Notes on short story writing

 

One of the creative outlets I’d like to attempt and explore for this blog is short story writing. At the moment I have none on here, my progress has been extremely slow on them I must admit. But I’ll eventually get there, I hope. I’ve no formal education in creative writing so I’m not overly sure how to approach it, but I figure even if the end product is poor I will enjoy the process as I fumble my way through it. As I wanted to explore fiction with a horror/Sci-Fi theme, I decided to pick up a couple of Stephen King’s short story collections, specifically the first two from his earlier years called Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. I thoroughly enjoyed them and found that reading them I gained a few pointers I could apply to writing my own stories. Whether these are the messages he wanted to convey, or whether I put them together only in my mind, here are a couple of tips I’ve learned.

– You don’t have to explain it all. One thing that somewhat holds me back from completing a story is that I feel obligated to explain the antagonist or evil that exists. I’ve noticed that on multiple occasions, there is no origin or explanation given and the reader simply has to accept it. A clear example of this is Mr. King’s story “The Raft”. Nothing is mentioned regarding how this blob floating on water came to be, only what happens if you touch it or stare to long at it. Where it came from is anyone’s guess. I feel knowing this tidbit gives me more freedom to write creatively and not worry about explaining all the logic to the reader. After all, it is fiction.

– A little backstory on a character can help the reader connect to them. Certainly not all protagonists or antagonists require a comprehensive backstory, but adding a little background allows the reader to empathize with the characters. I’ve noticed this used repeatedly, and sometimes the background can connect to the main story or display a character’s motivations. But sometimes it’s just to give a little realism or flavor to the story without being utilized. While that may violate the Chekov’s gun principle, I still find it can be effective in getting the reader engaged when they’re more familiar with the characters.

– An idea, even if partially absurd or dull, can come from anywhere. Many of the short stories I’ve read from Mr. King can have very simple premises, and in Skeleton Crew he explains some of the inspirations for a few of his short fiction works. For instance the idea behind “The Mist” came to him standing in line at a grocery store with the thought of how could someone defend a place like this? But this is only a starting point. After the initial idea, expanding it is important and the writing, of course, can make even a mundane idea a gripping read. Take a simple idea or thought that pops in your head and follow a train of thought. It might go off on some wild tangent and you could have a great idea on your hands thereafter.

– Write. This isn’t necessarily a lesson I’ve learned from reading these collections, but rather a general guideline that Mr. King seems to live by. Besides his classic horror stories, he’s also know for the pace in which he completes them, even George R.R. Martin has praised Mr. King’s pace. The point is to keep doing it and make a habit of it, with this regular practice your work will only improve. Slightly related to this, is to keep writing even if you’re not happy with the progress, you can always go back and edit it later.

These are not the “be all or end all” tips for short story writing. But for me they offer a couple of options that can get me over my hurdles that prevent me from writing. Another pointer that sometimes kicks me back into the writing mood I received from a comic book writer at Fan Expo Toronto back in 2016. It goes along the lines of this: If you’re discouraged about your idea, walk into any book store and look around at how many books there are. Then remind yourself they can’t all be amazingly great and yours is probably comparable to many of them or could even be better. But the difference is the writer sat down and went through with writing the whole thing. That’s not a word for word quote and nor can I remember the writer’s name (I would gladly give him credit if I could), but it does sometimes reassure me to use an idea or finish a story whenever I feel the negative self-criticism creeping in telling me it’s trash. I hope that if you’re working on a story and are stuck or questioning it at times, that at least one of the points above can help motivate you to work on it.

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