I started writing this series because I want to get back into writing fiction this year. In addition, it is a way for me to remember what I learned while writing a short story a day during NaNoWriMo in 2014.
Today we are going to explore how I shape my stories. I use several fiction writing tools, which I am going to touch on briefly in this article. There are books written on each one of them so that I won’t go too deep. Later on, if needed, I will write separate articles on them.
The process I used to shape my stories has five steps:
- Narrator/ Point Of View
Narrator/ Point Of View (POV)
After you have written the first draft of the story and rested it (for at least a day), it is time to examine it critically. The first question to ask is who should be the narrator of the story.
Usually, it the person who has the most to lose. But there could be exceptions to this rule. Sometimes it makes sense to tell the story from an observer’s perspective. Other times a completely unexpected narrator gives a new angle to the story. In one of my stories, The Blessed, I used an old decaying temple as the narrator.
A narrator in fiction is the one who tells the story. The narrator determines the point of view of the story. If the narrator is not a character in the story, the story is a third-person narrative. If a character is telling the story, it is a first-person narrative.
The first-person narrative is more intimate, intense, and engaging, but it could be limiting. You can tell only the central character’s perspective. The third-person narrative can be distant but allows you to tell a more balanced story.
There is another point of view used in storytelling, called deep-third or close-third. Like the first-person narrative, the deep-third focuses on a single character and takes the readers directly into the character’s mind. Writing as if in the first person, deep-third is a hard technique to master, but it provides the benefits of both the first-person narrative and omnipresent viewpoint of the third-person narrative.
How to choose which one to use. It depends upon the kind of story you are telling and the emotion you want to evoke. My rule is — more intense an emotion I want to evoke, the more likely I will use the first-person narrative. My stories A Christmas Wish and The Goddess are first-person narratives.
But here are some markers to help you decide:
- If the story about an individual with a distinct voice and quirky habits or language, use the first person.
- If the story is about the internal conflict where the character indulges in lengthy ruminations, choose the first person again.
- If you want your readers to identify with the POV character, choose the first person or close third.
- If your character is not making the right choices or is a negative character, but you want readers to be sympathetic towards him/her, use the first-person or close-third.
- If you want to describe your character from the outside and give her thoughts, choose the close third person.
- If you want to include your opinion along with the characters’, choose the third person.
- If you want identification between reader and character, perhaps because you’re going to show the irony of the situation or mock your character, choose the third-person narrative.
Once I have decided on the narrator and point of view character, I view my first draft to see if I need to rewrite it. Chances are, my subconscious had made the right decision when I wrote the first draft. If not, I would write it again.
But before embarking on doing the second draft, I will consider the description, dialogue, and how to end my story.
Let’s have a look at those too.
In a short story, there is not much space for descriptions. Besides, long descriptions are out of fashion. Whereas older novels and stories are full of lengthy and flowery descriptions, modern writers are not bothering with them.
Because readers skip them.
So what is the point of spending a lot of time on something that readers will skip?
Today readers don’t have much time. They want fast-paced stories where the action is happening either through dialogue or physical movement. And they are interested in interesting conflict and how it resolves.
But the description is still fundamental. As a writer, you need to know everything about the setting, people, and the situation before telling the story.
What does the place look like where the story is taking place? What are the physical characteristics of the characters? What are they wearing? Why are they doing what are they doing? That kind of detail, described in the fewest possible words, differentiated a good story from an amazing story.
Not every detail will make it to the page. The details that will make into the story will be the ones that are vivid and significant. But every detail will give you insight into your character.
For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.
— Stephen King, On Writing.
Dialogues are the magic weapon in a writer’s arsenal.
Dialogues make the story come alive.
Dialogues also reveal the characters, their thoughts, and their intentions.
Dialogues are the easiest way to introduce conflict in the story.
A lot can be said with a little exchange of dialogue than multiple pages of description.
I make sure I include dialogue in my stories for one or more than one of the above-listed reasons.
But dialogue is a dish that is served well-done. Poor dialogue can make readers quit reading your story in disgust, but great dialogue can heavily invest your readers into your characters’ cause.
Don’t include dialogue for the sake of including dialogue. Instead, make them work for the story.
Some stories reach their conclusion without any effort. Others don’t; it doesn’t matter how hard you try. I have so many half-written stories sitting in folders.
My theory about such stories is — it is better to leave them by giving them an interesting twist than giving them a forced ending.
What readers are looking for in a story is a feeling—an emotional response. We can achieve that by leaving some questions unanswered. Or even by asking the questions within the story.
Another thing that makes a story impactful is what readers take away from it.
Brainstorm some themes that are important to you and work your short story around them. This will not only make your readers care more about your story (which means it’ll be written better), but it’ll also make it more satisfying for you to write.
Editing is where the magic happens. But, unfortunately, it is also the hardest skill to master. Because by this time, you are so heavily invested in your story that it is hard to strike off even a single word.
But editing is one skill we all need to master. Without self-editing, we can’t become good writers.
My first pass is to get rid of any filter words. Filter words are extra words that put distance between readers and a character’s experience. Words (such as seemed, thought, heard, touched, realized, understood, felt, sounded like, experienced, etc.) are usually explanatory words that remove the reader from the action by describing a character’s thought process or action in an explanatory way.
My second edit is for the tense consistency (and I suck at it). I have recently learned to watch for continuous tense (verbs ending with “ing”) and replace them with past tense.
My third edit is to replace weak verbs with strong verbs. (A list of strong verbs found right here).
And my last edit is to cut any superfluous words to bring the story to the length needed. I usually do that by reading the story aloud.
That’s it, my friends. My process to write short stories from everyday life. Now I need to follow my own advice and write good stories about the things happening around me.