Posts Tagged ‘short story’

Two Cents on Writing Short Stories

Posted: June 18, 2015 by writingsprint in My two cents, Writing
Tags: , , ,


Recently a good friend of mine wrote his first short story. He came away exhausted by the process and frustrated by some of the thoughtful, though still negative, feedback he received. I gave him a pep talk on just how hard writing a short story is. He appreciated it, so I thought I’d share.

Dude, make no mistake, writing a short story is HARD. Lately I’ve looked at them like sonnets. They have a rhythm to them, and a structure. Yes, anyone can make their own and do it any way they want, but if you take the lazy perspective and say “just write it” — as most people who don’t write will say — it will kick you in the ass.

The trick to writing a short story is to come up with a single problem that could be resolved in the space of a day. Or a weekend, tops, and only if you gloss over the events of the weekend. I know we’ve read longer short stories, but I think the good ones move fast. It’s easier to imagine big, complicated problems that spiral out of control. Fiction is NOT reality. In a short story, things tie together. You want to do this as much as possible to keep your story focused.

A simple short story looks like this:

  • Meet the main character and what they want
  • What they want has a catch — do they really want it?
  • Put the outcome in jeopardy
  • Force the main character to choose: take what they want and pay the price, let it go, or invent another option
  • Wrap up

My favorite short story that I’ve done is Slave Soldier — several of these take place over one or two mini-scenes:

Scene 1: Cartog meets Lord Sestra, who can take away his slave collar
Scene 2: Lord Sestra turns Cartog’s squad into psychos
Scene 3: Cartog realizes his commanding officer won’t help him
Scene 4: Lord Sestra tells Cartog that he and his squad will serve him or else
Scene 5: During their next mission, Cartog arranges for a friendly fire accident to kill Lord Sestra
Epilogue: Cartog meets Darth Jadus. This scene really wasn’t even necessary, though it puts a good bow on the story, especially for SWTOR players.

Start, finish; beginning, middle, end; boom, boom, boom. Small focus is TOUGH. One of these days I plan to write a short story about someone who wants a glass of water, for the exercise. He wants a glass of water… but a little boy wants water too… the plumbing is broken… and THEN WHAT?

For your first short story, you did a bang-up job. Congrats, man!

Image credit: “diary writing” by Fredrik Rubensson at Flickr
Shared under Creative Commons license


The Number 400

Posted: February 1, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents
Tags: , , , , , ,



Three days ago, I published the 400th post at The Daily 400. I couldn’t be prouder. Almost half of those posts came in 2013, including five brand new short stories (Slave Soldier, The Wizard’s Family, The Girl and the Window, Eon, and The Problem with Immortality), something that still leaves me gobsmacked. I haven’t written five short stories in a year since college, when I was a full-time creative writing major.

I am the luckiest man on Earth, and I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I do writing them, if not more. I hope you enjoy them even more as we head into 2014. Your visits, likes and comments all inspire the hell out of me. Thank you for reading!


NothingnessThis is a funny way of describing the big bang. It’s also a good way to roll into yesterday’s prompt from WordPress: “Try to think about nothing. What happens?” I like the concept, but I must admit, I can’t think about nothing. Even when I meditate in yoga class, I’m focusing on my breathing. Listening to the sound of my breath, hearing how it even it is, and feeling the relaxation in my body and the fullness of my diaphragm with each breath, is as close as I can get to thinking about nothing at all. After I do that for a few seconds, my subconsciousness wants to come out and play. My thought process dives into a mix of dream theater and whatever is happening in the room. To go down that rabbit hole, check this out.

I do like the concept, though. I think it’s time to take a side trip to see my favorite migraine sufferer: Bob Parr from the “Shatter” series.

Dr. Sekare finished attaching the electrodes to Bob’s head. “These are passive,” he reminded Bob. “I’m not going to light you up.” He smiled gently.

“Do I look like I don’t believe you?”

“I wanted to make sure you do.”

Bob gave him a half cocked grin, one that he reserved for wise assed coworkers and car salesmen. “Saying it over again doesn’t help, Doc. Let’s just get on with it.” If the good doctor really did light him up, Bob would take it out of his hide afterwards.

Dr. Sekare nodded to the nurse. She turned on the machine. Numbers and plots of brain waves flowed up and down the screen. Bob didn’t have a clue what they were measuring. Dr. Sekare took some notes. He murmured to the nurse, made some adjustments, and seemed satisfied with what he was seeing.

“All right, then. Close your eyes, and breathe deeply.” Bob did. “Imagine that you’re sitting in a fishing boat, on a completely still day. The water is still, and the boat isn’t moving. Mist is on the water. You can barely see the land through the mist. Below you, the water is a sheet of deep, blue glass. Some time ago you saw fish in the water, but now you don’t see anything at all.”

Bob took a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. The air felt cool.

“This is safe place.” The machine began beeping. Sekare caught his breath. A little testily, he asked, “Are you all right, Mr. Parr?” It sounded like a tone he used on graduate students.

Bob wasn’t one of them, so he didn’t like hearing that tone. “Sorry, Doc. Same thing. If someone tells me, I’m safe, I don’t believe them.”

“Will you take my word for it?”

Bob laughed. “Sure.”

“Then take a minute and try to bring your mind back to the same level of relaxation you were in just a moment ago. Take as long as you need.” It took a while. Bob thought he could hear Dr. Sekare’s breathing tighten up as the time drew out. It reminded him of a snake hiss. Funny. As Bob relaxed, Sekare’s hiss went away, too. It made Bob angry. After last night’s nose-bleeding headache, it would be nice if the doctor remembered who the patient was.

Sekare spoke in almost a whisper. “Stillness. Nothingness.”

Bob’s world faded away. The boat seemed to be in the middle of an infinite lake, with water the color of the night sky. Bob let it go farther. Dr. Sekare droned on about relaxation or the misty breaths of air, but Bob didn’t hear him. He was falling. It didn’t feel bad or scary.

Then something weird happened. Shooting stars started to appear in the water. Bob thought that they looked like grunion fish. Like any good fisherman, he flicked the rod without thinking about it. More appeared. Dozens. Hundreds. The light escalated to a blinding crescendo. Bob watched unafraid, as if it was happening to someone else’s mind. It wasn’t even his dream, for Christ’s sake. The boat disappeared and Bob rode a nova of light heading for the top of Creation.

It all shattered. An electrical shock went across Bob’s body from his right shoulder to his left abdomen. He was sprawled across the examining bed. Dr. Sekare was standing over him, looking like he just dialed 911. His nearly bald head was tousled up and his glasses weren’t even on straight. He held defibrillator paddles.

“Can you hear me?” Sekare asked. Bob nodded. “You went into brain dysfunction. I… I’m sorry. I had to wake you back up and this was the fastest way I knew how.”

Bob tried to speak. He couldn’t form words.

The Daily Post‘s suggestion for today is to write a story in just six words. Hemingway said, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” My favorite is the classic, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Let’s see if I can do at least 100 words’ worth.

Neo Bullets

Words are like bullets: you don't need so many.

  • He shot first. I shot last.
  • I got away. Not far enough.
  • He escaped justice but not mummies.
  • Eleven said “guilty,” one said “innocent.”
  • He stood by his convictions, alas.
  • He fooled everyone except the Mafia.
  • They killed every zombie but one.
  • Dracula forgot “spring forward, fall back.”
  • For sale: wedding ring, gently used.
  • Dinner was ruined. Thanks Dr. Heimlich!
  • Thankfully, some organ donors can’t drive.
  • A rainy wedding, a sunny lifetime.
  • The worst pets can save lives.
  • The stutterer kissed his love poetically.
  • He learned patience. She learned forgiveness.
  • For sale: one rod, spared frequently.
  • Anonymous donors make happy school districts.

These next few stories weren’t mine, but coming up with them kept the creative juices flowing.

  • Star Wars: Luke grew up and saved Anakin.
  • Henry VIII’s wives: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. (I did not make this one up but I had to pass it along!)
  • The Lord of the Rings: Frodo lost Bilbo’s ring, thank God.
  • Deep Impact: Oceans rise. Cities fall. Hope survives. (This was the movie’s actual tag line.)
  • A Christmas Carol: Scrooge met three ghosts and changed.
  • Friday the 13th: The skinny dipping teenagers met Jason.
  • Hamlet: Elsinore prince too indecisive: everybody dies.
  • The Battle of Marathon: He said, “We conquer!” and died.
  • Dune: A Duke betrayed. A Messiah awakened.