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Short Story - 12 Month Course

Whether a micro fiction or a long short story, the short story is the writing that puts your craft under the spotlight. Unlike the novel where you can have a throng of characters and let them develop at their pace, or allow for situations to arise, the short story needs you to jump straight into the action and give your readers a story they can get their teeth sink into. You will also have the satisfaction of writing and completing a story without committing a year or two to it like you might a novel.

The fact that you want to learn about writing a short story means you already possess the ability to do so. Here at writing times, we will give you the tools and techniques to bring your stories alive.
 This course and the one-to-one contact you will have will set you on the road to become a published writer.

1) What is a short story?

A short story, in its basic form, has a beginning, a middle and an end. It needs a clearly defined conflict and the story needs to start as close as possible to the conflict.

 NB: a short story is not a condensed novel or a novella.

Assignment 1:

Please introduce yourself and tell us why you are interested in the short story. What would you like to gain from this course?

Provide us with the titles of three of your favorite short stories and briefly tell us about the conflict in these stories.

2) Plotting a short story.

· Who is your main character and what does s/he want?
 · What stands in his / her way?
 · How does s/he manage the conflict (or doesn’t, as the case might be) – or what happens next?
 Resolution, where the story ends, leaving the reader satisfied.

Assignment 2:

Please think of two of the stories you would like to work on during this course and plot them using the plot outline.

3) Making your plot even more interesting.

Instead of the ‘what happens next’ approach of the previous lesson, think of ‘what could happen next’.

Assignment 3:

Still using the plot, think about other ingenious ways your character might work around the conflict. Think about what motivates your character; this will help you come up with other ways of resolving the conflict.

4) Characterisation in a short story - 1

A short story doesn’t need a cast of characters. You will need at the very most two well-developed characters.

How to create well-developed characters?

A biography of your characters

Who is your character? Where does s/he come from? What is your character proud of or ashamed of? What are his/her ambitions?

Assignment 4:

Please write the biographies of your characters.

5) Characterisation in a short story – 2

How to create well-developed characters?

“Why” questions.

The screenwriter Jurgen Wolff recommends using “why” questions in order to know your characters in depth. For instance, while the biography might tell us, character is ashamed of this, the “why” question will make you ask, Why is the character ashamed of that? And then keep going with additional questions based on your previous answers.

Assignment 5:

Tell us why you want to write this story and from your answer, ask more why questions based on your previous answers. Use the biography of your character to give us a three-dimensional picture of the character. Use even the “why” questions to interrogate your plot.

6) Setting: why is it important?

Where is the story taking place and why is it taking place there? What happens when you change it?

Assignment 6:

Tell us about your settings. Visualise them and tell us about six specific objects that shed more light on your characters.

Ex: an apparently sophisticated woman-about-town who lives in a national trust cottage. Why does she live there?

Think in depth about those objects. Are there memories attached to them? Are these memories pleasant or shameful?

7) The conflict.

What is it that your character wants to achieve and what is standing in his/her way? Use the “why” technique to better develop the problem.

Assignment 7:

What is the conflict? Why is that a problem and use your answer to ask more “why” questions.

8) Writing the short story: show, don’t tell - 1.

You know your character inside out; you can visualise your setting and you understand the conflict your character is dealing with and how s/he will manage it. You’re now itching to write your story.

Show us your character through.

- Appearance
 - A habit

Assignment 8:

Write the short stories based on the two plots provided earlier.
 One of the stories needs to have a maximum word count of 1,500 words.
 The word count for the other story is at your discretion but it must not go over 3,000 words.

9) Writing the short story: show, don’t tell - 2.

You know your character inside out; you can visualise your setting and you understand the conflict your character is dealing with and how s/he will manage it. You’re now itching to write your story.

Show us your character through.

- Dialogue:

Should set the scene, advance the action and tell us more about the character.  You must keep the character’s voice but ensure it is readable. So not too many slangs or regionalisms, especially if reading it might make it laborious. Think about the words the character uses. Might we know a bit more about him? His/her appearance, ethnicity, sexuality, background?Must create tension. Either the character says nothing, or the opposite of what we the reader know a character feels. 

Assignment 9:

Take a look again at the stories you wrote and see if your dialogues do all the functions set in the lesson. Is there a way you might tighten them?

10) Revision – edit, edit and edit again.

It was John Irving who said, “revision is the soul of editing and, as a novelist, rewriting is three-quarters of my life.”

The same applies to you as well and this is how one gets published.

Assignment 10:

Let your stories sit for a couple of weeks – work on something else if you must. Once that deadline is up, print out your stories and do a first re-read without taking any notes. Do a second re-read and this time, jot down some notes. Are there sentences that are not clear? Are there scenes that are too slow? Or too fast? 

Check also your grammar!

Send in your observations.

11) Going forward – Join writers’ groups or set one up.

There are writing circles in almost every town, but if there aren’t any in yours, perhaps you might want to set one up? Check out meetup.com to set a group up, or join an online critique group like www.youwriteon.com.

Assignment 11:

Join a writers’ group and let us know the feedback they provided you with on your stories. Using that feedback as well as your own observation from the previous lesson, re-write your stories and send them in to us.

12) Going forward – Take part in competitions.

There are countless opportunities for publishing your short stories, contrary to what you may have heard. Check out websites like www.aerogrammestudio.com.

Assignment 12:

Enter a writing competition or two – write more stories and keep attending your writers’ groups. You can share the outcome of your successes on the site if you wish.
 Best of luck in your writing career.

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