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I started getting hooked on writing short stories, after a chance viewing in a magazine. The advertisement, was not very specific, but later on I discovered I was applying to write for a literary magazine called “Rat Mort” (dead rat). I am a British man living in France and I discovered the editor of this magazine was a fellow Brit by the name of Alan Clark. He seemed to be putting together this magazine as an act of love for writing and to showcase writer from the anglophile community. In all I submitted four stories, however encouraged by Alan, I began to write more. I had always liked a book by Roald Dahl called “Kiss Kiss”” which I had read as a child…but the memory had stayed with me. The significance of this book to me is the endings, which contained an unexpected twist. Short stories have to flow and build up towards a climax.
The first line
I have tried to start my stories with a powerful first line. As Edgar Alan Poe said… “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” One of my opening favorite lines include “Captain Spender’s wife was ovulating.” This is from my story “Seed” about a woman who is desperate to have a child, the story is set in a military barracks, her husband is often absent, giving her the opportunity to find a young officer to fulfil her need. “Cast from Hell” begins with “There it was I was banished from Hell”. It is story about a person rejected by Hell (for being too good). The first line is imperative, likewise what is contained in the first paragraph is vital, to introduce the reader to the setting, time period and leading character or characters. The aim can be to create a conflict or a tension that is going to permeate throughout the story.
With my short stories, there are often odious characters. In my story Maggot, the two main characters are going for each other’s throats. The main character in the story (Maggot) is in dispute with Excellency, over the price of his daughter whose virtue he is trying to sell, to keep his waning circus afloat. With short stories it is good if you develop your characters quickly, so readers can rapidly associate with them. With the characters I create, I imagine the kind of terrible acts they might engage in. I think about how they would speak. What kind of background do they come from?
It is important that each sentence is puissant, in terms of dialogue, with my stories there is a lot of verbal jousting, between characters. Every line should either develop a character or augment the action. My favourite line in my book, comes from a gangster called Gecko who says to a pious John the Baptist-like character named Preacher Moon, who has been sent to rid a town of decadence and specifically opium abuse…"Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man," For me I like my dialogue to be fast moving and witty.
Essentially you need to craft a story title. Sometimes the title becomes evident after writing a portion of your story. Sometimes I change the names of stories, several times before settling for the ultimate title. Sometimes the title of a story pops into my head and it is the title that springboards the story, for example one of my stories is titled Bugeyes, and story hinges on a person with extra-large eyes, that is rejected at birth by his family, and is mocked ceaselessly by everbody on account of his over-sized eyes. When I started writing short stories Alan Clark advised to give one word titles “Seed”, “Flawless” “Bugeyes” “Maggot” “snatched”. Maybe one word titles are not to everyone’s taste, and might be seen as a mark of laziness, but maybe they have a big impact and stick in the mind.
A big challenge for a short story writer is to reach a resolution. As I have said before, I like to put an unexpected twist at the end of my stories. Often the oppressed character is able to enact some kind of revenge. Before this there is the “falling action” as the story starts to make its descent towards its conclusion. Earlier on the reader will go through the “rising action” events leading to the climax or a turning point in the story. Short story writing is a disciplined process.