A primer on short narratives. This applies to short pieces of fiction and creative nonfiction. Origins of Narrative/Story?.
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This applies to short pieces of fiction and creative nonfiction
“The best thing to do about the modern short story’s ‘origins’ is just forget them: they’re in Chekhov and Joyce and James and in things like the Imagist movement in poetry and Pound’s and Eliot’s approaches to criticism. Independent of any ‘traditions’ or ‘influences’ or ‘origins,’ the short story became immediately as complex, intricate, and difficult as any other contemporary form, more so. At any rate, it has no connection with cavemen or ‘simple utterance.’”
~ Rust Hills, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
Storytelling is a universal human need.
For convenience, we’ll focus on the short story, noting any differences between the two forms.
*Short memoirs create a vivid and continuous dreamof a more literal nature.
* This applies to short memoirs as well. Not writing fact-based articles or news features. Short memoirs tell a story in the same way that short fiction tells a story.
For many, storytelling comes naturally and we intuitively know what is fundamental to a story.
“A story is a complete dramatic action – and in good stories, the characters are shown through the action and the action is controlled through the characters, and the result of this is meaning that derives from the whole presented experience.” ~ Flannery O’Connor
But the most important aspects of stories are not often considered. That’s what we’re going to look at this term.
1. Sensual Detail
2. Dramatic Action
4. Conflict & Tension
5. Pity & Fear = Catharsis
6. Meaning/“Moral POV”
From whence do they come?
“Literal memory is the enemy… A work of art is an organic thing. Every detail must organically resonate with every other detail. If you have an intransigent (uncompromising) literal memory – and intransigent is what literal memories are – it sits in the middle of the organic object and destroys everything around it.”
~ Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream
“An idea is no more than a spark that sets the story process into motion, even in such a literature of ideas as science fiction… The idea itself is not what makes a story distinctive. Consider the difference between a sensational tabloid headline, WOMAN SLEEPS WITH HUSBAND’S CORPSE FOR FORTY YEARS and William Faulkner’s treatment of the same idea in ‘A Rose for Emily.’
An idea is essential—but an idea is not enough. As science fiction editors, we see altogether too many so-called stories that do no more than present ideas… Unless you are writing a deliberately shallow action-adventure story, the overall plot and the development of your characters must come to MEAN something.”
~ George H. Scithers & Darrel Schweitzer, “I Have an Idea”
Curiosities – (UFOs, twins, burlesque)
Ambiguities/mysteries – (good & evil, way we’re indoctrinated by our moms, justice)
Headlines/overheard stories – pet tiger mauls baby, girl burned by fireworks
Dreams – “Monsters in Appalachia”
Songs – Better man
“Loaded” objects – snake, cage, Nazi earrings
Physical oddities – wooden leg, hair lip
Postcards/photographs – R.O. Butler
The importance of CHANGE and MEANING
“Everything you write is the same: two worlds collide; a love story.” ~ John Gardner
“A character is someone capable of change. Story is the process of that change. The change may be from alive to dead, from ugly to beautiful, from ignorant to wise, callous to compassionate, from certain to uncertain or vice versa. But the change occurs because the character confronts a situation that will challenge her/his assumptions and somehow shake up the easy beliefs—hence the prevalence, in such a formulation, of strangers, journeys, and worlds. I like the metaphor of the two worlds, too, because it suggests both the importance of setting and the necessity of discovery. The new world that the character discovers may be the house next door; it may be a different set of assumptions or the next stage of life (puberty is a foreign country, marriage is an undiscovered planet)—but the story will always end in an altered state in at least the character whose POV we share. Usually the story will result in greater wisdom, compassion, or understanding—though it can end in diminishment or narrowing. As readers, however, we will always, if the story succeeds, have our capacity for empathy enlarged by having lived in the character’s skin for the duration. Every story, in this way, is a love story.”
~ Janet Burroway, The Elements of Fiction
Part One: Come up with a character who yearns for something. Do not move on to the next phase until you have a clear idea of what your character yearns for.
a. Freedom b. Justice c. Revenge d. Forgiveness
Part Two: Select one of the scenarios below.
1. A character finds something. What is it? From what new world does it come?
2. A character begins a new position of some kind or changes roles in some way. What stranger does he meet there?
Part Three: Write a paragraph sketching out the setting, describing the objects, and setting the scene. If you can, begin to imagine what obstacles stand in the way of your character’s yearning.