In a few of the recent postings on writing, a friend named Josh has voiced his own concerns about how to go about writing a short story. I’ve been thinking about this for days, and I can’t really come up with a good answer.
As have I, Josh has read many of the books on fiction writing, and I believe he’s taken the creative writing course under the same professor I have at Tunxis. I’ve pulled out my notes, and yet, even though the formula of sorts is there, the elements stated clearly (arc, plot, theme, story, voice, etc.), I can’t put my finger on exactly how one would begin.
For one thing, I’m the last person to ask because the majority of my stories begin with an opening line or paragraph that comes into my mind at the oddest moments, and hangs there, even self-editing if necessary, until I type it out. That’s my beginning of the story, complete with main character, and it just goes somewhere from there.
Upon rare occasion I have an idea, usually from something I’ve seen (and usually while driving and frantically trying to scribble it out with a pen long since out of ink on a paper with minimal clear space). These are the harder ones for me to actually sit down and start in on, mainly because again, I depend strongly on that opening paragraph. Even academic essays were never begun until I had that hook that began the story.
I almost never plan out a story, and usually don’t know where it’s heading. Sometimes, by the tone and the characters, I can guess and so, move it along. Sometimes I know the ending, and have to work to get it there. Sometimes, the ending just changes.
It’s different for each of us, and I suppose, if I were to suggest anything to Josh–who is used to writing novel-length stories–it would be to plan a scenario, pick a setting and pull two characters out of mind, and start typing with the express purpose of getting it down in 600 words. Then, as this exercise was proposed by the good professor, go back and edit it down to half that.