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Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 3:15 PM |  
Have you always wanted to try your hand at creative writing? Maybe you've got a story you've been thinking about for years, but weren't quite sure you'd be able to put it into words. How to Write a Short Story describes the techniques and practices that will help you put your ideas into short story form so you can share them with the world, or maybe just your closest friends.
There is something about storytellers that fascinates each and every one of us. Whether it's a good book, a story in a magazine or the classic tale told around the campfire, the elements of those stories hold us enthralled. If you are writing as a result of an English class assignment, or you've just always wanted to try your hand at creative writing, the short story is a great place to start.
Believe it or not, each story, no matter what genre it falls under, contains the same basic elements. Characters, dialogue, setting and action follow a simple pattern of events to a climax, and as the tension and excitement build, so does the story itself.

Read, Read, Read!

One of the most important tools of writing is reading. Most writers discover their love for the written word in the pages of a favorite book. Reading is inspirational to writers on many levels. Not only is it imperative to research the subject matter you wish to write about, but you can learn a lot about style, syntax and structure from other writers.
Inspiration can also be found in the worlds created by other writers. Take the science-fiction/fantasy series Dragonlance. The original writers of the first Dragonlance books, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, drew inspiration for their series from the popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Much of Dungeons and Dragons was inspired by the the works of J.R.R. Tolkien of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings fame. Tolkien himself found inspiration in early Anglo-Saxon literature in stories like Beowulf and Poetic and Prose Eddas from Norway.

3. Read to strengthen your writing skills.
4. Do background research for your own stories by reading.
5. Read for inspiration.

The Basic Components

When you take a story and break it down, you will usually find the same five basic components:
1. Protagonist (Main Character)
2. Setting
3. Conflict/Antagonist
4. Climax
5. Resolution

The protagonist is the "I Want" or "I Need" character that drives the plot of the story. It is your job as the writer to give this character a goal or desire and then set up obstacles to the achievement to that goal. Since the protagonist is your main character, you want to know everything about this person. The more you know, the more realistic he or she becomes and the easier it is for readers to identify with and believe in his or her plight.

Setting is essential to a story in that it helps to put your readers on familiar ground with your characters. It explores the time, the place, and the elements surrounding your character. Keep in mind that the events in a short story usually cover a relatively short amount of time.

Central Conflict/Antagonist
The antagonist is the main obstacle your protagonist must confront to reach his or her goal. Often the antagonist will materialize as a secondary character or group of characters in the plot. Antagonists can be other people, events or just about anything that has a habit of getting in the way of your protagonist reaching the goal you've set up. Just as your protagonist is in an "I need" frame of mind, so too is your antagonist, though the antagonist's need is to thwart every attempt of your protagonist.

The story wouldn't be interesting without the conflict, and getting through it can't be easy or else readers will wind up dissatisfied. You want to make sure your conflict intensifies gradually until it reaches a breaking point.

As an example, your character needs to reach her destination, but her car breaks down. She calls a taxi, but when the driver shows up, she can't find her wallet. Her best friend comes along and offers her a ride, but on the way they get stuck in traffic. These little events actively work against your character and build the tension to a breaking point.

This breaking point will result in the climax. The character realizes that her destination is only a couple of blocks from where she is stuck in traffic, and if she gets out and runs she'll just make it on time. You're at the highest peak in the roller coaster ride, and there's nowhere to go now but down. The climax is the release your protagonist finds after a long and arduous struggle against the odds.

The conflict has been resolved, and it is time to wind the story down. Resolution does not always mean "happy ending", but in some cases it will. For example, the protagonist mentioned in the above example arrives at her destination just in time for her appointment. What happens from there determines whether she has a happy or unhappy ending, but the most important thing is that you've solved the central conflict by getting her to her destination. Try to avoid tying up all the loose ends into a neat little bow. Life itself doesn't wrap up that way, so neither should your fiction.

The Story in Three Parts
Within the five essential parts that make up the short story, the actual story itself will break down into three sections: the beginning, middle and ending.

First Paragraph
The first paragraph is one of the most important paragraphs in the entire story. It is the bait that will capture your reader so you can reel them into the rest of the story. Start out with a catchy sentence and follow it with enough detail to entice your reader to read on. Get the action started quickly in a short story because you only have a limited amount of time in which to tell things.

The Body
The body of your story is going to contain the majority of your plot. Your protagonist's conflicts and interaction with the antagonist will follow through to the climax. The key to this section is making sure that your writing remains fresh and consistent. You may find while you're writing that you want to break away from the original plan or outline. Don't be afraid to follow your instincts.

You've resolved the major conflict and are ready to end the story. There are several ways to stylistically end a story. You can use character dialogue, character revelation, parallel events that occurred in the beginning, an image or event representative of the resolution or a symbolic image or event. You may feel compelled to wrap everything up neatly, but don't overdo it. Don't force the resolution for your reader, it is something that should occur naturally.

Step 1: Turn on the Idea Machine
The human imagination is an idea machine. You just need to know how to turn it on. For some writers the idea machine never seems to sleep, while others need a jump start to help them get things rolling. Here are a few tips that will help you get your idea machine started:

1. There's nothing quite like a good brainstorm! Brainstorming is the process of writing down whatever comes to mind for a period of time and then mining the results for that golden idea. Don't censor yourself when you brainstorm. Write down every nutty idea that pops into your mind.

2. Scan newspapers and magazine articles for interesting tidbits that can be turned into plot.

3. Draw from personal experience. It's a lot easier than you might think to turn your life into fiction.

4. Use an online story generator. Many online story generators provide you with a protagonist, setting and antagonist. It's up to you to put them together and see how it turns out.

5. Ideas can strike anywhere, so be sure to carry a notepad with you to jot down any ideas that pop up while you're on the go.

Step 2: Research and Outlines
Now that you've come up with an idea and you know the five elements that every good story requires, you're ready to get to work on the foundation for your short story.

Research is an essential tool in the writing process. It pays to know your subject material forward and backward because it will increase the believability of your story.

1. The library is a great place to begin research. Many libraries now offer the convenience of wireless internet, so if you have a laptop, you can take it along.

2. The internet has become an invaluable resource, often providing library access to online articles and journals from the comfort of your own home.

3. There is no better research than hands-on experience, so if it's possible for you to spend some time around your subject matter, by all means do so.

If you prefer outlining your story so you have a reference point to refer to, start by mapping things out scene by scene. You can break those scenes down into smaller pieces once you've got the overall plot outlined. Because you're only writing a short story, a short outline will do.

1. Break things down scene by scene.
2. Break down scenes to include important information on characters, setting and actions.
3. Use index cards or post-it notes to keep track of ideas.
4. As mentioned earlier, believable characters are at the hub of all good stories. Spend some time getting to know your characters by mapping out a character outline. Include minute personal details about family, friends, habits, likes and dislikes, hopes and aspirations.

Some professional writers and creative writing instructors will tell you that you can't simply write off the cuff, that having a plan and an outline is the only way to create a solid work of fiction. Others believe that the confinement of a formula restricts the creative process. If you feel more comfortable making plans and outlines, then by all means, do so, but there is no shame in winging it either.

Step 3: The Writing Process
Your research is done, and you've got an outline to follow. It's time start the actual writing part of your short story. For some people the actual writing is the intimidating part.

General Writing Tips
0. Avoid using too many big words. Simple language can be just as eloquent.
1. Three major characters are enough for a short story.
2. Show, don't tell. Telling a reader what is happening makes for a boring read.
3. Use meaningful dialogue to convey character.
4. Use active verbs.
5. Let the action rise at a natural pace.
6. Keep research at hand for reference.

Choose your story's point-of-view: first person, third person limited or third person omniscient. Once you've chosen a narrative point-of-view make sure you stick to that point-of-view through the entirety of the story.

1. First person refers to the main character as "I" and "me". This point-of-view is limited to only one perspective because "I" is only aware of "my" own experiences.
2. Third person limited explores one character's perspective.
3. Third person omniscient is more flexible because it explores the thoughts and experiences of several different characters.
4. A fourth perspective: Second Person tells the story from a "you" point of view: "You approach the tunnel, and a chill ripples through you..." This point-of-view is rarely used.

Once you've decided on a point-of-view, you'll want to choose a tense to write in. If the story is happening now, you'll chose present tense. If the action happened yesterday, or when your character was five years old, you'll write in past tense. After you decide which tense you want to use, it is imperative that you don't switch back and forth between different tenses.

Dialogue is an important part of almost every story. It is how your characters communicate with each other. Here are some important things to remember about using dialogue:

1. Use dialogue to help establish character identity.
2. Meaningful dialogue tagging will help you show your reader what is going on instead of telling them.
3. Make sure all your dialogue has purpose.
4. Each new speaker begins a new paragraph.

Writer's Block
A common enemy of writers, writer's block is a stall in the creative process. One of the best ways to battle against the block is to keep writing. Even if what you write isn't how you wanted things to turn out, continuing to write against your writer's

Step 4: Editing
Once you've finished writing the story it's time to start editing. Take some time to go through the story looking for grammar, punctuation, spelling errors and diction. Check for tense consistency and structural problems as well. Editing a story can take days or even weeks because you want to keep reading and rereading until you're satisfied with the final result.
You may want to ask a trusted friend, mentor or family member to look over your story for you. Feedback can play an essential role in your revisions, and a second pair of eyes will be more likely to pick up on mistakes that you might have overlooked. Because we tend to learn from our mistakes be sure to receive any and all criticism with an open mind.
In addition to friends and family there are a number of growing online writing communities that provide feedback, support and advice for budding writers.

Whether you are writing with publication in mind, to fulfill an assignment or simply because you have always wanted to try your hand at creative writing, the completion of your first short story is an accomplishment to celebrate. If the writing of that short story sparked a passion inside of you, keep writing; practice is one surefire way to improve the quality of your writing
signed Daddy Long-Legged


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