SHORT STORY – PLOT IS CONFLICT

At the core of a conventional plot is conflict. It can be physical, between antagonists; it can be moral or psychological; or a spiritual struggle within the character himself/herself, such as vice or virtue carried to excess. Sometimes external conflicts are just projections of internal ones.

The order in which the events take place is important.  They can be in chronological order or in flashback. When you use flashback, and reveal the outcome of the story at the beginning, this inverted order forces the reader to shift interest from what happens to why and how it happened.

The following are guidelines and not rules because, like poetry, there are no real rules. Each story depends on the author’s sensitive handling of the situation . Many writers break all traditional rules, yet come up with brilliantly-executed works. However, in general, plots should include:

  1. Abstract values representing good vs. evil in the major conflict situation.
  2. An urgent MUST with its obvious CANNOT.
  3. Contrasting characters in action, each strongly motivated in efforts to achieve a definite goal.
  4. Apparent insolubility of the problem, with an ingenious solution that is credible though surprising.
  5. A moral theme or premise to which the story action serves sd s parable, proving a worthwhile philosophy.
  6. An individual style that expresses you and yet fits the subject matter, the time, the place and the characters.

When you plot a story, try first to write a synopsis – just a brief outline. What is the problem? (This is what interests the reader). What are the obstacles, the fictional frustrations,and alternate them with temporary triumphs (providing suspense). This leads up to the crisis, and the climax which resolves the problem.

To help you, I’ll give you 3 typical situations you can use:

They were a devoted couple for years, yet when her invalid mother died and she was free to marry him, their relationship suddenly ended.

A prostitute  passes a garden where a small blind boy is playing/ She knows he is her son. Could you develop this story without sentimentality?

Nobody liked her for good reason. Yet, when she suddenly died, a number of people felt a deep sense of loss.

Play around with these ideas … you may come up with a really good story.

Happy writing!

Contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com if you need any help with your writing; or if you want to buy any of my books … a new one is coming out today – a novella “Searching for Sarah”.

 

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SHORT STORY WRITING – Lesson 2

“Fiction” is an old word in the English language, derived from the verb meaning “to form” or “to feign”. The short story writer makes, forms and feigns. Through what he has made up, he arrives at a truth, enabling a reader to do the same.

There are different types of short stories. Today’s trend is towards quality in style and how to handle the conflict.  The strictly formula story  with the inevitable happy ending has been banished.  Commercial stories are carefully plotted with well-established conflict leading to a climax. Literary stories need not have any plot at all.  The conflict is more subtle and the the problem may not be solved but left to the reader’s imagination.

Subject matter and theme also differ in commercial and literary stories. Commercial ones must have a theme that will not alienate either a body of readers or some of the advertisers in the magazine. For commercial stories – those you hope to sell to popular journals – avoid subjects like politics or civil rights; attacks on religion; the medical profession ; the institution of the family; race problems; sexual perversions and unpunished sins such as adultery.  No commercial magazine would ever publish a story about a drunken airline pilot for example.

However, for literary stories, themes are unlimited.  You can say that childhood isn’t necessarily sacred but often a nightmare; that people beat their children or their wives and often go unpunished; that evil can triumph etc. But you must be realistic and know that it is very difficult to find someone to publish this kind of story no matter how well-written it is. Sometimes it finds its way into a literary magazine of an American college, and where the only payment is a copy of the magazine.

The subject of your story should be someone or something familiar to you. Then your theme should reflect the strong feelings you have about this person, place or situation.

PLOT could be defined as two or more characters or threads meeting, weaving into a knot; then something or someone undoes the knot and brings about a solution, resolution or denouement.

Theme is derived from the total effect of all the elements in the story – it is the main, controlling idea.  There are also subordinate themes called ‘motifs’.  Your major theme could be ‘power corrupts’… power corrupts in politics, in love, in religion. You could express this through different characters – a politician, a lover or clergyman who, through wrongful use of their powers, become tyrants of their party, the bgody and the spirit respectively.

When you write, all you have to work with is your own experience, your own memories. A writer gives of himself, his history, his excitements, his heartbreaks, his dreams and his visions. Write from remembered backgrounds and remembered emotions.

A disease of the new writer is that he is convinced that his own life is far less glamorous that that of anyone else. It is sad that often rich people want to write about the drama of the slums; poor students about high society; battle scenes get penned by youngsters who fortunately never saw a war; and virgins try to write explicit sex scenes.

When you construct a plot it should be both plausible and yet unpredictable. It should have a certain simplicity to hold our attention.Too sensational a plot is unlifelike, unconvincing and melodramatic.  Plot’s job is to move the characters through action, and to make something happen to someone.

In constructing the plot, it is crucial to select only the relevant incidents to recount. It should begin no further back in time that is necessary to make the consequences of the action clear. Omit many events of little importance that occur, even during the period of the action you have chosen.

Of events that you do mention, some you will want to emphasise and others to subordinate. Those to be emphasised, you’ll render in full dramatic detail, complete with dialogue and description.  This is called ‘the close view’.  Less important events will be summarized – ‘the long view’.

Before my next Blog, you might want to do some practice.  Sooner or later, every writer must get out of his system a story in which the theme is the end of his own innocence = the day his childhood ended and he stepped, jumped or was pushed into manhood or womanhood.  It can be one’s first experience with death, sex, ridicult or anti-Semitism; with the pain of loss.  Write about the moment when something happened that made a difference in your life – that really mattered.

I’ll go into more detail next Blog.  You can get help from me, make comments or buy any of my books (a new novella coming out next week)  by contacting me at e-mail: dwaysman@gmail.com     Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LEARN HOW TO WRITE A SHORT STORY

Why does anyone become a writer? You could reply facetiously like Michael Frome, a well-known writer on conservation, who answered: “If I didn’t write, I might have to work for a living.  Shaving every day and all that!” The truth is no-one chooses a career of writing … it chooses you. Like music or painting, writing is a compulsion for some people – it doesn’t matter much whether they are composing deathless prose or writing recipes, but they have to write.

 

In practical terms, anyone can be a writer. It’s about the only profession where you need no capital at all. The computer is a sophisticated tool, but the world’s most famous writers managed without one. But the qualities that are indispensable – you obviously need talent; and you need an ego to have the nerve to believe that anything you say, others are going to want to read. Determination and optimism because the road to success is lined with hundreds of rejection slips. You also need enormous self-discipline – there is no office to run to between 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. You must force yourself to face that blank sheet of paper every day and sit there and do battle, when outside the birds are singing; the telephone rings; there’s a great program on TV;friends drop by and there are a million delicious distractions to seduce you away from your work if you let them.

But if you don’t – if you actually start to fill the pages and know you have something worth saying, then you wouldn’t change what you’re doing if you could control empires. Writing is the supreme act of creation and, while you are engaged in it, there’s a bubbling happiness that nothing else can equal.

In the next few Blogs, I’ll teach you how to write a short story.  To be effective, it must convey something from writer to reader. There are no rules except that to qualify. it should be able to be read at a single sitting. Like a novel, it should depict character moved by plot.  It needs to maintain a single point of view to stay in focus.

Your story begins when the confusing outer show of things can be swept aside, when something happens which gives access to the secret pulse of life.  A story is a quest for life, both for the writer and the reader.

Life provides the greatest source of material. But life, with its constant needs, its weight, its multiplicity, has a certain rawness, which is its power. Your role is to refine and sift. A story is an impression of life, but never a copy. In both life and story there are moments that stand out – revelations, conflict, drama, decisions – almost as if time had waited for such a moment to happen.

First we’ll focus on the subject and theme.   The subject is almost always a character, a place or a situation… the are of focus.  The theme is the general comment on this area of human experience conveyed through such specific elements as plot, characterization, tone, point of view, imagery and symbol.  For example, the subject of your story might be a woman, whom you’ve called Karen. Your theme  might be that she has wasted her life on dreams of the past.  Your subject might be love, with the theme that the kind of love John has for Ruth leads only to self-destruction.

 

When you decide on the subject and theme of the story you want to write, respect your own background enough to write about it. It may sound exciting to write a sophisticated story about the morals of a group of jetsetters on a skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps, but if you’ve never mixed with such a clique, or even been to Switzerland, your story will be shallow and unconvincing.  You could write a really deep, compassionate story about people you know in the setting of the street or suburb where you live. It would have far more meaning and be more perceptive and enlightening for your reader.

HOMEWORK:  Write a description of someone you once met or knew who made a deep impression on you, even though your lives might have crossed only once. It can be someone you met at a party; someone you glimpsed on a bus; someone who was wise or had charisma; or even a drop-out from society, but still made a vivid impression.

Stop and think of something or someone very meaningful to you. Write down what situation, place or kind of person you would like to be subject. What would be your theme – that is, what kind of comment would you make on this subject.

We’ll move on to plot in my next Blog.  Happy writing!

You can send me comments, or buy my books by contacting me at dwaysman@gmail.com

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BIRTH OF A BOOK

Three weeks to go!  You’d think after publishing 12 other books, the novelty would have worn off.  But no – I’m still excited.  I’ve just done the final editing, approved the beautiful cover, written the dedication and acknowledgments, so the foetus is about to be born.  Like children, you don’t have a favorite but somehow your heart expands to love the new one as much as the others.

This book almost didn’t get finished.  Half-way through I got stuck and just put it aside for a few  months. Then, when we went to stay with my daughter Elana, her daughter Naomi (my grand-daughter) saw the exercise book and asked me to read it to her.  She understands English, but as a native Hebrew speaker (we all live in Israel), she finds it a bit difficult to read.  So I started to read it to her, and her enthusiasm and wanting to know all the time “what happens next?” gave me the impetus to continue with it, so each time we went to visit, I would read her another chapter – all the way to the end.  It was a special kind of bonding that developed, and because I didn’t want to disappoint her, I made sure I had another chapter ready.

When you hold your published book in your hands, it is the most amazing feeling.  I had an e-book published by Prism  in USA, titled “Autumn Blessing” but it’s not the same thrill. You can give copies to people you care about; and sign others for faithful readers who buy all your books over the years.  You can place a copy in your bookshelves next to your other books and feel that you’ve achieved something.  I was in a bookshop today buying some books by my presently favorite novelist Jojo Moyes, when the saleslady told me that by coincidence she’d just had a call from someone wanting my first book “The Pomegranate Pendant” and she’d put it away for her.  It’s a special kind of feeling to know that strangers value your words enough to want to buy your books … somehow it validates all the years you have spent creating them.

Now, at my age I probably have no more books in me, but I am so grateful that I have been writing all my life.  At age 7, I had my first poem published in a children’s paper in Australia, and told my mother I was going to be a writer.  And I have tried to live by this quotation:  “Every work of art is a self-portrait.  Autograph your work with excellence.”

 

 

 

 

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WRITING YOUR MEMOIR

 

When we reach a certain age, often our children tell us it is time to write a memoir, a short history of our lives.  Usually the family are happy even to pay for the printing for you. They know, as you do, it’s not likely to be of interest to anyone outside the family circle, and it doesn’t need to be a great work of literary merit, but it is to be valued and even cherished among your children and grandchildren.  I am saddened that when my late father told me stories of Portuguese forebears a few generations  ago that he had heard from his parents, I barely listened.  Now I would love to know more about them, but there is no-one left to ask.  Even if young people have little patience to listen to these old stories now, the time will come, as it did with me, when they will realise that these past generations helped to shape them and will hunger for all the information that is available.

Why does one write a memoir?  There’s an old saying that to die without leaving  a record is to die without an inheritance.  In the Jewish religion,  every Passover, throughout all the generations, we  are instructed to tell our children the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  Our personal memoir also tells the story of where we came from and how we got here … to this place in life, wherever it may be.

We read and write memoirs to find meaning in life, and as a kind of cry for immortality. The research begins with a  paper chase,  often difficult when those who  know your history are no longer alive.  You collect photos, anecdotes, records of births, deaths and marriages, anything that will shed light on your distant roots.  A memoir is an impression of life, from which gradually a portrait emerges.  It is a testimony of the life you have lived told in the most compelling, vivid and brave way.  You should not only tell the events of your own life, but those taking place in the larger world around you that influenced your choices.  Instincts and desires are also part of the equation.

It’s something like the old song:  “What’s it all about, Alfie?”  When we write a memoir, we attempt to put our lives in perspective.  It takes perseverance to reach your goal of writing every day (if you’re really serious  about finishing the job), but a dream is like a boat.  To sail, you need some work and skill, but if you make the effort , your dream can eventually take you to a wonderful destination.  There will be painful stops along the way, failures as well as triumphs, setbacks and achievements.    Sometimes it’s not easy to admit to weakness,  but everyone makes mistakes and your readers will empathise with your candour.

In your personal memoir, you will be able to examine who you are and where you  sprang from.  It will be necessary to choose a road between honesty and discretion, so as not to hurt those in the family who may still be alive.  This record of a life lived will be a legacy that may help your descendants one day to charter their own journey through life.

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My memoir, which has been published both in English and Hebrew, is entitled:  “My Long Journey Home.”  Copies of this, and most of my other 13 books, can be purchased by contacting me at dwaysman@gmail.com

 

 

 

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MAKING INFORMATION INTERESTING

Some years ago, I wanted to write an article about the Beduin, who live in the desert in Israel.  I did some research and found out about their customs.  I started to write the article, but it sounded very dry and academic, so I discarded it.  But the idea stayed with me,  and I thought about writing a book about these exotic people who lived in the desert.

That also got discarded.  But once I went on a trip in the Negev, and by chance encountered a young Beduin girl.  As soon as I got home, I sat down and wrote this little pen portrait, which was widely published in Israel and overseas.  It was a way of bringing the Beduin to life and it briefly expressed what I was feeling about them – much more interesting than writing a conventional article.  Here it is:

BEDUIN  GIRL

 

The Negev desert is like the landscape of the moon.  The mountain ranges are grey, almost without color.  A million years ago. it was covered by the sea and even today you can sometimes find a shell, encrusted with salt.  You see camels, frogs, scorpions and snakes.The desert can hypnotize you.  That is how I felt when I first saw Aisha, the Beduin girl, who suddenly appeared on her donkey.  She must have come from one of the black goat-hair tents that we had passed earlier.  I had seen women patiently weaving rugs  stretched out on the ground there, while goats nibbled at sparse vegetation.

 

Aisha appeared out of nowhere.  She was dark, with black lustrous eyes and she rode her donkey side-saddle.  She hummed a melody while the gold coins sewn on her kaftan jingled in time with the tune and the rhythm of donkey’s  hooves.  She was following an almost invisible trail of goat and sheep droppings, left by generations of animals. The trail led shepherds to water and grass.

 

We studied each other silently.  For a moment our eyes locked until she shyly lowered hers. But as she passed me, although I couldn’t be sure, I thought I heard her giggling.

 

My tour guide told me: “She belongs to the el-Azazme tribe, the only one of 13 tribes that did not flee the Negev in 1948.  She is 12 years old. Soon she will be married to her cousin, her father’s brother’s son.  That is the custom.”

“Married?  That child!”

“Twelve is not a child in Beduin tradition.  They always try to marry their daughters to          close  kinsmen.”

 

My curiosity led me later to a journey of discovery about her life as a Beduin girl. She would drink coffee ground with a “djoron”, a brass coffee grinder, boiled in a brass pot over a fire lit from a flint made from a piece of steel and a weed.  Or maybe she would drink hot tea with “nana”, fragrant mint.  The tune she was humming was probably a desert chant sung by the campfire, and played on a one-stringed rub ba  aba. Her meal might have been pickled onions and cucumbers, eggs with camel butter, tomatoes and small pieces of sheep’s liver.

 

Her tribe is nomadic, travelling in caravans across the Negev. Sometimes they travel to Beersheva for the Beduin “shuk” where they sell their baby camels and goods, buy camel meat for stew and meet friends from other tribes.   The Beduin  of the Negev own 100,000 acres, but as there is so little rain, they usually only have a harvest three out of five years.

 

My chance meeting with Aisha was over a year ago.  Now, if we met again, she would be married, clad in a black veil.  Perhaps she is already a mother, the child Aisha, riding the small donkey.

 

But I think in the instant our eyes met,  we had a fleeting woman-to-woman relationship.  She is descended from Ishmael and I am from Isaac, but the father of both was Abraham, so perhaps it was kinship that we felt and recognized.

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_Perhaps there is someone you met, or even glimpsed, briefly who has never been forgotten.  Try to write a cameo about them – you might be surprised how beautifully it will come out.

If I can help you with your writing, contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com  .  If you would like any of my books, I have a stock of most of the titles.  Good luck.

(I welcome your comments)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FAMILY TIME

 

There are times in our lives when a particular subject is on our minds and won’t let go.  This is when I indulge in putting my thoughts on paper – just let the words flow and see what happens.  It is very therapeutic, and I have found a ready market for these kinds of articles/essays because so often a reader’s reaction is “That’s exactly what I was thinking… what I was trying to deal with.”   Here is one subject that I managed to clarify for myself by putting my thoughts down on paper.

There is a wise Jewish saying : “A little hurt from a kin is worse than a big hurt from a stranger.” (Zohar.Gen.151b)   Why is that?  Strangers come and go in our lives … some remain to become friends; others are barely remembered and, as we move on in life, we leave them behind.  But family – that’s a different story.

The closest bonds we will ever form are with our parents and our siblings.  They know us intimately, and even with all our faults – or perhaps despite them – they still love us.  Next comes the extended family – cousins, aunts, uncles etc. Some of them we just tolerate, often in an amused way, because families are like fudge … mostly sweet with a few nuts! – but we do care about them because they are kin.

Within our own close family circle, we are proud of each other’s accomplishments and boast of them; we hurt when a family member is unhappy; we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; and we try to be together for important  holidays.  That is what family means.

I’ve always loved the description of her family by the late Erma Bombeck:  “We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”  I think most families can relate to this warm-hearted description.

When there is a break in a family circle, it can be unbearable.  It’s not just a matter of location, for these days communication has never been easier and we can connect with family wherever they live.  But when there is a misunderstanding and angry words are exchanged, it can be heart-breaking.  We feel as though we have a deep fracture in our very being and life will never be the same again if the family member we once loved is lost to us.

Teenagers are known to be rebellious and that is considered normal.  It is necessary for them to become independent, to break away from the sheltering family structure.  It can be very hurtful for parents to see them break away, but if they were nourished with your morals and standards of ethical behaviour in their childhood, and educated with love, they won’t stray far.   Siblings may have very different ideas from each other as adults, but no-one – not even a spouse – can have the same kind of bond with its childhood memories, shared experiences, old family jokes.  It is special.

When strangers hurt you, you may become disappointed or angry, but it doesn’t tear at the fabric of your being.  You are not obsessed by it and whatever has happened, you know that you will get over it in time.

It is not the same with families.  When there is a break between parents and children or brothers and sisters, it colors every aspect of your life.   For the family is your haven, your soft resting-place.  When there is a break, your emotional security is gone. We need to feel ourselves one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, yet allied to us by an unbreakable bond, which nature has welded before we are even born.  A family quarrel does not just leave aches or wounds;  it is more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.  Author Dodie Smith described her family as “that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.”

So cherish your family while you still have them.  Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family , which is one of nature’s masterpieces.  Having a place to go – is your home.  Having someone to love – is your family.  Having both is a blessing.

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Thank you for your comments.  Let me know if I can help you with any writing problem.

If you have trouble finding my books, you can contact me at dwaysman@gmail.com

 

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