“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: firstname.lastname@example.org Happy writing!