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Sunday, August 6, 2023

Anne Lamott and short stories

cj Sez:  I’m in the process of running down rabbit holes to do the research for a short story I want to write for an upcoming anthology submission.

  It seems altogether fitting that my short memory span requires that I will most assuredly be referring to the following notes for guidance and reassurance that I’m on the right track. 

  I really do use these notes every time I start a short story. Yes, I’ve posted about this before, but perhaps you’re new to the process or need a reminder as I do. I hope the notes will help you as well.

  The first thing I do is put a copy of Anne Lamott’s ABCDE structure of a short story within eyesight:

Anne Lamott

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—The 70-80 percent of the story describing the characters’ struggles 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  (
cj Sez: That’s the part where you get them up a tree and throw rocks at them.)

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 may be rather ambiguous.

  I merge Ms. Lamott’s guidelines with a ton of writing tidbits I’ve cobbled together over the years from how-to workshops, conferences, and essays. The following is a summary of what I’ve learned.

  Short stories are about ONE thing, so start as close to the central action as possible, and I find that to be close to the end.

  Try to let the setting help reveal the character and advance the plot. This is where a deep point of view can reveal internal character through reactions to setting.

  In a short story, every line should/must serve more than one purpose.

  Every character needs to want something, even if it’s only to be left alone so s/he can take a nap. That's also conflict.

  Make the reader care about your main character. Snappy dialogue, beautiful settings, or surprising plot twists won’t keep your readers turning the pages if your main character is boring or unlikable. Readers need someone to root for.

  That being said, all great characters have flaws—something readers recognize or sympathize with. The antagonist’s flaw might be a sweet, soft spot that’s out of character for the villainy (supports an infirm mother in a nursing home). 

  You don’t have space in a short story for paragraph-long character descriptions. This is where less is more, necessarily. One significant detail can pique the imagination, inviting the reader into the story, and a complete character is formed in the reader’s mind. This is the character that can lead the reader to an unexpected twist ending, perhaps best exemplified by the master of twisted endings, William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).

A story with a moral appended is like the bill of a mosquito. It bores you, and then injects a stinging drop to irritate your conscience.                                                            ~ Strictly Business by O. Henry

A Big Dog story on the news front . . .

  I dug this tidbit of news out of one of rabbit holes I dove into: The Dog Days of summer are winding down. Depending on your perspective, this is good news or bad news. Good news for people working outside or whose air conditioning is on the fritz. Bad news for school students whose summer vacation is rapidly coming to an end.

  The dog days of summer are those sultry days we “enjoy” every year—the hellaciously hot part of the season in the Northern Hemisphere that occurs when the sun has moved far enough past Sirius that the star rises and becomes visible before the sun rises in the morning. Ergo, Sirius becomes our morning star. 

  Sirius is nicknamed the Dog Star because it's the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (which means "greater dog" in Latin). 

  Hellenistic astrology connected this heliacal rising with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.  Surely there’s a story in there somewhere.


Actually, there is kind of a story. Or at least one that refers to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) eye dialect name for one of its secret projects: a project touched on in my novel, THE DAWGSTAR.


Writers, if you have a book launch coming up and want to schedule a post on Lyrical Pens for your blog tour, drop me a note. (PG13, please.)


That’s it for this week’s post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for a happy and safe you…with lots of time for reading and writing!


  THE DAWGSTAR and DEATH ON THE YAMPA are fast-paced, thriller/suspense stories with sassy banter and a smidgen of sweet romance. (Perfect diversions for those quick four-day weekend getaways—especially if it’s a stay-cation.)

  The books are available on Amazon or through your favorite eTailer and bookstore. Got a library card? You can read the ebooks free from Hoopla.

Little note: The Haunted Book Shop has a few signed copies of my books in stock. TO ORDER, contact: 

  Angela Trigg, the awesome owner and a RITA Award-winning author in her own right (writing as Angela Quarles) will be happy to ship you any book(s) by any author of your choice. If she happens to be sold out of my books (don't I wish), I happen to have a small stash. Just drop me a note.

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