On Writing, Topic 001 – A Method of Crafting an Effective Story

On Writing (“Francis’s Party”),

Topic 001 – A Method of Crafting an Effective Short Story

Introduction

“On Writing” is a mini-blog, currently in the form of a quick and easy post, within my larger small blog for fiction creation.  It is meant for those who would enjoy discussing ideas such as creative writing, literary devices, and publishing.  If you have any thoughts, commentary, suggestions, or other type of feedback, I will more than welcome your comments. I will research your questions and lessons, and usually approve them for others to learn and benefit from.  Please enjoy what I have to present to you; I welcome inspiration as well as lessons on creating intriguing fiction.  Thank you for your time; again, enjoy.

A Method of Crafting an Effective Short Story

Classical methods of creating a short story are constantly rehashed in what we read.  A short story, by its very definition, is a story of about 2000 words.  With at least 500 words, but not usually over 9000, many a synopsis is good enough for the common reader to enjoy before bedtime.  And who are we trying to impress?  Ourselves.  Our audience.  The more intelligible our audience and the more impressed they are with our work, the more we have to be proud of.

Without having ever written it down, verbatim, I do have my own method of writing down a decent story.  I will share my easiest technique with you, will most probably be part of the crowd that refers to the post before crafting a new story.

First, I think about what actually happens in the story, or what could.  I also compare a good notion with many other ideas; I give them the attention I can to compare these ideas.  I think of journalists, how they document real life – what people pay to know about besides the weather and photos entities such as the Associated Press may compensate for.  What of setting?  What of characters, beings, and occurrences?  Am I thinking of a love story?  What is my reason for the story?  Is it for a competition, a certain genre?  Is it to remember a fond memory of childhood or some factional psychological venting?  Usually, I like a good bedtime-story for any age, unless I want some action more suitable for adult readers.  I seek to edit and revise my stories for quality, as if any one of them were to be submitted to the most ruthless of editors or the most competitive of large-volume competitions.

I will explain my technique, as I design a new story, even if it is not my very next one to author.  Why let the word “series” come into place here?  Because, once we setup some dialogue, a setting, original characters, incidences and a conclusion, we can use the same ideas for new stories over and over.  Once we have a good setting and characters, we can use the same building blocks over and over for many exciting stories.

Let us make a first and original story, though, for now.  We will choose a setting, some main characters, come up with the dialogue as needed, and even begin the story with dialogue, as an audience-catching literary device.  One story I never wrote had to do with Christmas and the name Francis.  It is alluded to in a story in “A Collection of Tales”, my first book.  I find it to be a quick and easy idea to give examples to classically defined devices.  If you read this entire post, it should, at the minimum, be a fun reminder for any storycrafter’s technique.  I was going to leave personification out of this lesson, however the brilliant hues of Christmas lights and little elves in my mind just seemed like too much fun to pass up.  What were we going to endure for this reminder, anyway?  A conversation between two people waiting for a bus ride with a camera?  Two women having tea only to find their waiter faints at their table in the deadest, coldest time of winter?  No, no; we are going with elves and can love each other and our art in the process.

We will not actually start the story, just yet; we will plan it out, however.  I suppose I will go ahead and type it up, too.  We, as I said, will start the story with dialogue.  This involves the two main characters, a victim, an outstanding party, and shadow characters.  In my book, there is a story about a young university student who analyzes water.  It is titled “Forrest Hollow” and includes paranormal experiences in the woods.  Before his travels, the main character reads a short story titled, “Francis’s Party”, because his name happened to be Francis and he came across it.  I had yet to have composed the draft; we will do that within this post.  I am happy to finally post to On Writing; the closest idea I ever had to starting a second blog.  I love the study of literary devices.  This post, alone, should suffice for our collective needs, for now.

“Francis’s Party” is set up to be a form of personification and some form of an approach to horror.  Mostly like a cartoon, it attempts to use reality with characters that are fantastical beings.  Is the idea completely original?  Very close.  It was inspired.  While watching the Cartoon Network on New Years Eve of 1999, I saw the “Millunium” – a ten-hour showing of the most popular Warner Brother’s cartoons during the last 100 years.  I was completely wired and enjoyed every cartoon.  Between the old familiar classics, I saw these two Christmas ornaments speaking.  They were elves who could talk with each other.  One always asked, “You going to Francis’s Party?”  That was close to all that occurred before the next show.  So, we can now manufacture what these two elves were really up too – killing a mouse annually.

That is our premise of the story we are happily crafting.  Once a year on Christmas Eve, two characters with original names carry on their tradition, skillfully.  We will begin the story with one elf  waking the other.  This means we start with dialogue.  Then they seek and attempt to find the mouse.   A large cat creates a confusing situation, or conflict, because the old cat had never been aware of the elves’ wrongdoings, before.  The shadow characters will remain sleeping; the presents have all been wrapped and the night will be dark and late.  A series could easily be made of the story, because it involves an annual event, can re-occur much like a Road-Runner cartoon’s basic plot premise.

Before I type the story, I must include one last important notion.  My way of writing a story is easy.  Choose a good idea.  Try to remember the main characters, what and where things happen, and write out the story.  Make sure things that happen lead up to a main occurrence and then conclude with some form of a summary.  This last part is not always necessary.  A technique, of its own device, is to conclude completely with the main occurrence.  I do not think we will incorporate that device, this time, however.  Once you have written down or typed up the story, go back and revise it for diction and concision.  This involves using carefully selected words for proper meanings while not writing in a verbose or wordy manner.  While typos may cause you to do such a thing anyway, there are two more reasons.  Peruse the first draft for once for typos and again for enjoyment; search for the use of purposely used devices and re-write the sentences as necessary; and re-write sentences for proper style in the world of masterful prose.  Attempt including an emphatic construction somewhere, if at all seemingly possible.

Here are some questions to ask once you are done with your first draft and are ready to re-write it with competent intention.  Where is your climax?  What happened, series of events wise, to lead to it?  What can you include around a fourth of the way into the story for foreshadowing?  What devices are important to you, anyway, and will it change the story for the better or worse to include classic methods such as the utilization of symbols?  If you have great symbols and reasons for using them and the time to do it well, do it.  That is my advice.  Symbols are great for teachers and people wanting to tell a story having little to do with what an unsuspecting reader may actually infer.  If the reader identifies proper use of symbols without reading commentary of the author on the work, more power to the reader.  I will type our story, and we can discuss some devices able to be used in other stories, afterwards, analyze what we will with our fun Christmas horror cartoon prose narrative.  We can always learn together by your posting comments to this post; please, do.  Remember, classic rules and techniques are great to know; they are not necessary always.  Such is the art-form of a short story, to begin with.  If we do not get back with your commentary, try again every two weeks or so.  We do value commentary.

Francis’s Party

“You going to Francis’s party?” asked Frince, as the four-inch tall Christmas ornament elf shook his partner in crime, (1) Mince a little.  “Am I alive?”  asked Mince, as he jumped to his feet.  Silver, gold, blue, green and red glitter shimmered from the cracks of light seeping into their ornament box as it fell from the small fellow waking.

It was Christmas Eve, once again.  It was duty time.  Historically, in this house, Frince and Mince came to life on the 24th of December, at midnight.  The woman of the house and her husband (2) always erected a Christmas tree and decorated it with ornaments and lights of varied hue to shine in the late dark cold night.  The woman, three years in a row, now, decided to go with a “theme” for the tree.  While stunning to those who saw these Christmas trees, the older ornaments of nostalgic tradition were usually mostly left in their decorative, glittered and dusty, ornament box.  This year she titled her Christmas tree’s theme “The Ice of Winter”, and their tree was adorned with mostly store-bought silver ornaments and blue and dark-blue lights and metallic silver stringed strands.

Frince and Mince made their way to see the tree; both found it to be baffling.  “Back to business.”  “Due course.”  They scurried to the shadows of a near sofa, and discussed hunting options.  The two elves were connected magically.  It was unnecessary for them to speak aloud, many times, because they shared natural extrasensory perception.  They could hear each other think loud and clear.  This kept them safe from their one known danger other than living and walking-while-awake humans, their big fat lazy old cat (3).

Their duty? To find the mouse, Streak.  They caught Streak, one year, eating cookies left out for Santa, and the cat caught and ate the mouse right in front of the elves.  How did the elves see him again?  Streak came back into physical form three days later, as the elves lay down to rest for another 362 days.  They only come to life once a year.  Why were they on a hunt for Streak?  For one, to prevent confusion.  If Streak was to eat more cookies, it could upset the woman.  If the cat was to eat the mouse, it could mean another costly (4) trip to the vet.  As the mouse was sure to come to life anyway for most of the year, the elves commonly only lived three magical days, themselves.  So, it was up to them to find this mouse, and that is what they sought to do.

“I seen him.”  “No you did not, you are still waking.”  “We will see.”  Mince thought he saw the mouse streak around a corner to his normal creviceway hideout in the corner of a back room.  The two elves, sure the humans were asleep, ran to the opening in the corner.  The mouse was, as guessed, nowhere to be found.  “If not be him here, as you were accurate, why not frequent the cookies?”  “I want this to be quick and easy, this year.  I think your idea is supreme.”

The two elves traversed the normal shadows of the house to finally find a plate of cookies on a small book-table with a moodlamp lit on dim.  “That is not a Christmas tree.” “You are correct, Mr. Natural Eggnog.  It is still stunning, though.”  The two elves shared a short-lived moment together appreciating the aesthetic value of the green and red sugar cookies and white and brown fudge cubes on the large crystal platter with shimmering golden trim.

Then, as if they were not even visible, as if no small cookie crumb could be thrown to them from the short table, Streak climbed unknowingly onto the high-class platter.  Frince and Mince both saw the small mouse and made their way to the table.  The tiny creature was exceptionally fast and would be nearly impossible to catch if the two elves were to mess this chance up.  They positioned themselves behind a large mug of warm milk (5), as Streak was sure to extract one good crushed nut from a large chunk of fudge and scurry to some place of safety as soon as possible.

Frince noticed that the small scoundrel was not even paying attention.  The mouse removed a large chunk of a walnut, and Frince motioned to Mince.  Mince leaped a good four steps from the mouse and was on him, had him behind the ears by the neck.  The tiny creature might have actually got away, however Frince was just behind Mince and hoisted the mouse into the air by his short hind legs.  “We have him!” thought Frince, almost loud enough to wake the woman.  “That we do” thought Mince, quietly enough to near the man into a supposed year-long length of slumber.

The happy elves held onto the small mouse and bounced and danced to the fire.  A small faggot was only burned on one end.  Mince held the mouse to the log and Frince went and found a small thread of sorts to tie the mouse down.  Upon his return, he and Mince tied down the mouse, and Mince drew his “long-sword” – the four-inch tall elves’ ritualistic version of a Katana.  Frince almost fell asleep – it was almost too easy, this year.

Just then, however, both elves saw the cat (6).  The old, overweight feline monster was creeping up to them, one paw per inch, one noiseless step at a time.  He was spotted, able to pounce, howbeit, at any time.  Mince near shaded himself a new hue of white and glanced to Frince for some attempt of request for authority.  Frince looked to the cat, calculated their possible escape, and said “Take him.”  Mince quickly came down upon the small mouse, decapitating him (7), and the cat leaped into the air.

Both elves (8) jumped away from the slain mouse to escape the deadly cat.  The cat caught Frince (9), Mince stayed within dangerous reach, moving.  Soon to bite the head off the magical little elf, the cat looked to Mince to see if there was any last reason for not pursuing his natural wishes.  Mince had to think quick, his sword would do him no good; he remembered the warm buttermilk by the cookies.  Mince aimed his sword in that direction and the cat knew there was warm milk over there.  The large fluffy animal lifted his paw off the terrified elf and strolled toward the buttermilk.  Halfway to the moodlamp, the cat lay on his side and slept.  The two elves were exhausted, too, and sat for a moment (10).

Their annual deed was done (11).  They walked to the Christmas tree and watched the fading lights glow bright blue and dim to darkness repeatedly, decided to turn in.  They made their way up the stairway-latter to their ornate ornament (12) box to conclude the Christmas night.  As Frince was closing their lid for slumber, he noticed a large, shiny black boot (13) make the chimney floor’s ashes cloud into its surrounding air.

So our story’s first draft is complete, and, without a single revision, we can discuss what I like to deem “natural device.”  This is when we can consider the use of device as it occurs within the story without too much actual intention.  I have included dialogue in color to show which elf is speaking or thinking, an idea I received from a fellow blogger with no current blog, maybe (Nonsense-and-Shenanigans on Word Press).

At any rate, I used numbers in parenthesis to denote the attempted use of literary device.  I will include those; define some classic terms; include some words from Wikipedia; and we can engage into what commentary is possible for this mini-blog and a story that I have waited months and months to draft, “Francis’s Party”.

Numbered Device Reference Notes

(1) foreshadowing – the two elves may be up to a treacherous act of some sort with the inclusion of the word “criminal.”

(2) shadow-characters – the intentional use of therciary characters; they exist and do not speak.

(3) character, semi-personification – we intentionally introduce the third of five chars, the cat is nearly personified, does make a decision later in the story.

(4) reference-connection device – “costly” indicates some connection to familial economic reality, a dangerous tool to use in fiction.

(5) symbol – the milk symbolizes life for the cat, freedom for the elf, later on in the story; the idea that beings must do something to gain or consume something to exist can be loosely inferred in symbolic consideration.

(6) conflict and dilemma – the cat represents an antagonistic danger to the objective of the elves, as well as the well-being of the elves.  Everything was fine; at this point, they are in danger.

(7) climax – the climax of the story is when Streak is slain.

(8) narrative hook – we, as readers, are encouraged to continue reading, because action in “up in the air.”  We want to see what happens to the elves; for one small moment, the cat is in the air, and we do not know if the elves will be captured or eaten or both.

(9) protagonistic dilemma – one of the main character’s well-being is put into question, causing us to care for him.

(10) falling action – action is slowed as the characters are no longer in danger and the story’s conclusion is on the way.

(11) comprehensive denouement – a story’s summary of events, how the dilemmas of the characters are resolved, and their resolutions are explained during the story’s falling action is a story’s denouement.  Not explaining much at this point, we at least know the two protagonists had a goal and found their success.

(12) (consonantal) alliteration – useful as poetic device, it is a favorite of mine in the rhythmic world of prose.

(13) symbolic conclusion – we know, indirectly, who is coming down the chimney.  The conclusion leaves us to wonder if the elves heed to a conscious consideration of being good or bad, whether Santa can find them living or not.  It would be largely up to the reader.  One way or the other, it is fun to include a the visual image of a known and favored character without too much of a direct statement.  What, on Earth, would he think of his missing cookie crumb walnut chunk?

 Common Literary Device Terms for use in Short Stories

 plot – the main scheme, plan or story-line of a story, play, or other composition

climax – a decisive moment during ongoing action in a story when plot changes; the most intense point in a story

setting – the surroundings or environment of where action takes place in a story, often briefly described

character development – description of main characteristics of a character, further explanations of a character’s persona, endurance shaping

personification – act of making something human-like that was not, i.e. a talking rock, tree, or animal

summary – explanation of basic incidences in a story, usually towards the end

denouement – post-climax explanation of what happened to the characters, normally including a story’s resolution during its falling action

conflict – opposing force of normal/natural action, many times, when a character is forced to choose

decision – a character’s time of choice or when they are presented with being forced to choose

character – person to be described in a story, being what the story is about

antagonist – main char’s opposing char in a story; adversary

rising action –  events that lead to the climax

falling action/resolution – events occurring after the epiphany (climax) of a story

protagonist – main character in a story

dialogue – speech between characters in a story

scene – realm to be described that characters interact in

transition – literary device that changes from one sequence of events to another, usually by alluding to the change of incidences before they begin to happen

narrative hook – device used by writers to keep readers involved with an ongoing story

description – presenting details about a character, object, event, or scene

symbol – object, word, or concept within a story that represents a secondary idea

visualization – descriptions that can let us, the audience, visualize scene, setting, objects, or occurrences

clandestine visualization – device used to allow an audience to see a character, scene, object, or concept without describing said item/items in words/verbatim

[

The following information was extracted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_story –

More Short Story Terms:

exposition – the introduction of setting, situation and main characters

complication – the event that introduces the conflict

crisis – the decisive moment for the protagonist and his commitment to a course of action

climax – the point of highest interest in terms of the conflict and the point with the most action

resolution – the point when the conflict is resolved

in medias res – when short stories have an exposition beginning in the middle of the action

]

Thank you for enjoying these literary reminders and ideas; remember, I patiently await your every comment. This first draft of “Francis’s Party” was 1173 words long; the entire post currently contains, 3598 words.  🙂

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