This is the first in a series on Writing Basics. No matter where we are in the process of writing, we can always use a refresher course in the basics — description, setting, plot, theme, characterization. Each week I’ll cover a different basic element used in both fiction and nonfiction. Today, I’m trying something different and starting at the end. I’ll be discussing a method for writing a short story. As I add other blogs covering the building blocks of writing, readers will be able to refer back to the following to learn how to integrate the elements into the whole.
I used the following method for writing a short story in several fiction classes to great success. I brainstormed a story using this method to use as an example in class. Antique Clock ended up published in an anthology. Fiction teachers feel free to use this.
Create a character. Man or woman, girl or boy. Give them a name, a job, a school, a religion, parents, siblings, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, hobbies, faults, strengths.
For Antique Clock, Judith was a 40-something therapist who was a recovering alcholic. She’d just divorced her husband. Her father had been a therapist before her. Something happened, and the court required her to attend AA meetings regularly. She collected antique clocks, was upper middle class, and lived alone in Seattle.
Create another character. For ease of use, try to create someone different from your first character. Don’t worry too much about it, just let whatever comes, come.
For Antique Clock, I created Analise, a Christian girl who had horrible troubles with an obsessive mother. She was in her 20s, an alcoholic. She felt out of control a lot of the times, so she wrote notes in tiny lettering in her journals. She worked at a jewelry counter at a mall in a small town outside of Seattle.
Create a setting. Pick a building, a landscape, a situation where the two characters could meet. A grocery store checkout line, the doctor’s office, a lawyers office, a courtroom, daycare, doggie daycare. Don’t think too hard, just whatever setting pops into your mind. Use all your senses to create this setting. What does it smell like? What does it feel like? Is there food nearby? What does it taste like? How dark is it? Light? What furniture?
For Antique Clock I used the basement of a Baptist Church, metal chairs, a big ticking wall clock. AA meetings were held there. There’s a BBQ grill covered with greasy cardboard in the corner. Grease on the floor. A bushy wool wall hanging saying something about Jesus.
Now put the two characters together in that setting. Add other background characters. Let the two main characters speak. Write dialogue. Have something physical happen. Somebody falls down. Somebody has a gun. A car wreck, the woman in the grocery line doesn’t have enough money for her groceries, the girl in the doctor’s office just found out she has cancer, etc.
In Antique Clock, Judith becomes addicted to Analise and wants to give her a clock. Analise is triggered because Judith is like her mother. Story ends in an accidental car chase.
Try this exercise. You’ll be surprised how fun it is and what kind of story evolves out of it. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing this story exercise while examing writing basics like characterization, setting, plot and theme.
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