Why does anyone become a writer? You could reply facetiously as did a well-known conservation writer, who replied: “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, whether they are composing deathless prose or writing a recipe book – they just have to write.
In practical terms, anyone can be a writer. It’s about the only profession you can take up where you don’t need any capital – a pen and paper and you’re in business. But there are certain qualities that are indispensable, even to the beginner. You obviously need talent and enough ego to believe that others will want to read your work. You need determination and optimism, because the road to success is lined with many rejection slips. And you need enormous self-discipline … there is no office to rush to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. You must face that blank sheet of paper every day (or the computer screen) and sit there and do battle, when outside the birds are singing; the telephone shrills; 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’ll let them.
But if you don’t … if you actually start to fill those pages and you know you have something worth saying … ah then, you wouldn’t change what you are 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 can equal.
Let’s study the short story. To be effective, it must convey something from writer to reader. The power of its offering is the measure of its excellence. Apart from that, there are no rules except that to qualify as a short story, it should be able to be read at a single sitting. Like a novel, it should depict character moved by plot. But it will not elaborate on secondary characters or need sub-plots. A short story must maintain a single point of view to keep the story in focus.
Your story begins for the writer and reader alike when the confusing outer show of things can be swept aside, when something happens which gives access to the secret pulse of life. What then is a story? You can say it is a quest for life, both for the writer and the reader.
The greatest source of material is provided by life itself. But life, with its constant needs, its weight, its multiplicity, has a certain rawness, which is its power. The writer’s role is to refine and sift. While a story is an impression of life, it is never a copy of life. In both life and in a story there are moments that stand out – revelations, conflict, drama, decisions – almost as if time had waited for such a moment, new and unrepeatable, to happen.
When you write a story, you first ask yourself not only what DID happen, but what MIGHT have happened – and then write it as if it did happen.
In this lesson, we are going to deal with the SUBJECT and THEME of the short story. THE SUBJECT is almost always a character, a place or a situation. You could call it the area 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 Paris. Your THEME could be: Paris is a romantic, magical city where it is easy to fall in love.
The SUBJECT of your story might be a woman. Let’s call her Lisa Robbins.
Your THEME might be: Lisa has wasted her life in dreams of the past.
Your SUBJECT might be love. The THEME could be: the possessive 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 (or lack of them) of a group of jetsetters on a skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps – but if you have never mixed with such people and indeed, never visited Switzerland, your story can only be shallow and unconvincing. You could write a really deep, compassionate story about neighbors who live in your own street. It would be far more meaningful from your creative point of view, and certainly more perceptive and enlightening for your reader.
How to get started:
1) Write a description of someone you once met or knew who made a deep impression on you, even though your lives may have crossed only once. It can be someone you met at a party; or saw fleetingly on a bus; someone who was wise or charismatic, or even a drop-out from society, but in some way made a vivid impression.
2) Think of someone or something very meaningful to you. Write down what situation, place or kind of person you would like to use as the subject of a story. What would be your THEME – that is, what kind of comment would you make on this subject?
Happy writing. I am always here to give you help (free) on any writing problems you may have. Contact me at email@example.com You can also purchase from me direct copies of some of my 14 novels:
“The Pomegranate Pendant”|; “In A Good Pasture”; “Searching for Sarah”.