The Silence Broken / Lessons on the Short Story

Oh, boy. What a week I’ve had. On Monday, my wife, my in-laws and I drove down to Mexico. We came down to help out an orphanage my church runs and to help build houses for the needy. Well, my father-in-law was part of a lecture series for the workers, and I had the homework. My wife helped build, though Internet has been spotty, and I’ve used most of it for working on my homework. Montezuma’s Revenge made it difficult for me to do a lot of things as well. That’s my excuse for not posting for a week, and I’m sticking to it.

Right now, one of the biggest influences is Sara Hoyt, who blogs at http://www.accordingtohoyt.com and http://www.madgeniusclub.com (the last with several other authors). If you are interested in reading some good human wave fiction, please check her out. She has been holding an online workshop on how to write a short story which I’ve been participating in. She has her stuff on Amazon, and usually has at least one free story there so you can sample her work.

Even in just a few lessons, I have learned a lot. I submitted a short story I had started, and the feedback I’ve gotten from the others helped me to improve it greatly. I need to learn to show, and not explain things, and to keep out extra information that isn’t necessary for the story at hand. This last is a balancing act if you are planing a series, however, and want to foreshadow future events.

It is important to do a little plotting, even if you don’t normally plot. For the first ‘Bastard Prince’ story (It’s a working title.) I had written it, and deleted it, and rewritten it about four times before I wrote the final first draft that I submitted. I finally made myself a detailed outline like the ones we did in high school:

1. The First Story
1. TBP’s older brother, the new king, is not trusting TBP.
1. Ambitious advisers have convinced him that TBP is plotting a coup.
2. This is not true
2. Enemies are circling the kingdom, intent on using the discord to gain an advantage, possibly overrun the kingdom.
1. TBP cannot allow this to happen
1. The lack of trust and the emergencies are forcing his hand
2. He must act, for the good of the kingdom.
etc.

Then I read about the W plot. It starts by introducing the character at a high point, giving him an obvious problem, and a less obvious one to drag him down, (try/fail one) raising him up (but not as high as at the start) and then back down (try/fail two, facing the problem), and finally reaching a triumphant conclusion. The plot would look like a capitol W. So, here is the W plot for my second story. There are obvious variations but for a short story, this format works 90% of the time.

Character: The Bastard Prince, Rowan Barnard Suroni MhacEdric.

The obvious problem: An imperial duke has arrived to arrange a treaty to marry one of the emperor’s nieces to the king, Edmund. Parties in the empire, as well as Ilkadumia (the name of the kingdom), oppose the proposed marriage.

The hidden problem: Someone murders the duke! Not only is the treaty in jeopardy, but if the murder is not solved, the Empire will likely declare war against Ilkadumia, which will probably loose.

Try/fail one: negotiations are going well, until the duke is murdered. His second in command, his son, refuses to negotiate further until the murder is solved. He gives a one week ultimatum.

Try/fail two: Jal and Rowan believe they know who the murderer is: the duke’s son. He has motive and opportunity, and his opposition to his father’s plans are well known. The two have displayed hostility before the murder. But he proves his innocence when confronted.

Facing the problem: After reexamining the evidence, Rowan nearly gives up hope.

Try three/Triumph: A new discovery shows who the real killer is. Rowan tricks him into confessing. He attacks Rowan, hoping to escape his just punishment. At Rowan’s urging, the murderer is given to the duke’s son to be taken to the Emperor for justice. The son concludes a treaty with Ilkadumia.

I’m not sure if I prefer to do the outline method, or the W method. I may well end up using the W to inform the outline, and write from both. I’m currently writing the second story, and continuing to edit the first. I have a new goal of having at least 10 Bastard Prince stories by the end of the year. Wish me luck!

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One comment on “The Silence Broken / Lessons on the Short Story

  1. aml579 says:

    OK, so the indents for the outline don’t work in WordPress. You’ll have to imagine the outline bit was properly formatted.

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