Author Topic: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?  (Read 3712 times)

Offline Gyppo

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   Short stories and doughnuts.  Where do they start?  Where should they start?

   Most short stories are only a small slice of the characters' lives, a snapshot of a few days, or possibly only minutes.  What came before it started and what happens after it ends are different stories.  

   Think of your short story as a doughnut, or your own favourite pastry/cake.  But I'm sticking with the doughnut as my metaphor.

   Where does your relationship with the doughnut start?

   It doesn't really become a part of your life until you bite into it.  Yes, it may have smelt good in the bag as you carried it home.  It may have 'called to you' from the shop window as you passed.  But the real relationship comes with that first bite.

   Now imagine if, when you entered the shop, and before selling you the doughnut, the shopkeeper insisted on telling you not only the precise ingredients but exactly where they all came from.

   Would you be interested that the wheat for the flour was grown in Alberta, possibly milled in America, then shipped in bulk across the ocean?  Or that the sugar was made from sugar beets grown and harvested in East Anglia, then processed in Liverpool, UK?

   I doubt it.  All you really want is the taste of it in your mouth.

   All the above background information may well be of immense interest at some point, right down to the name of the baker and the temperature of the doughnut fryer.  As a writer you probably love details, and 'facts'.  Many of us Hoover up information as indiscriminately as a vacuum cleaner gobbles dust, hair grips, small coins, and unwary insects.

   But as a reader, or indeed an eater of doughnuts, you want to taste the thing, not learn its life story ;-)

   Yet, under the belief they are 'setting the scene', many newcomers to writing do the written equivalent to describing the background of the doughnut.  (Experienced writers do it too, but are more likely to spot the problem and cut it out at the editing stage.)

   To avoid this, ask yourself where your story starts.  Let's say it's about a family where the husband gets killed on the way home from work.  It's very tempting to start by showing the cosy domesticity as the wife prepares dinner and the kids are playing.  As a writer you feel the need to show the calm before the storm.  As a writer you may be hesitating about diving into writing the strong 'dark meat' which is about to follow.  Fight these temptations.

   Most readers will already know cosy domesticity, or their own version of it.  It's comfortable to live with, but it hardly makes compelling reading, does it?

   No.  The story starts with the knock on the door and the police officer saying, "Mrs Smith, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.  May I step inside?"

   Then it goes on from there, with the kids strangely silent, sensing something is wrong.

   Later she may be sat there, staring at a loose tile he'd always promised to fix but never got around to doing.  It's a flashback.  Images like that can be a powerful shortcut.  But if she'd been sat there staring at it before the knock on the door it would have been wasted window-dressing.

   I could give other examples, but hopefully I've made my point.

   Work out where your story starts, then go on from there.

   Gyppo

PS:  The same happens with novels, but because of the higher word count the new writer feels they have even more space to warm up before getting on with the tale.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2014, 07:59:54 AM by Gyppo »
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Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2014, 06:09:24 PM »
I would never have thought of a doughnuts as a teaching aid Gyppo. But you made it work well.

You also made me hungry. 
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JewelAS53

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2014, 02:03:06 AM »
Thanks for this, Gyppo.  :D
I have been playing with the sequencing of my scenes for the final assembly of my book and you've put a fat red line through one of the possibilities.  :o
That's less for me to consider.  8)

Artemis Quark

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2014, 06:40:11 AM »
Thanks for sharing this advice Gyppo.

Should be required reading for all newbies and deserves 'sticky' status.  ;D   It was a glazed doughnut,right?

AQ

Offline Gyppo

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2014, 07:52:59 AM »
You're welcome.  Jam doughnut, rolled in cinnamon flavoured sugar ;-)  Raspberry jam for preference.

I'm going to go back to the original and add that experienced writers often do this too, but they're more likely to catch it and cut it out at the editing stage.

Gyppo
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Artemis Quark

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2014, 09:33:24 AM »
Good idea Gyppo. The metaphor creates a memorable image. A humorous reminder to apply in media res and avoid boring back story that drains forward momentum at the start. I think I'll refer to your story as the jelly doughnut rule when self-editing. Yum.

AQ

Offline 510bhan

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2014, 09:48:43 AM »
Just remember it's a metaphor . . . there is no need to munch your way through a tray of doughnuts during a writing session to remind you where you're at. ;D ;D ;D ;D

JewelAS53

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2014, 11:43:25 AM »
Spoil sport, Sio.
 :-[

Offline Tam

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2014, 12:42:13 PM »
Good advice, sir.

Also, mmmmmmmmmm dooooouuuuggghhhnnnnnnuuuuuttttttttssss
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Offline bonitakale

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2014, 07:42:25 AM »
Excellent advice. Always, there are exceptions, but this is something many, many of us need to take to heart.
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Offline Laura H

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Re: Mini-workshop: Short stories and doughnuts. Where do they start?
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2014, 08:49:37 AM »
Well put, Gyppo.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

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