EVOLUTION OF A SHORT STORY
As much as I talk about writing, I’ve never sat down and analyzed, or gave a step-by-step process of how I go about writing a short story. This is especially true of when it’s actually happening, or in this case, just happened. While it’s fresh and raw off the press, I thought I’d outline how I just did one. It might give you all insight.
THE NUGGET OF INSPIRATION, THE MUSE, THE PUSH TO CREATE
It’s been a while since I’ve written a true one-of-a-kind short story. It’s not like I don’t write something every day, but usually that’s part of something else, maintenance as I like to call it (especially coming from that world). It’s not like I’m not busy either. I have a lot on my plate, getting ready for my book launch, keeping up my web site (this article being an example), and I’m also editing a manuscript. However, when the muse strikes, I have to go with it.
I got the nugget for this inspiration about a week ago at the writer’s group meeting. Though I have several short stories still in the archives, when our secretary Audrey Balzart brought up that we only have two weeks left to submit to the newest Writer’s Bloc annual anthology, her announcement prompted me to come up with something fresh. I’d been brewing on it for a bit but with so much going on, I’d left this short story thing on the back burner. That evening, something popped into my head out of the blue. I won’t say what it is, that’s the surprise of the story, but that nugget of inspiration brewed in my brain a bit and I thought about it off and on for a few days.
Once in a while it would pop up in my mind as things around me inspired me. I’d think about it, then brew on it a bit more. That, my friends was the seed for the story.
FORMING THE BASIS FOR THE STORY
As with any story I write, I want to know where to start and where to end. That’s pretty much my entire outline. I don’t need to write any of that down. All I need to do is settle that in my head, and I’m good to go.
I thought about that nugget of inspiration and after brewing on it for those few days, I thought about where to begin and where to end, the key elements, so to speak. Truth be told, the ending came to me right away. It didn’t take more than one take, to use movie jargon, to come up with the ending. In fact, that part came to me when I got home from work as I was getting out of my car.
The beginning took a little more time, but when I finally figured that out, it was just a matter of time to sit down between everything else and start the story.
GETTING DOWN TO BONES
I started it on a Thursday evening after NBC Nightly News. I think I fell asleep during the second half and my wife woke me up. I came into my workroom, had to start the framework for continuing with the editing job, did some other stuff and kept putting off starting the story. Okay, I procrastinated almost until the 11th hour.
Finally, I saved as the file with the title, which came to me on-the-spot, and typed.
I made it to the second paragraph before Bones came on. Game over.
About five minutes of work and I nailed the title and beginning. That was it for night one.
Friday, we sat down to watch Bill Maher and discovered it was a surprise repeat. Since I was expecting to watch an hour of TV, I opted to read instead, but forty-five minutes into that hour, I couldn’t stand it anymore and came back into the computer room. You see, I take both my TV nights and my computer time seriously!
I fudged around with the editing job, then messed around with trivial things, with no muse in sight. Before I knew it, with Hawaii 5-0 looming on the horizon, my muse finally called strong enough to get down and dirty.
I pulled up the short story file and got to work. First I read through the two paragraphs from Thursday night, got my rhythm going and bang! Twenty minutes later, I had 1,443 words down. I closed it and watched Hawaii 5-0.
Saturday morning I did the first edit.
Did I say what I wanted to say? Did I use the voice I wanted to? Did I make a lot of grammatical mistakes?
As for grammatical mistake, I made a few tweaks, but overall, it wasn’t too bad. No misspellings, but I had a few misplaced modifiers and I re-worded a few sentences to fix context. Little stuff. I’m sure my writer’s group will find more.
As for voice? When I caught my muse for this one, I wanted to make it a first-person account because the story is about me, and from my viewpoint. Though I despise first-person in fiction, this is not, thereby making first-person acceptable. There’s no or very little dialogue because I’m not conversing with anyone. The story is my thoughts and opinions. I’m not here to liven it up by making up conversations. So, the voice is me. There’s humor in it as well as sarcasm. That’s definitely me!
Did I say what I wanted to say? Uh, yeah! There was one place where I more or less implied it. When I read it back, I saw where I didn’t say it directly, but to rewrite the paragraph and bludgeon the reader over the head with it was unnecessary.
In the end, I realized it wasn’t a short story, but an essay, an op-ed? I’d written a humorous opinion piece. It was exactly what I wanted to say.
This process took a half hour.
If I get on the list in time, I may have a chance to read it at the writer’s group meeting. I’m sure I’ll get a plethora of opinions, good and bad. I’ll of course, listen to them all. Will I go with all of them? It depends on what they say. As usual, I don’t have to do everything they say. However, I do listen to each opinion, no matter how off-the-wall.
Turns out, I did make the list and read it Monday night. I heard the predicted wide range of opinions from changing the order to make the story flow to adding dialogue, to changing this and that. It was great feedback from a wide range of viewpoints. I especially liked it because I just started reading and didn’t let anyone know what I was reading. They had no pre-conceived notions. Their opinions were raw and as unbiased as I could get.
With maybe an hour’s work total, maybe a bit more after the writer’s group as I ponder which advice to take, I whipped out an essay of about 1,400+ words. Not everyone can do that, while some can do a lot more. What I do with it in the end is hard to say. Will I submit it to Writer’s Bloc? Not sure. I may use it for something else.
The point is that I felt the muse and followed it.
How about you? I know it’s not as simple for many of you, but if you can, don’t worry about the mechanics. If you get the muse, just go with it and see what comes out in the wash. You may surprise yourself. All it costs is a bit of time. You never know until you try.