Friday 24 August 2012

Top Tips From a Novelist Writing Short Stories.

Even after so many novels I can’t begin another one until this existing one is properly ‘put to bed’. On the other hand I am not properly happy or resolved unless I am weaving stories, small or large.
So, while I am awaiting news of my new novel from the publishers I have decided to stop biting my nails and write six short stories around the theme of painters and sculptors. In reviewing my novels (here) lately I am reminded how often I the umpulse to paint re-occurs in my fiction.
Man in tree - Short story inspiration
This could be because I once briefly trained in and taught art and find many useful analogies between writing and art, For instance in The Romancer (or click on sidebar for Kindle) I  compare the large scale planning of a novel to blocking in a canvas. I have found that a number of writers have emerged from the art world. There is a serious kinship here.

In this ‘Paint’ project, for technical and creative inspiration I have gone back to the sublime William Trevor, the cool RaymondCarver, the elegant Scott Fitzgerald and the dark Daphne du Maurier. I would recommend these writers to anyone embarking on the writing adventure of  the short story.

Their works have inspired me to think of:

- The significance of the title: think of Carver’s What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love; think of Du Maurier’s The Birds.
- Staying tight: every word must be a bullet  right to the heart of the meaning. This is even so if the prose looks casual or informal.
- The power and pertinence of title in combination with the first lines as they charge right into the story.

Now - putting my money where my mouth is - here are the titles of the first four stories with their first lines.  See what you think:

Short story 1. Wraparound
Using the invisibility afforded by the wide brim of her hat and her wraparound sunglasses the woman kept watch on the man on the rickety stool. He was painting on a small canvas clamped on to an equally rickety easel jammed against a rock, on top of which was parked a red coffee bowl.
    The man’s looks were unexceptional: dry skin creases of an ex-smoker; wispy grey-blond hair; nut brown skin;  whipcord muscles etched into long thin arms. She watched him as he stared for long minutes at the long beach and the sea and then – his brush held by the end, like a sword – he dabbed a spot of paint on the left hand side of the canvas…

Short story 2: The Little Bee
You ask how I met him? That you need this for your book? Well, it started very early mademoiselle.
    My father used to draw me as a child. He sketched my chubby feet. He outlined my roly-poly body and filled me in with pastel, rubbed hard - red, white and ochre with green in the creases. Alas it was a losing battle. The emerging face was always far too old for a baby. Those works remained hidden...

Short Story 3: Sharpening Pencils
Mrs Forrest always called her students by their formal names. ‘Miss Montague, your line is improving. Flow, dear. All is flow!’ And, ‘Miss Clark you must look for the light. Do look for the light, dear. Don’t imagine it.  Do make the light work for you.’
Mrs Forrest’s domain was a long chilly room - the ex-laundry of a large castellated house, once a great manor house, then a First World War hospital, then a psychiatric hospital. Now it was an obscure college for girls who – for one reason or another – had not made the grade elsewhere.

Short Story 4: How I Became a Painter
The house was awash with Harry’s drawings and paintings pinned on chairs and cabinets, on walls and curtains. Each painting and drawing that Harry had made since he was eight or nine was on display in the narrow house. Thomas realised his friend was telling the world ‘This is me!’ in defiance of his father who’d never been comfortable about his son’s soft habit of drawing every dratted thing he saw. Boots, machines. What good’s such things, lad? Useless. The workings of a marshmallow mind. His dead father’s thoughts vibrated in the room now defied, contradicted by the rough papers and boards pinned around the room….

The Fifth Story will be about the impact of the prison art room on a woman prisoner

The Sixth Story will be about a painter who photographs a man cutting down her tree and the emerging disputes that define the space between them.


Why don’t you plan a set of short stories around a theme? You could put them one by one into competitions, or keep them in a collection for publication either on Kindle or in more conventional form. The theme allows them to build into a coherent body of work, which is intrinsically satidfying for any writer. They could also be a showcase for the development of a novel around the same theme,

Happy writing!

For inspiration about short story success check out Avril’s blog.

© Wendy Robertson 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...