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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Early Resolutions and writing short stories

cj Sez: First: Congratulations to the international organization, Sisters in Crime, for their well-deserved Raven Award. Sah – lute! (I am a member, woo hoo!)

I like to think of myself as still a member of the Mobile Public Library’s “Classics Revisited” book group even though I am no longer able to attend the gatherings (time/date conflict).  Because I think of myself as being on hiatus, I’m planning to challenge myself to complete their 2016 reading list as one of my New Year's resolutions. So here’s six months of my to-do list:    

January- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
February- The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
March- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
April- The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (12 short stories in all.)
May- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
June- Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

The book I’m most fascinated by at this point is The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Not only because it’s a classic, but also because it’s a collection of short stories. For me, a true short story is “the” most difficult to write. I have, in a How-To-Write file, a copy of Anne Lamott’s ABCDE formula for writing short stories (Action, Background, Conflict, Development, and Ending).

Action — Start with something happening to draw the reader into the story. 
Background — Provide context for readers to understand how the characters came to the current situation
Conflict — The characters must want something they don’t have and work to achieve it (sometimes against each other)
Development — Makes up 70-80% of the story describing the characters’ struggle to get what they want. Each time it appears they have the goal within reach, give them something more difficult to overcome until they reach the climax 
Ending — What happens after they reach their goal. In a romance, the hero and heroine realize their “happily-ever-after”. In a mystery or thriller, all the loose ends are tied up. In a literary story, the ending is often ambiguous

So there you have it, laid out in black and white…the formula for writing short stories. She makes it look easy, doesn’t she? So did Nic Wallenda when he walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls.

I also have a tiny, silver empty picture frame to help me keep my focus. In her book, Bird by Bird,* Lamott describes how she has a one-inch picture frame on her desk. The little picture frame reminds her to focus on just a small piece of the whole story. She says when a writer starts with a small focus and then gradually widens it, the story will come together more easily. (cj Sez: I keep trying.)

Crappy first drafts shouldn’t stop you from finishing your story. I hope you keep working at it. You do, don’t you?

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo 

PS:  The stories in CHOOSING CARTER and DEADLY STAR could have been gleaned from today’s headlines, but as Oscar Wilde said:
“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” 
*Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

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