The Art of the Short Story – Where Can I Buy It?

Short Story Structure

Short Story Structure

One thing I’ve learnt recently is that I love to write short fiction. These short scenes or stories are typically between 1,000 – 1,500 words long, mostly because that’s all I have time to write in my lunch hour. My latest one can be found at the bottom of this post if you fancy a read.

I’ve also come to realise that for a reader they probably aren’t that satisfying. They are scenes from a bigger story at best, they have no real beginning, middle or end. They are snapshots of an imaginary life that pops into my head, triggered by whatever writing prompt I have chosen that day. I’ve got used to writing these and if you think about it, these are exactly what a scene in a 50,000 word novel will be made up of, only in an orderly fashion.

Now, like most writers, I have come to enjoy the fact that people actually read my work. They take the time to head over to Wattpad and read the words that I have written. I know this because I can see the little counters going up. This initial buzz of knowing that complete strangers are reading my small contribution to the literary world (and I use that term loosely) was steadily being crushed by the low number of people interacting to let me know what they think.

I have no real way of knowing if they are any good, I have never studied creative writing, I’ve never attended writer retreats or asked anyone who knows about good prose to appraise my work (sorry family, you don’t count). How do I know if what I am publishing online for the whole world to see is laughably bad? Does anyone ever know that? I understand now why writers love to receive reviews of their work, it gives purpose and drive. It makes them believe they are not shouting into the void.

Anyway, that was then, this is now. I am over that. Or at least, it affects me less.

What I want to do now is learn to write longer short stories, ones with beginnings, middles and ends. Ones that leave the reader satisfied and sorry to leave it behind. I started to look online for hints and tips on structure, length and pacing and came away feeling just a little bit daunted. The general consensus is that it’s actually harder than writing a novel, that it is an art form in itself.

So my question is this, where can I learn about this art? Does anyone have any good resources or tips they would like to share? I think my readers would thank you and you can help this novice writer to get just a little bit better.

Read on if you want to see the results of my latest writing prompt scribblings.

Thanks,

Nicola

*********************************************************

The writing prompt for this was to start the story with the sentence – ‘I have nothing to apologise for’.

This is where I went with it.

Crushed

‘I have nothing to apologise for.’ Helen said, crossing her arms firmly across her chest.

‘Oh my God, you can’t be serious?’ I asked, watching her face for signs of a breaking smile, anything to signal that she might be joking.

‘I AM serious! The only way he’ll ever hear a sorry from me is if I accidentally say it with my dying breath and he happens to be there.” Helen snatched two glasses from the cupboard and sloshed red wine into them and onto the counter beneath them. “And I’ll be highly pissed off if that happens!” She added, handing me my glass and taking a large gulp of her own.

“Helen, you had his fucking Porsche crushed!”

“I know.” She shrugged.

“His new Porsche.” I reminded her.

“I know.”

“For no reason.” I added.

Helen nonchalantly sipped her wine and turned her attention to the small concrete yard outside my kitchen window. She had always been hotheaded but had gone further to prove her point this time than she had ever done before.

“Helen, are you listening to me? Andrew’s been reasonable so far but he’s made it clear he’ll prosecute you if you don’t apologise.”

Helen carried on watching nothing discernible in the courtyard, running her finger slowly around the rim of her glass.

“It wasn’t for no reason.” She said softly. I could hear, rather than see, the pout on her face. “He didn’t answer my texts for two whole days”

I sighed at my childhood friend, shaking my head as much to topple her words into a scenario that made sense as to show my exasperation. “He was working in a back of beyond village and had no signal, he didn’t know you’d been texting him.” I said, my arms raised in front of me, palms up, begging for common sense to to fall from above so I could throw it at her.

“I might have known you’d take his side, you always do.” She squeaked in an octave too high for the small kitchen. “They have pay phones in signal black spots you know. He could have called at some point over the weekend but he didn’t even try. I was worried sick, anything could have happened to him.”

I stared at Helen, she had a knack of saying the right words when they were required but it was very rare that they reached below her pampered skin. I had known Helen since the first day of primary school when we arrived in our red and white dresses and perfectly even pigtails. Even in those innocent days of dolls houses and dressing up, I’d never known Helen put anyone first but Helen.

“Worried?” I asked sceptically. “You were at the Country Club with Giles for half of the time and with Bitchy Bertie for the rest of it. When did you find time to worry?”

Helen turned and started to straighten the collection of storage tins and cooking implements that haphazardly lined the counter in front of her.

“I tried to call him on Saturday when my credit card was declined, Giles and I had a lovely lunch at the club and I offered to pay. I’d never been so embarrassed in my life, I made the waitress try again and then insisted that the manager try in case that incompetent girl didn’t know how to work the bloody machine. I tried to call Andrew a dozen times and his phone went straight to voicemail every time, in the end, Giles had to pay. I was mortified, you know how I like to pay my own way.”

I almost spat my mouthful of wine on the floor. “With the credit card that Andrew pays for?”

Helen ignored my question and began studiously tidying my cutlery drawer. “I sent him a furious text, which he also ignored.”

I opened my mouth to point out the signal issue again but she held up her hand to silence me. I watched my friend turning the knives, forks and spoons to align perfectly with each other in their trays for a few minutes before judging that it was safe to speak again.

“Then what happened Helen? I’m curious to know how this ended up with you having his car crushed.”

She took off her tailored pale pink jacket and hung it on the back of one of the mismatched chairs tucked under my ancient round dining table in the centre of the small kitchen. Her matching, made to measure dress complimenting the blonde hair falling in teased waves around her shoulders. She always looked immaculate, nothing less would do. I’m not certain how we remained friends all these years, we are complete opposites of each other in every way.

“After the credit card disaster, I sent him a few text messages asking him to get in touch.”

“Two hundred and twelve.” I said to her back. “That’s how many texts you sent him over the weekend.

“Like I said, I was worried.”

“He says they were quite threatening, that you were accusing him of being off on a dirty weekend.”

“Yes well, I was imaging the worst wasn’t I?” Helen had finished with the cutlery drawer and was now neatly lining up the mugs in my cupboard whilst I remained still, propped up against the counter where I’d been since she burst into my kitchen through the back door twenty minutes ago.

“And the worst you could think of was that he was cheating on you? You didn’t think that he might of had an accident or been in hospital or something?” Helen was showing no signs of answering. “So, then what happened?”

“Well, when he hadn’t replied by Sunday morning I went out for the day with Roberta.” She looked at me with the most innocent look she could muster. The only reason she would have phoned Bitchy Bertie was to find out if her gossip radar had Andrew on it. “Oh come on Bea, you know how easily I think the worst, I was looking for some reassurance that I was overreacting.”

“I’m assuming by the end result that you didn’t get any?”

“Quite the opposite actually.” Helen said, straightening her back. “Roberta told me that he’d been seen at the golf club meeting his wife! Of all the people he could be sneaking around with it was that cold, money grabbing bitch.”

“Ex-wife.” I corrected. “And there could have been any number of explanations for them having to meet. They do have children to discuss remember.”

“They have solicitors for that.” She spat. “And anyway, Roberta said that they looked pretty cosy together.”

“And you believed her?”

“Why would she lie?”

I could think of a dozen reasons why Bitchy Bertie would lie and they all revolved around comforting the newly single bachelor.

“Anyway, one thing let to another in my head and I could just see Andrew and his ex cosied up in some romantic little cottage somewhere, laughing at the gullible little girl he’d left at home and I just snapped.”

“Oh, Helen.” I never could resist consoling her, whatever she had done. It didn’t matter how insignificant the problem really was, to Helen, it was always as insurmountable as Everest. She reached for the roll of Christmas decorated kitchen roll that I was still using in June and blotted her tear-free eyes.

“He’d left his Porsche on my drive and it seemed like the perfect way to take my revenge. It was his pride and joy, he spent more time with that car than he did with me, honestly, it was ridiculous.” She used the square of kitchen roll to mop up the spilled wine from the counter, popped the lid of the pedal bin open with her Jimmy Choo and and threw it in.

“You have to apologise Helen, you can’t just destroy people’s property and expect them to be ok about it.”

She turned sharply to look me in the eye and planted her hands firmly on her hips.

“I have nothing to apologise for.”

Advertisements

About Nicola Auckland

Busy wife to one & mum to two. I've caught the creative writing bug, now need to practice, get awesome and write something worth reading. Simples.
This entry was posted in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Art of the Short Story – Where Can I Buy It?

  1. Nik says:

    Sure 🙂 I currently help out with the editing for http://www.literallystories2014.com where you’ll find some regular contributors and commentators and some excellent stories. If you’re keen to submit a story all the details are on the site. The five of us who operate the site all met on http://www.shortbreadstories.co.uk – the site is clunky on times but it’s a friendly and encouraging place to submit stories and to swap comments. I submitted twenty or so stories there and swapped I don’t know how many hundreds of comments – I don’t use it any more but still respond as and when comments come in. And as a third option any time you want to try out your editing and feedback skills I’ll be very happy for you to take my work apart on my own site – I have a thick skin!

    Like

    • Thanks for the pointers, you are the most helpful blogger I have ever come across. I will be brave one day and write a story for submission. I don’t think I’ll be taking your work apart any time soon though, but I will have a good read and pick up some tips.

      Thanks for all your help Nik,

      Nicola

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nik says:

        What a lovely thing to say – thank you! It’s a pleasure – I feel a real sense of kinship with people who have busy lives but still want to write, so if anything I’ve experienced over the last couple of years can help I’m happy to be able to pass it on. Cheers, Nik

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nik says:

    Hi Nicola. Thanks so much for following my blog – I hope you’ll find plenty to enjoy! Writing prompts are a great way to get you off and running on a story and I enjoyed what you did with this one. Using the prompt as the opening line as well as the ending was a nice touch and tied it all together as a cohesive piece. The dialogue felt natural and believable which isn’t always easy to achieve. In terms of learning the art of the short story I’ve found the best route for me has been to just keep writing them! Over time I’ve built up some close writing friends who have always given me honest feedback and ideas for improvement which has helped enormously. I’ve also spent a lot of time reading other people’s short stories on various sites trying to give useful feedback. It’s a bit daunting at first as I have no formal training or knowledge but it’s surprising how much you actually know on instinct based on reading and writing regularly. I’ve become involved as a co-editor of a short story site and it’s amazing how often self-taught “natural” writers have a lot better grasp of a short story than those who fill their covering letters with their writing credentials 🙂 Only other advice I can give in terms of what has worked for me is to play around with genres and word counts – I love the challenge of exactly 55 words or exactly 100 words based on a keyword (and it also means the next time you do a 1000-1500 word piece it feels like you’ve got so much storytelling scope!). Best regards, Nik

    Like

    • Hi Nik,

      Thank you for taking time to read my story, I often wonder if anyone actually reads them, sometimes a long post is a bit of a chore so I’m glad it didn’t put you off.

      Thanks for the short story advice. I never offer critique on other people’s work for the same reason that you mention above, I’m not qualified or knowledgable in creative writing techniques. Maybe I should brave it, I’ve come to realise that I am a natural editor so maybe I can offer advice on that. I also know when something doesn’t feel right with a piece, perhaps offering a reader’s perspective is more useful than trying to fix it.

      I look forward to reading your blog updates, I try to absorb any nuggets of information I can from those that know what they are doing in the vain hope that my writing will improve as a result.

      Feel free to check in here occasionally and offer feedback, I’ll try to post short stories that I feel can stand an audience.

      Cheers,

      Nicola

      Like

      • Nik says:

        You mention about being a natural editor and it makes sense – I’ve gone through several posts on your site and they all have the same sense that some time, love and effort has gone into honing them.

        I think all of us are trying to absorb information in the same way as you suggest – it’s a constant learning exercise but also a lot of fun.

        Longer posts containing short stories certainly don’t put me off and I’m looking forward to reading and commenting on more of your pieces.

        I hope you find the confidence to go out there and offer advice – I think most writers are extremely happy to receive constructive feedback, but of course you always get one or two who apparently know everything already! I have a couple of short story sites that I’ve used over the years where I’ve given and received feedback – let me know if you’d like some links (I’d rather ask first before dumping links into a comment!)

        Oh, and you are not alone in wondering if anyone actually reads your work so don’t let it dishearten you. Write the pieces that you love and that make you happy 🙂

        Cheers, Nik

        Like

      • Please do post the links to the story sites, I’d love to take a look.

        Like

  3. honestme363 says:

    Do you use the wordpress daily prompts?I see a lot of people on here who do. Increases traffic flow so you can get feedback. I quite like your short, there is a wealth of information in these few small words. I liked the boldness of Helen and I found myself sympathasizing with her friend. Made me smile anyway. Good job.

    Like

Don't be shy, join the conversation. Let us know what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s