Short viction story
2036HUM Writing Short
You are required to write a short story of 1500 words. Above all else, try to write the best story you can in those 1500 words. You should try to develop your story by constructively using the elements of description, figurative language, narration and character in ways that comply with our discussions during the analysis of stories in class. If you feel uncertain about writing short fiction, please consult the addendum to this assignment sheet: “How To Write A Short Story (Without Inspiration)”. If you already write fiction and feel comfortable with your style then please continue in that fashion, but it is also probably a good idea to read the next few pages.
The marking of your story will be guided by the following factors: your clear and concise use of description, the employment of figurative language and structural devices to enhance the mean-Ing of elements of the story, a consistent and constructive mode of narration, a development of character that engages with the themes of the story.
You have a certain amount of freedon when it comes to your choice of subject matter and style but you should follow the University’s guidelines on non-discriminatory language. Those stories that contravene these guidelines will not be marked.
1 May 2015
How To Write A Short Story (Without Inspiration)
What follows is an attempt to do two things, (i) provide the beginnings of a method that will allow those students who feel uncertain to write a short story, and (ii) provide an opening to discussion about story composition in class. If you al-ready have a way of writing stories that you feel comfortable with, please continue as you wish.
First of all, you need to decide what it is that you are going to write about. That immediately gives you two ways to proceed. The first is to begin with ideas, emotions, themes, intangibles — clarify what it is that you wish to explore. You don’t need to know what it is you want to say but it is necessary to know what you want your story to be about. When you have an idea of what it is that you want your story to be about then try to think up a circumstance that will allow that discussion to happen.
The second beginntng is to begin with people, places, occurrences, tangibles — clarify what it is about this circumstance that has provoked your interest. You don’t have to stay with that idea but it will help you understand why you were drawn to this circumstance in the first place. If you are clear about what the elements of the circumstance mean to you then it will make it possible to manipulate the elements into the story that you want.
Once you have made either of these beginnmgs, then you will have a set of concerns and a place and perhaps some characters that will be part of your story. From this point on, everything you do will be tugged in two directions, (i) how you want things to happen to allow your concerns to play out, and (ii) how the causal logic of the story wants to play out, i.e., what seems plausible in the development of the story. Your success in writing the story is dependent on the judgements that you make about this tension.
How you manage this tension is by your control of the following elements: description, figurative language and structural issues, narration and character. You also have two other clcments, time and ambiguity, that can assist your composition but we will save those for discussion.
Each of thcsc elements has a primary function and you need to be able to control that primary function.
Clearly and concisely delineate characters, events, relationships, dialogue and emotions, thoughts, feelings, etc. in a way that the reader can understand what is being described without effort. Apart from a clarity of vision (being clear in your own mind what it is that you wish to describe) you need to be able to control the language of prose (spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, sentences, paragraphs, etc.) so the reader understands your description without unwanted ambiguity. Each úne your reader stops to have to consider what it is that you mean in a sentence, then you lose control of whatever effect you are trynng to generate in that sentence. Your descliption is focused on letång your reader see what it is that you want to them to see. Is it important that your character is drinking from a blue cup? Then make it a blue cup, perhaps even be precise about the type of blue if that is important. If the colour isn’t important, then it’s just a cup. Don’t complicate the description with that which isn’t necessary. The choice and selection of elements and the relations between elements are critical.
At its most simple, this is the use of literary and linguistic conventions to modify description. Simile and metaphor, for example, create correspondences between one thing and something else. As such the initial description is extended (modified) to either mean more or to mean something more specific. Connotation, allusion, symbol, all these things invest a greater or expanded or more precise meaning to a word or phrase. The important thing is to be clear about two things, (i) what you want to express, that is how you wish to modify the description, and (ii) when you wish to modify the description, that is, any word can be modified but your modification needs to be strategic. Adverbs, for example, modify a verb but they are often a clumsy way to do so. It is often more useful to merely think of a more precise -verb to suit your purposes. But remember, dialogue is different and adverbs, or any particularly characteristic pattern of speech, may go towards character development. In modifying description, you need to be aware of the effect that you wish to make and when the effect, in the sequence of your sentences, should come into play.
This is probably the largest issue of all when it comes to writing fiction but we are approaching it before character for the sake of clarity. It is difficult to understand the complexity of narration from a critical viewpoint but, fortunately it is more simply grasped from the perspective of composition. Remember that narration is the telling of the tale so it is always an active thing. It is made up of concrete things such as descripåon, reported speech, interior monologue, whatever works but it is always dynamic in that it is moving forward and accumulating meaning. When your reader reads page one, s/he has just the title to go on, when s/he reads page three, each new sentence is read in light of what has gone before. To control the narration is to remain aware of this accumulation of knowledge in the reader and to respond in the telling of the tale. At a basic level, you should try to make each element of the story consistent with that narrative point of view. Ask yourself how the information is conveyed to the readef and if that is consistent with other aspects of the story.
Try to think of character as an aggregation of qualities. This may appear to you as a series of abstract issues or the many facets of an individual personality, but to the reader it will appear as a person so remember to be bound by that logic. So you may approach character as an extension of that initial motivation, either a set of ideas or a specific individual. Or it may be something that develops as the story progresses. In either case, as pointed out above, you will be tugged in two directions (the logic of the concerns Of the logic of the story) and it is important, if you are to retain the importance of character, to embody themes and issues and to provide for the development of st0fY. If you neglect the former then the story becomes meaningless and if you neglect the latter then nothing happens. Short story writing is a fine art because it is a fine balance.
There are many ways to write a short story but the above should allow you to develop a story and have a rationale for editing your story and improving its dramatic discussion of your concerns. You are at liberty to adopt Of ignofe everything that has gone before.
This is only the briefest of introductions, and, more importantly, is the basis for discussions that will take place in class ovef the next two weeks.
Short viction story