Sunday, 12 February 2017

Great Almond Street and What I Learned Writing a Short Story

Writing a novel is exciting, but also excruciating and exhausting. I hit a low in December, and very nearly lobbed my WIP into the nearest black hole I could find. Fortunately, a timely suggestion to join a critique group kept me going, and said WIP has thus far escaped the relentless pull of the gravitational force otherwise known as Giving Up. 

You may have heard of it. 

So, December was a time for Doing Something Else. I blame this partly (or maybe entirely) on the 95k I wrote during November's NaNoWriMo. I needed a post-NaNo detox. 

Then I discovered The Winter Writing Contest, hosted by Short Fiction Break, and decided to have a go at writing a short story. This particular contest attracted me due to its workshops where other participants could read and give feedback on each other's stories before the final contest deadline. There was also the option to receive feedback from the judges, win or lose. 

My story, Great Almond Street, was selected as one of ten runners-up! Needless to say, this was a huge boost of encouragement, and to top it all off, I learned so much during this experience. I'm now fully convinced that all writers should experiment with short stories every now and then. 

Here are my humble reasons why. 

1. Every word counts. 

Literally. The word count on this competition was 1500 words. That's less than the average scene in my novel. Every single word has to make a difference. Every word must advance the plot, characterize, or foreshadow. Or, preferably, do all three. 

This was an excellent lesson for my long and rambling novel, currently weighing it at well over 120,000 pounds words. Sharpens knife. 

2. The premise must be, dare I say, magical. 

I hummed and hawed over various story ideas that fit the theme, and none of them connected. None of them stuck. I started a few half-hearted drafts, and knew they were going nowhere. 

Then my husband inspired me with the mention of conjoined twins, and I knew immediately I had my story. I knew the story would be told from one of the twin's POV, and I knew what would happen to the twins. 

I believe this is the single most important reason why my story was successful. I could have written any of the mediocre ideas I'd had, but they would have never been anything other than mediocre. (Same writer, same brain, same dog-eared Thesaurus on the same desk.) 

This realization scares me. My WIP premise may not be all it should. 

Never mind, I'm still learning. 

3. The importance of voice. 

Of those who were kind enough to read and comment on my story, many mentioned the voice. A child's voice, no older than six or seven. This story, told by the mother, would have been different. Told by the father, different too. Told by the other twin, definitely different. 

Voice is paramount to a great story. It's what keeps us reading. Writing from a child's POV was a new experience, but beautifully refreshing. Over ten years of working as a speech-language pathologist gave me a particularly developed 'feel' for how children speak. I'm so happy this came across as legitimate in my story. 

Not every character's voice comes as easily, but come it must, if the story is to shine. 

Great Almond Street

We lie together on the bed and watch Mummy pack all the new clothes into the suitcase. I play with the little ladybirds at the bottom of Sarah’s plaits, making them crawl up her shoulder and neck. Mummy holds up the new yellow daisy dresses.
“Daisies for the Queen!” Sarah giggles.
“The Queen is too busy,” I tell her once again.
Mummy blinks and turns around to fold the dresses. “We can certainly ask her.”
Sarah pokes me. “Told you,” she says, and sticks her tongue in my face. I stick mine back, a little further, because I am a little bit bigger than her.
“Mummy, can we have lollipops for breakfast?” Sarah lifts her head to look at Mummy, and I do the same. Of course Mummy will say no.
“Lollipops and chocolate,” Mummy says but she doesn’t turn around.
Sarah falls back against the pillow and laughs. “Tomorrow will be the best day ever!”
I laugh with her, because I love lollipops and chocolate too, but Mummy is being strange. I ask Daddy if she is sick. Daddy laughs and hugs us. He tells us to play on the swing before we have to leave. We sit together and ride through the sky. Her smile is a mirror picture of mine, except hers is a little bit bigger.
“They’re talking about the hospital,” I tell Sarah. “Great Almond Street.”


No comments:

Post a Comment