Short Stories

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Shelley
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Short Stories

Post by Shelley » Sun May 07, 2017 7:43 pm

Hi All

Several of our well-known poetry competitions also run sections for short stories. This seems to be a growing trend, and I see that the latest to join in is this year's CJ Dennis Toolangi Competition, which has introduced a short story section in place of its usual themed poetry section. As well as potentially attracting entries from prose writers, this opens up a whole new vista for us poets.

Short story writing is not my forte, and I admit that I struggle with it. Do any others feel the same?

I have a friend who is a published novelist, and I asked her, "How do you sustain your words through a whole novel?"

She replied, "How do you harness your inspiration in a single poem?"

In the interests of broadening our horizons, how about some short story tips from those of you who have experience and success in this particular genre? Do you feel like sharing? What makes a good short story?

In anticipation ...
Shelley :D
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: Short Stories

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Mon May 08, 2017 2:27 pm

I can't say I have had a huge amount of experience or success writing short stories, Shelley, but I do love writing them. I've had a couple of little things published in the Henry Lawson Society newsletter, and I recently had one published in the yacht club newsletter. (Back page, of course - after all the racing results, and tips for sailing faster!)

I don't think there are any special tricks. I think the key is to be experimental and take risks and - as with writing poetry - have fun with it. I try not to think too much about writing a story that might win an award, and concentrate on writing a story that I enjoy writing, and hope others will enjoy reading.

I try to start with the faintest wisp of an idea, and see where it leads me. Of course, how much of the day dreaming you do before you pick up the pen and how much after you have already started is up to you.

One genre I've been having a lot of fun with is the 'false history', where I tell a story as though I am describing history, in that dry tone historians tend to use, but it is actually not a history at all, it is complete fiction. (A disclaimer at the end can be helpful.)

I also try to introduce elements of fantasy and surrealism. Mixing up time zones can be fun, too. I wrote a little story about taking Henry Lawson to the footy finals once. I'm not sure any of this is especially appreciated in bush poetry competitions but, as I say, if I am going to go to the trouble of entering, I want to make sure I am enjoying myself. I don't think I am learning anything as a writer if I am not pushing myself in some way.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

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David Campbell
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Re: Short Stories

Post by David Campbell » Mon May 08, 2017 3:15 pm

The first thing we were told in primary school about our essays was that they should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that’s something I’ve always followed. Interestingly, though, you’ll find quite a few modern short stories that disobey this “rule”. It’s almost as if the author sat down and wrote for a while, then got bored and stopped. The stories don’t seem to go anywhere, and there have been many times I’ve turned over another page, wondering where the rest of it has gone. It’s a bit like some free verse in that you’re expected to appreciate the language or the “vibe” because there’s no proper narrative. They’re stories without an actual story and you end up wondering “What was the point of that?”

So my only advice would be to make sure that something actually happens, that the story leads somewhere and says something of interest. With a maximum of only 500 words in the Toolangi competition, there’s no room for detailed character or plot development, so it’s a case of getting into it straight away with an interesting opening. The middle has to keep the reader involved, and the end should, if possible, leave something to think about. Below is a 500-word story of mine as an example. The indented paragraphs won't register on this site, but it should be OK to read.

Cheers
David

Sand Castles
© David Campbell

He was no longer beside me.
I turned, as I had so many times before, to find him standing quietly a dozen paces behind. He looked so small and fragile, a thin figure clutching a plastic bucket and spade. My heart went out to him.
I retraced my steps, digging my toes into the soft sand of the gentle incline. I stopped in front of him, resisting the urge to speak. His pale blue eyes stared straight ahead. There was no plea, no sign of recognition.
I took his hand and led him along the path, guiding him carefully to the top of the steps. The steps had to be negotiated carefully. They were cut quite high so I stayed one pace ahead, offering a supporting hand as he used a stiff-legged sideways shuffle to manoeuvre his way down. It took some time, but we were in no hurry.
The beach spread out below us and I could see that the tide was out. The kids from up the street had started a game of cricket. Old Mrs Rasmussen’s dogs frolicked at the water’s edge.
We reached the bottom of the steps and he sat down. He removed the thongs and placed them carefully in the bucket. Mrs R waved and shouted, so I dutifully waved back.
As we passed the cricketers he stopped to watch. Although no flicker of expression crossed his face he seemed to enjoy their exuberant shouts. I remembered my own games of cricket on this beach. It was always a family occasion. Every Christmas we came down to the house and for two glorious weeks ran wild on the sand and in the water.
He had dropped his bucket and spade. Lost in his own little world, he seemed entranced by the capering children. But he said nothing, just stared intently with those unblinking pale blue eyes.
I picked up the thongs and replaced them in the bucket with the spade. I gave him the bucket and we resumed our journey to his favourite place beside the rocks.
When we reached them I stretched out above the tide-mark, hat tipped over my eyes. There was no need to watch. I knew what he would do. I could see him in my mind’s eye, carefully smoothing the sand. Then he would fill his bucket and build sand castles.
I must have dozed. I dreamt I was sitting on my father's shoulders as he bounded through the surf. Laughing, he lifted me high and then swept me down so that my legs could thrash the tops of the water. I could feel his power and my own exhilaration as my feet danced across the waves. I was king of the world, but someone was calling...
It was Mrs Rasmussen.
"Good morning, Major," she said. Mrs Rasmussen was always polite.
My father ignored her. As usual. He lifted his red plastic spade high into the air and plunged it into the wet sand.

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Shelley
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Re: Short Stories

Post by Shelley » Wed May 10, 2017 3:17 pm

Hello Stephen and David

Thank you both very much for your excellent advice and tips!

STEPHEN

I do agree that the primary purpose is to have creative fun with our writing - whatever style we choose. I guess for me, the positive about short story sections in poetry competitions is that it tempts me to experiment with a genre that may have otherwise passed me by.

I like your "false history" idea - that does sound like fun, and the possibilities are endless! Also, I have to say that after you took Henry to the footy, I'm amazed you were sober enough to write at all!! ;)

But I guess you hit the nail on the head when you spoke of developing "the faintest wisp of an idea" into something concrete. That's where I seem to have my problem - for me, the wisp is fainter than faint. In other words, I have trouble getting started. Maybe I'm just too impatient and don't give the grey cells enough time to develop that wisp into a decent cobweb!!

DAVID

Do you know, I've felt exactly the same as you about some short stories I've read - and I guess that's probably another roadblock for me. In an effort to gain inspiration, I've read prize-winners and other published efforts, and often thought, "Huh??"

One problem I have is crafting a story rather than a memoir or piece of descriptive prose or an essay. I don't seem to have that issue with poetry, but when it comes to prose, I seem to lose my focus. I really like the sample you've provided and it certainly has the elements you spoke about. I guess the "beginning, middle, end" is essential across a lot of genres - a good speech also has these elements (as does a good poem).

The Toolangi short story competition is a challenge - not just because of its brevity but also because "the aim of the competition is to encourage writing which celebrates the work of CJ Dennis" (according to the rules) - so it is to some extent a set theme. I will really enjoy "having a go"!!

Cheers and thanks again to you both
Shelley :D
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: Short Stories

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Wed May 10, 2017 8:29 pm

Shelley, this might sound a little odd, but have you ever tried meditation to help you overcome writer's block? I stumbled upon it many years ago, and find it absolutely brilliant. If I am stuck for "what happens next", I just start to meditate, and an idea comes pretty quickly. The other strategy is to go for a long walk. I suspect it works in a similar way.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

Terry
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Re: Short Stories

Post by Terry » Wed May 10, 2017 8:49 pm

Shelley
If you stop to think about it, you have probably experienced or know of something that you could weave into an interesting story.
All I reckon you need is a bit of imagination - not that I know much about it, I've written a few yarns and that's about my limit.

Terry

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Shelley
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Re: Short Stories

Post by Shelley » Thu May 11, 2017 1:44 pm

Hi Stephen and Terry

It's fascinating to hear what strategies work for other writers to overcome the dreaded "block"! I haven't tried meditation, Stephen, but I have found that the long walk sometimes helps! Actually the best thing I find is to be out and about with our caravan. Sometimes I hear stories on the road, but even if not, having a clear head away from the daily round of tasks often works a treat.

We haven't had the opportunity to travel for quite a while - but we aim to remedy that in a few weeks' time with a short trip - so I'm hoping that will wake up the Muse and she will biff me in the ear with blinding inspiration!! :D

Terry, you are right - all of us have experienced events that, with a bit of thought and imagination, would make good short stories. Some people have a real talent for recognising that kind of potential as it happens - and can turn even the most mundane things into clever stories. I confess that when something interesting happens in my orbit, I think "poem" rather than "prose". But as Stephen so rightly says, the best learning and creative experiences come when we push ourselves ... so I'll just have to think outside the square!

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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Shelley
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Re: Short Stories

Post by Shelley » Tue May 16, 2017 4:24 pm

Well, gentlemen, I have to report that I have written my first short story!!

Mindful of the excellent advice received from all of you (David, Stephen and Terry), I applied myself to the challenge.

Terry - I did what you suggested and wrote (with some embellishment) about something that really happened to me. It worked!

Stephen - While not exactly introducing fantasy or surrealism, I did insert the whimsical idea of how someone of the past would view my present actions - so I guess you could say "time-bending" to a very small degree! :D

David - I was very conscious of your good advice to keep things moving. Beginnings and endings are one thing - but it's certainly a challenge to avoid becoming "becalmed" in the middle!

So I guess the next step is to throw it into a competition and see if it passes the "pub test"!! ;)

I have to say, though, that short stories are still not my forte. I found the exercise to be a journey well outside my comfort zone!

Onward and upward ... and thank you, all.
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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