In my last post I recounted my first attempt at writing a short story. The results resembled a disaster. I was fortunate to have a friend, whose skill and honesty I trusted, to read it and provide editorial critique to me. The editor did this free of charge and the feedback showed me how very far away I was from any semblance of competency in writing short stories. I felt so terrible that I thought about moving the label “writer” from beside my name.
All was not lost. After drying my tears and putting my feelings of disappointment aside I sat down and read the critique again. This time I noticed that I had been given very high marks for one section of the story. My editor informed me that I needed to do more of what I did in that section throughout the entire story. There was hope after all.
Writing Short Stories is an Experience for Me
One year later I pick up my short story pen again. This time it is different. After reading a well written, short story authored by one of my friends I started thinking about rules and methods of good writing. I thought it would be a good idea to study his methods of putting a good story on page.
This worked well for me. While I was very careful not to steal any portion of the story I kept my focus on how the writer “showed rather than tell” and how the writer followed other common rules of short story writing. After reading his work I read a flash fiction piece written by another friend. Again, not purloining content but gleaning principles on how to draw the audience into a scene was my focus.
During my research I found a how-to book on short story writing and I ordered it. While I await its arrival I start on some preliminary work. I don’t know about anyone else but so far the attempt at writing short stories is an experience for me.
I Feel Like I’m Painting a Portrait
I think about what story I want to tell first. I have very many in my head. I frequently tell a few of them to friends in social settings such as cafeterias, restaurants or bars. Most times my friends enjoy the stories. At first I thought that putting those same stories on page would not be the same as telling it in a social setting. After thinking about it however I realized that my best storytelling in public settings incorporated a few of the same principles used in good writing. I had setting, I developed characters, I had a plot and many other items that made the stories work well.
So what happened last year when I tried to put one of those stories, which was enjoyed so much during oral storytelling, on paper? I did not bring the reader into the setting properly. I did not give enough detail about the characters. The start and finish was distorted and the list goes on and on. All of these missing items were a result of too much haste.
The haste was not from a deadline imposed on me by someone else. The haste was on my part. I wanted to do my first short story in a matter of weeks. I can write some poems that way (not all) but right now I cannot write short stories that way. Many other writers may be able to churn out short stories in a day or two but I can’t. This is especially true when I think about the fact that I still have a day job as a project manager running demanding projects. I therefore resort to treating my pen the same as I imagine a painter treating a brush.
I imagine that a painter is patient. Each stroke of the brush is made with care and exactness. There are times when broad strokes and splatter are necessary but these methods are instilled with specific purpose. Yes, now when I decide what direction a story willl take and I make a major outline consisting of just 3 or 4 one liners. I feel like a painter painting a portrait.
When I take my major outline and break it down into a another outline I feel like a painter painting a portrait more and more. Now I begin to see settings to define, characters to detail and the trail of my plot becomes clear. I discard excess sections and refine my approach. I break the outline down again into the raw paragraphs of the story. I refine again and again until each paragraph has a purpose and each paragraph adds value to the reader and the overall story.
Yes, now that I employ patience, I feel like I’m a painter painting a portrait and I expect to have better results this time.