By Paul Davies in uardian.co.uk
You’ve got a story to tell – I can see it in your eyes – a tense, beautiful, moving story that’s going to pick me up and take me someplace I’ve never been. I hope.
Readers are very demanding. They want to be entertained, amused, startled, inspired, gripped, seduced, and it’s your job as a writer to make sure they’re satisfied.
Writers have been producing brilliant short stories for centuries and from their examples we can work out the techniques that have kept readers happy.
1. Don’t chew with no gum!
Have something to say. Work out what is important to you – what makes you angry, sad or happy. This is your theme. It gives your story emotional energy and momentum.
2. ‘Character is plot, plot is character’
So said F. Scott Fitzgerald. Develop characters by figuring out how they would behave in certain situations – personality, attitude and point of view shine through actions and finely tuned dialogue. Determine what they need or desire most and you will understand what your story is about.
Grab the reader instantly. Avoid preamble or exposition. Begin in the middle of a crisis, a situation or a problem. It can be an action, dialogue or image, anything as long as it is arresting, unusual and compelling.
4. Set up – build up – pay off
A good story is structured like a joke. Set up a problem that the characters must overcome. Build up the tension by introducing complications and obstacles as the characters attempt to solve the problem. When the tension has built to a climax deliver the punch line in the form of an event or realisation to provide a solution.
Your story must be rife with tension. So create conflict between characters, within characters, or between characters and their environment. If the conflict keeps the characters from achieving their desires you’re generating the drama that keeps readers hooked.
6. Show don’t tell
Don’t tell the reader what to think or feel – they won’t appreciate it. Appeal to their intelligence and imagination by conveying your theme through emotion, sense impressions and action.
7. ‘Write hard and fast about what hurts’
As Hemingway advised, write about things in your life that are difficult or painful. All great literature deals with tragedy or falls from grace. Readers love schadenfreude.
Stick to one theme, one narrative point of view, one situation, and at most three characters.
Proofread and edit your story. Read it out loud and rewrite it until it flows naturally. Cut all the words that aren’t necessary. Mark Twain crossed out every adjective and only reinstated those that were absolutely vital.
Carry a notebook and write whenever you can. Use text messages to make notes when a notebook isn’t practical. Collect words and phrases. Observe people. Imagine their lives and stories. Figure out what makes them tick.
A great way to improve is read. Read Annie Proulx, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Yates. Learn from some of the best short story writers around.
PAUL DAVIES IN GUARDIAN
Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.