Friday, March 25, 2011

Writing Short Stories

Enough about business already! It bores me, because it’s just not that complicated. Simple but hard, it appeals to my battering-ram mind. Yah, yah. Why don’t we chill out? With something complicated but fun: Writing a short story. The allure of the short story is easy to explain. For the reader, it’s a neat chunk of story convenient for reading on the go or in the course of a busy day. For the writer, it’s a great way to get a single concept on the page and get on with life. As a reader, I don’t read all that many books, but I boil through short stories like a boiler that is boiling on...extra boil? What? Leave it, the point is I Like Short Stories, and here’s exactly how I write them when I’m on top of my game (Why did he say boil?) Shut up. 

Step the First: Titles

Yes, I’m using the plural. We aren’t LITERARY (heaven help us), we’re in this for the long haul and we’re going to be writing a passle of stories, sirs and madames. You’re intelligent folk, so you’ve got a big slew of literary and pulp references swirling around in your brain, just combine that with the world around you and come up with five sexy evocative titles. Trust me, you’ll eventually use them all. Or if you don’t Ben Godby will steal them and sell the story that results to a magazine. Everybody wins!
So, here’s the first five titles that pop into my head:

-Beer Anchovia, Titus, and Thou

-The Fake and the False

-Leave Now and The Truth Will Follow

-Moorsian Invasion

-The Knives of Iceland

If your titles aren’t as Sexy as those five at first, don’t worry. I’ve had a lot of practice with titles. And sexy. Still, any title you made up will be evocative for you, and that’s all we need right now. You can always change it after you finish the stories, which is what you’re trying to do, remember? (Close the porns and get back here.) 

Part the Second: Ready Set

Now the fun begins. Create five blank documents in the text editor of your choice. I use FocusWriter because it has a convenient sessions feature so I can hotswap between documents. Name them according to the five titles you just came up with, and put the title at the top. LOOK AWAY FROM THE SCREEN! And do not think about Word Count or how long any of these stories are going to be. They can be any length, cats, so long as they’re Finished. And they will be, later. For now, we’ve got to prepare. Look at your titles and write down the first image that comes to mind in the appropriate document. By ‘image’, I mean Character, Blurb, Setting, Dialogue, Sentence, or Plot. Whatever floats your boat, just write it down as you come up with it. Remember that nobody’s going to see this.
Here’s the five titles with the images I came up with as I did this:

Beer Anchovia, Titus, and Thou
Planetary siege in a desperate war, aboard the requisitioned and hastily repurposed spaceliner Anchovia, a ragtag crew attempt to construct a still and keep their sanity amidst a steadily disintigrating chain of command.
First person?

The Fake and the False
Gentilia Lake, the unfortunately named con artiste, competes with the Grim Ghast for the souls of the gullible people of Lambutan. Can she save them from Hell by giving them heck? 

Leave Now and The Truth Will Follow
Gentilia Lake appears again, amongst the sheeple of Nazawrath. But when a wolf in sheep’s clothing strikes terror in the hearts of the people, she discovers that serial killers are harder to fool than she expected.
Bloody belt.

Moorsian Invasion
The Moors descended on rhinoceros-back, pillaging as they came.

The Knives of Iceland
King Jeoffrey the Ironhearted had yet to complete his submarine the day the water disappeared. thirsty. But hey, a series!

Part the Third: GO!

That’s really all you need to do. Just keep brainstorming in images until one of the titles grabs you by the balls and forces you to write it, then just sit down and actually write it until it lets go. Clear a space, don’t drink any beer, eschew sugar of all varieties, eat healthy, and just roll into the tappity-tip-tip-tappity-tap-tap until your fingers stop of their own volition. You know where the story is going, and know why you’re leaving if you stand up from the keyboard. If it’s because you’re scared, sit right back down and face the words you’ve brought into the world. They’re looking up at you with their big eyes pleading for FOOD and mommies. Do not leave them to starve in the computer. When they grow up they’ll kick your ass. 

I’d start with the Gentilia Lake story, myself. 

The dank swamp glittered in the rising sun as Gentilia Lake crawled out of it, her hair hanging down in tentacles of slime...

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