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  LiveWire / Teen Forums / The Literature Forum / Viewing Topic

Nora's Guide to Short Stories
Replies: 2Last Post Nov. 1, 2009 10:20am by Ambiguity
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( noraa  )

Enlightened One

I posted this guide sometime a while ago, but it got David's bug. I found the file and figured I'd repost it.

Writing is difficult, I won't deny it. There are thousands of words in the English language, and many more in slang. Writing a story, there are always options, infinite options. Harnessing these, and learning to chose between them, can be incredibly challenging. I hope that this guide helps you write your story. It will not write your story for you. It will not tell you what to say where, nor will it make you the next J.K. Rowling, or even get you an A on a creative writing assignment. This is just something to refer back to when you're stuck. Enjoy.

Getting Started
Getting started, in many ways, is the most difficult part of writing the story. You might be under the impression that beginning to write consists simply of typing a couple of words, an opening sentence. But far too often, that will mess you up. You'll go nowhere, and veer off track. That's why having an idea for a plot before you get too far into the story is a good idea.
Making a Plot
Designing a plot is similar to building the foundation for a house. Without the basic architecture, the whole thing will fall. You don't have to figure it all out yet. Oftentimes people write without knowing what will come next. Choosing your plot is just thinking of skeletal boundaries. Choose a genre. Decide on some themes. Don't chose the ending, necessarily. But map out the general scope of things.
Making Quality Characters
Bored by the plot section? I was too. But now you get to do the fun part, like painting the picture once you have it penciled onto the page. Making characters is really fun.
To help you design pretty interesting characters, I've pulled up a character sheet for you to use. It's helped me quite well over the past few stories I've written, and I hope that it does the same for you. I didn't write this, but it does the trick better then the one I made.
Hair color and style:
Eye color:
Complexion and skin tone:
Character's body build: Character back story:
Identifying marks:
Facial features:
Hand features:
Mannerisms or gestures:
Weakest personality traits:  
Strongest personality trait:
Needs of the character:
Father's name:
Physical appearance:
Mother's name:
Physical appearance:
Sibling's names and descriptions:
Favorite sayings:
Interests and hobbies:
Favorite foods:
Favorite colors:
Financial situation:
Future plans:
Possessions this character values most:
What drives your character:
How does your character handle conflict:
What is standing in your character's way:
What is their favorite room and why:
What vehicle do they drive:
Favorite sport(s):
What are your character's prejudices:
How does your character feel about love:
About crime:
What is their neighborhood like:
What is your character's philosophy on life:
What is your character's family life like:

Fill this out, but not all of it if you don't want to or if it doesn't apply to the character.

Another thing you can do is play the letter game: Write letters from one character to another. Don't use them for the story, just to get to know your character. You can write them with a friend, or by yourself, with a friend works better though. Once you feel as if they're a close friend of yours, like somebody you understand, you are done for now. Of course you will keep getting to know them as the plot progresses. They will possibly change. But just like the plot, you're getting the skeletal boundaries in. You're learning about them enough to be able to sculpt them. Now you're ready to move onto the part you've been waiting for--the writing.
The introduction of the story is one of the most difficult parts. How do you start off a story without giving too much away, but without making it too mysterious? How do you draw the reader in and get them interested in the story? Well the first way to start off is a good opening sentence.
Opening Sentence
In a way, the most important part of the story is the opening sentence. You rely heavily on it because it is what the reader will first get a taste of while flipping through it. Without a good opening sentence, it's like starting a song with no first word, or beginning to run when you couldn't even crawl. The opening sentence is HUGE.

When you make your opening sentence, you have to remember that it shouldn't be boring. For example if you wrote for your opening: "Sandra went to class and when she got out she went out to lunch and then she went back to school and then she went home," that's way to boring. Try and spice it up a little bit, like this: "Wet and bedraggled and in tears, Sandra hurried home after class had been let out, shivering as she ran down the sodden streets feeling the rain pound on her back." Use figurative language and make it sound good--it will draw the reader in more. Or make it humorous.

Another factor that you have to take into account is relevance. The opening sentence doesn't have to be way too relevant to the story. For example if you were to put, "Todd found a secret door which led him to believe that his house had been a home for runaway slaves a long time ago and he was very surprised," it would give away WAY too much information and as a result readers wouldn't be drawn in. However if you put, "Todd's hand trembled on the doorknob of what he had always thought to be a hall closet," it can lead to a much more interesting opening but with the same plot.
A third factor that you have to take into account is quality of writing. Even if the rest of your short story isn't, you should definitely make the opening sentence well written, if not poetic. For example if you put the sentence, "The skier was falling down to the ground from the jump and he didn't look happy," you could put "All the viewers could see was a scramble of orange skis, which they know to be Jerald's, as he fell towards a sodden, white, snow encrusted ground like a rag doll falling from a child's grip." It just takes choice of words, order of words, and phrasing. Read it to yourself and think "is this really good sounding?"
There you have your opening sentence. But you can't have an opening sentence without connecting it to something, right? Read the next paragraph to find out how to write a good story beginning!
The beginning of the story, after the opening sentence, really depends on the opening sentence's type. If it was a more suspenseful sentence, then the beginning of your story will probably be more action-filled, whereas if it's a quiet, rational opening sentence, the more likely path the story will take is a calm one. For example if your opening sentence is, "Tanya didn't know how she fell, it just sort of happened that way," you could continue it by saying "One minute she was on solid ground, the next she was hurtling towards a grass covered ground, at least 30 feet beneath the cliff. She wondered briefly how she should land, she had read about people falling in books. She adjusted herself so that her body was parallel to the earth to minimize impact. This would be a cinch as lon gas she kept in position, she thought to herself as she hurtled towards the earth and fell with a resounding thump on the wet soil." Or if you started with a calmer scene, you could take something like, "She didn't know how she failed that test," and continue it with, "It wasn't so much that she hadn't studied, because she definitely had. It was more of something with the teacher. Mrs. Palmer just plain hated adopted students. She would always be caught muttering to herself about how silly it was to take a child who wasn't yours, and how strange it was for somebody of no relation to the parents to live with them. She thought that it should be illegal. So the day that Liz got that quiz grade, it would be obvious that she was angry. She should have aced that quiz. She would have aced that quiz, if it hadn't been for that stupid Mrs. Palmer." See, that's a more tame start.
And from your start, just keep going. Don't give the middle of the story until you're ready for middle. That means that you have to take the time to get to know the characters that are in the story, but giving little personality tidbits. For example, if Adrienne was very quiet, you could show that by saying, "The others began excitedly chattering, while Adrienne amused herself by reading a book. 'What do you think of this skirt on me?' Claire asked Natalie, 'does it look good?' A few girls clumped around Claire, making various comments about the skirt. Adrienne happily read glad that she was not included in the conversation." See? Just from that little tiny segment of a story, you were able to tell so much about that character. And that is exactly what we are aiming for. The introduction is where you get to know little things about the characters—you learn more in the next section: the middle.

The Middle
You could call it the middle. You could call it rising action. You could call it building suspense. Any way you put it, the middle is the most exciting part of the story.
In the middle, you've given the conflict some time to simmer. Now it's getting to a boiling point. Like popcorn when you don't hold the lid down, it's going to pop out. That's what happens in the middle. The conflict shows itself. Not it's whole self, mind you, just some of it. The ending is really where it comes out.
In the middle of the story, you've got a lot of things happening, things changing. For example, here could be a section of the middle: "Sophia clung to the railing of the steep stairs, cursing under her breath every few minutes. It was so difficult, having to walk carrying a heavy pack all the way. She breathed a sigh of relief when the reached the top of the stairs. Setting the parcel down, she relaxed for a minute or two and let her guard down. Her eyelids drooped, her breathing marked the seconds between being awake and being asleep. Just as she was about to drift off, she heard footsteps behind her. She stood up and whirled around. It was Xavier. 'Xavier, what are you doing here?' Sophia asked her eyes wide with confusion. 'You said you'd died.' 'I've come to help you get out of this mess.' Xavier replied. 'Believe me, it wasn't my idea.'"
As you can see in this scene, the characters relationships are changing, and you're starting to see the nature of each. Although Xavier obviously doesn't like Sophia that much, he still came to help her. That's really important for the middle of a story.

The End
The end of a story is when all sides clash. It's when good meets bad, when the largest crisis in the story takes place. Somewhere in the middle of this, the crisis ends and things get back to normal. Either that or you have a suspenseful ending. In the ending, something you have to make sure is that you have a powerful closing.
For example, if you wrote, "They both apologized and lived happily ever after," or something of that effect, change it to something like this: "Ben and Clara stood under the silvery haze of an incandescent moon, looking out over the ocean. There were so many words unspoken, so many ties healed, so many things going on between the two as Ben's hand brushed Clara's. In that one gesture, Ben was saying everything, and Clara listened. In her mind the words rang out: 'I'm sorry, Clara. I'm sorry.'"
The ending really has to convey a moral, basically the meaning of the book. If the book was saying, "Stick with your team, don't leave when things get bad," make an ending where the characters learn that! That's basically the end section for you. Don't make the rest of it too long, 3 or 4 pages are plenty. You don't want too much of the suspenseful scene or it will just get pretty old. The chaos can only last so long.

Well, my guide is done. I hope that this helped you.

Now get writing!

Post edited at 5:05 pm on Feb. 14, 2009 by noraa

and while you were sleeping some men came around,
said they had some dimensions to take.
i'm not sure what they were talking about,
but they sure a mess of your face.

12:33 pm on Dec. 7, 2008 | Joined: Sep. 2007 | Days Active: 606
Join to learn more about noraa New York, United States | Metrosexual Female | Posts: 8,505 | Points: 16,128
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The Last Magister

Ira Vehementi

Ty! I'll combine this with my RPG maker lol, woot!

"I will never be a memory."

12:35 pm on Dec. 7, 2008 | Joined: April 2008 | Days Active: 1,583
Join to learn more about The Last Magister Kentucky, United States | Straight Male | Posts: 32,913 | Points: 47,393

get lost

I love this :) Nice job Nora.

10:20 am on Nov. 1, 2009 | Joined: July 2007 | Days Active: 1,085
Join to learn more about Ambiguity Maryland, United States | Gay Male | Posts: 41,338 | Points: 59,356
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