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Identity, voice and representation are the cornerstones of knowledge and power. A community is robbed of its richness if there is a lack of diverse voices telling their story. Stories that are different to ours help enlarge our world and fill it with multiplicity. How can everyone’s stories be told? Digital spaces where we can experiment and play with words help build confidence. Critique Circle provides this opportunity. Creating a short story is a good starting place for beginners.
A standard short story is a fictional work that is usually less than 7500 words. It includes one plot, one or two characters, a central theme and one setting. The best short stories present an unusual perspective and are rich in figurative language.
A short story follows a narrative arc. There are four main parts of a short story:
1. The first part of the narrative arc in a short story is where you set the scene. This is the exposition. Everything hangs on the start. It must be explosive to catch the reader’s attention straight away. You need to hook them on the rest of the story. Short stories do not have the luxury of starting slow as there are not enough words. Make your story start with a thrilling and compelling beginning.
2. A transition to rising action occurs next. This is usually due to a difficulty or conflict which results in heightened drama. Use this conflict and tension in the story to show and expand the character. This reduces the number of words you need for character development. You are then able to be brief with their role in the story.
3. A climax is then reached, which is the most exciting and interesting point in the piece. In this genre this is often extreme. It immediately shows the psychology and behaviour of the character to the reader.
4. Finally, there is the denouement. The strands of the plot are drawn together and a resolution is reached. The story ends.
The first place to start is writing the exposition.
Exposition means background details provided by the storyteller or narrator. It is sometimes called setting the scene.
1. Be imaginative when introducing intriguing information about your characters.
Gillian Mears starts the first paragraph of her collection of short stories Ride a Cock Horse (1988):
Sss, sss, sss, the men sounded deadly and wielded imaginary whips. Beetle lifted his leg at the bottom of one pair of trousers, but nobody yelled or noticed. Albert laughed secretly and pressed on to be within sight of the finishing post.
Background information we need for this story is found in this paragraph.
We learn about one of the main characters. We know that his name is Albert and he is somewhat sardonic. Also, he has a dog called Beetle and is keen on the races.
There is information about the setting. We know they are at the track and the horses are racing to the finish line.
This makes the reader ask more questions. It suggests interesting character information and hints at Albert’s motivations.
The fourth paragraph:
‘Go it girl,’ he hugged himself tightly as he recognised the big bay mare he’d bet Jinnie would lead all the way. From where he stood, she looked a certainty. Then suddenly it came to Albert that she was yawing into the straight all wrong.
The introduction of Jinnie, the second character, occurs and we want to know more about the mare.
2. Create questions readers want answered.
Mears has cleverly piqued our curiosity. She has done this in the following ways.
There is involvement with the characters and what they will do: Why is the dog there? Why are they racing? How is Albert involved? Who is Jinnie?
There is a dramatic event without explanation: Why is the mare not running correctly? Why is this so important?
3. Use dramatic contrast.
The scene starts with the mundane act of going to the track with a pup. We can already sense something is wrong with the situation and anything but ordinary. The strange circumstances are juxtaposed to an everyday occurrence.
4. Use a strong narrator’s voice or a memorable setting.
A strong narrator’s voice combines with a captivating start in Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (1999):
“Have I told you the drone’s penis snaps off during intercourse with the queen bee?” asked Augusta.
‘Yes,” said Rose. “Many times.”
Before Augusta dragged her luggage upstairs to the apartment, before she checked on the welfare of her elderly husband, Karl, even before she hugged and greeted her seven kittens, she had made her way, with the aid of a cane, across the uneven ground to inspect the hive of bees she kept in Rose’s garden.
A memorable setting is found in her second book. This detailed setting is intensely nostalgic.
“When it came looking for me I was in the hollow stump by Turtle Creek at the spot where the deep pool was hidden by low hanging bushes, where the fishing was the very best and only my brother and I figured we knew of it. Now, in spring, the stump blossomed purple and yellow violets so profusely that it became something holy and worth pondering. Come fall, the stump was flagrantly, shamefully red in a coat of dying leaves from the surrounding trees. This was my stump, where I stored my few illicit treasures: the lipstick my mother smuggled home for me in a bag of rice; the scrap of red velvet…
The remote Turtle Valley in Canada almost becomes a character in its own right, as the poignant significance of it threads through the novel.
Make a start and good luck!