot is already a story. It is not about what is told, it is always about how different people tell the same story.

About Bragadeesh  

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Avid book worm, Brilliant Blogger,Published Writer – That’s how I know him! Oh and watch out, he is soon coming up with his second book. To know more about him, do visit his blog .

PS.On Day 6 of The Write Tribe Festival of Words #6 

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21 thoughts on “#162 : Writing a Short Story – Guest Post by Bragadeesh Prasanna

  1. I am not a fiction writer and also do not intend to be one but there were takeaways for me from this post. I am sure a lot of other bloggers who are into writing fiction will benefit from this post which is replete with insights.

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  2. I found this post terribly insightful. I am saving this post for future reference. I think writing short stories is an art. Keeping the plot taut and riveting in a short space, requires thought, practice and of course skill. Thanks for featuring this talented guest Shree Janani

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  3. This is a Great “How to” post that offers clarity on writing short stories for beginners. I would like to add some of the points to my journalism class learning aid

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  4. Just what I needed to know. Though until this challenge, I never attempted fiction . But something about the challenge made me write one. I know it was a raw attempt but I enjoyed . So I am going to write more now atleast for myself and this guest post is going to be very helpful. I am saving this for future reference.

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  5. There is so much to learn from this post. There are so many key points and takeaways. I am sure this article will help not only story writers but people who write in other streams too. Great read. Thanks for sharing.

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