Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fiction Writing 101: Lesson # 7

The Short Story

by Molly Noble Bull

If you missed lessons one through six, you can read them—one after the other—at my new blog called Writers Walk. Here is the address.


Below are the elements of a scene as described in Dwight Swain’s book, Techniques of the Selling Writers.

The elements of a sequel:

Today’s Lesson:

Unlike a novel that can be the story of somebody’s entire life or several generations of a family, the short story takes place in a very short period of time—one or two days–several hours–five minutes—or less.

All good fiction begins with a hook. Like a baited hook used to catch a fish, a hook in fiction writing is a device designed to grab the interest of the reader. Here are three examples of beginning hooks. Choose the one that captures your interest and makes you want to read more.

*The moon cast beams of silver on the quiet lake.

*The woman staggered across the street as if she hadn’t even noticed the five o’clock traffic.

*The swollen river rolled on toward the bay as if it had a mind of its own.

All three of these are examples of good writing. But in my opinion, only one of them should be used as a beginning hook. Can you guess which one? Tell why you selected the one you chose?

I think the opening hook about the woman was the most interesting. It paints a picture in my mind and causes me to want to learn what happened next. Though the openings about the moon and the river sound good, they did not hook me and cause me to want to read more.

There are other reasons why the opening about the woman is better.
First, it introduces a character at the very beginning of the story.
Second, it presents a problem.
Think about the possible repercussions when you write about events in a short story or a novel.

Here are the elements or guidelines I use when I write a short story.
A title:
A beginning hook
A main character with a first and last name
A goal for the main character
A problem
Conflict for the main character in reaching his or her goal

You will want to begin your short story with a hook and a problem for the main character. You will want to end your short story with a conclusion that answers all reader questions, ties all the loose ends together and makes the reader feel satisfied.


Turn the story outline below into a short story.

Hook and character name:
Jim Browning stands on the curb next to an elderly woman that smells like she just spent several hours in a tub filled with liquor.
Jim’s goal:
He is on his way to an important meeting, and he cannot be late.
Before the light turns green, the woman steps off the curb and staggers across the street as if in a daze.
She stumbles and falls.
(How does this short story end?)

Using these same guidelines, write another outline. Then write the short story from your outline. Be creative. Your two stories should be as long as they need to be. But one to three pages might be best.

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