Shaping Fiction

This week, in addition to my children’s book I have been working on stuff for the Swanwick competition – deadline yesterday. Unfortunately I missed it because I misread the 12.00 as midnight. It was noon. Frustrating. However, the purpose of this blog is to focus on the positive outcomes for my frustration. How can I turn this failure inside out?

Firstly I finished the story – great! I also shaped it to its 1000 word limit (995) – from a previous piece of 500 – also fabulous. I also did something previously difficult for me – I conformed to a given short story theme! So to be positive and avoid beating my chest continually like an angry and demented gorilla – I thought I would focus on how I achieved it, even though it did not go anywhere. So, some positive thoughts.

I have never been good at conforming to given themes but intend to crack this problem. The theme was Vision, word length 1000. Vision can conjure up all sorts of images – eyes, seeing, goals, future, mirrors, reflections in water – endless really. So I found my brainstorming exercise a useful means of coming up with initial ideas.

What to do with the ideas? Who are the characters? How does ‘vision’ tie in with them? How does the given theme become the character’s own theme? That was the initial question that set my story off. Trying to turn an empty theme into one that tied in with a character’s problem. My theme of vision – as mirrors – became a problem of hating mirrors because of disability – how my character saw himself at the beginning – then saw himself differently at the end. This particular story for adults was told from scratch. Once I had captured my plot and characters – the story almost wrote itself.

I then tried to adapt a second story for this given theme. The story was short. I would have to double it. How could I expand the word length without simply padding it with irrelevant detail. That’s the problem for us all. Every word in a short story must count – as relevant to the theme and the character’s problem. My character was a child who had lost her mother to this virus. The vision was a rainbow. And I did manage to build in details that enabled the story to match the theme (vision), as well as making the plot topical.

Word count – it is occurring to me as I write that expanding on a story involves far more than simply scattering words throughout: the story must match the plot ratio of beginning, middle and end (BME) – as roughly quarter, half, quarter (so I once read). I am thinking of this now as the difference between a flat and a three-dimensional shape: dimension being the essential attribute that lifts writing from the page. I am also recalling the ‘slow, fast, slow’ rhythmic pace that I focused on last week.

So now I have a few points to think about for a short story – making a given theme the character’s own, linking it to the character’s problem, then into a plot, shaping this plot to the ratio of the BME, given the word count – plus paying due attention to the alternating rhythms of pace.

I am now warming to this outline plan for a short story and beginning to see how these staged thoughts can be used and adapted to a story of any given theme or word count. After all, this is our usual starting point for entering competitions. We begin with a given theme and length – then let our imaginations fly.

I have, by writing this blog, made myself feel a bit better about missing the deadline for my story. It is not wasted. Maybe nothing we write is ever wasted. So for the May 15th entry (Writers On-line) – I will strive to do all of these things – and be well on time. No more missed deadlines! I have learned my lesson.

« Back to Blog