Building a Short Story, Part 1

You can see other writing exercises here.

Putting it all together.

This week, we’ll start putting together a short story. I will go over an example story of mine as we go – you can check mine to see how well I follow my own advice! As with anything I share, I love feedback and will keep working to make it better.

We’re going back to the first month of exercises.

I’ll draw on some exercises from this blog back in March. We need:

  • A one-sentence description of a character (March 9)
  • One or two very important desires your character has (March 16)
  • Conflicts that stand in the way of those goals (March 23)
  • A main problem in the story that makes things worse (March 30)

I’m going to work with one of my old stories here and try to improve it. The story is called “Memory Exchange” and it was in an early self-published book. Here are the details I get when I put the story through the March exercises:

Two word & single-sentence description:

Ambitious magician: Robert is an ambitious stage magician who learns a real magic spell, along with the terrible cost of using it.

Character desires:

Robert wants to be a rich and famous magician. He is also passionately in love with Carla, the seasoned performer who taught him real magic.

Story Conflicts:

Robert’s mom is alone for Thanksgiving, but his next show is right after – he needs to be with her.

Carla wants him to use his new magic to get to his mom and get back quickly, but Robert realizes he will have to sacrifice a special memory to power the teleportation spell.

Carla convinces Robert that he can control which memory he loses and he can give up an unpleasant memory. He doesn’t realize that she is conning him and has other plans.


Now I want you to try.

Tell me about your main character, his or her desires, and some potential conflicts for your story idea. I’ll share the beginning of my work on Thursday, and we’ll see how well it sets up the story. See you then!


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Final Thoughts on Second-Person POV

You can see other writing exercises here.

On Tuesday I wrote about the Late Student prompt in the 2nd-Person. It was a rather awkward exercise!

For your own example, you want to check the character’s actions and feelings for consistency. You are projecting these aspects onto the reader, and asking the reader to play a role. That means the reader has to understand the role and the character motivations very well. In a successful 2nd-person story, the reader would have to understand all of the choices made by the focus character. The reader should think That’s what I’d do in that situation.

Maybe now it’s really clear why 2nd-person is used for role-playing and books with multiple endings – those offer the reader (or player) choices as if they were really experiencing the events. A book written in 2nd-person with no branching choices would likely be a frustrating read:

In the story: “You run across the street despite the heavy traffic.”

Reader: “No, I freaking don’t, come on!”


An Upcoming Second-Person Novel – Mutants: Uprising

Anyway, for the conclusion of this month centered on POV, I’ll point you to another entry in the same Nerdist contest that my story is currently in. It’s called Mutants: Uprising by Jane-Holly Meissner, and the whole thing is written in the 2nd-person. See the sample here and judge for yourself how well it works!


 

Please support my Inkshares campaign for Far Flung

I need your help to reach 250 pre-orders – click here for the full details about why and how I’m getting this sci-fi novel done through Inkshares.

Click the picture below to help this book become a reality. Let’s explore the universe together!

 

The Late Student – Part 2 Results

You can see other writing exercises here.

The Late Student Part 2 – Results

On Tuesday I went over the some of the  3rd-person POV styles that are used in fiction. For my sample result, I decided to go with 3rd-person objective:


The door opens slowly. Dr. Spencer continues the lecture as if unaware of Daniel’s entrance. Daniel holds his breath as he eases the door shut behind him. He looks furtively at Dr. Spencer as the professor continues his lecture. His eyes scan the room, and settle in the direction of an empty seat. He steps into the aisle, his footsteps barely audible as Dr. Spencer carries on. A girl with red-dyed hair looks up to Daniel as he slowly sits. She smiles as she leafs through the papers before her. She draws out copies of Dr. Spencer’s handouts and places them in front of Daniel.

“You’re a lifesaver,” Daniel whispers. Just as the words start leaving his mouth, however, Dr. Spencer hit a lull in his lecture. Daniel’s words echo throughout the now-quiet classroom.

“How nice of you to join us, Daniel,” Dr. Spencer says. His eyes turn to Daniel, and Daniel bites his lip. All students turn their eyes on him, and Daniel slouches in his seat.

“Uh, my bus was late,” Daniel says, “Won’t happen again.” Chuckles fill the room, but Dr. Spencer looks around with a deep frown, and the students end their laughter quickly.

“I’ll see you after class,” Dr. Spencer says. He turns away from Daniel and looks over his notes at the lectern. Daniel slouches even deeper as he mouths a curse under his breath.


I tried not to show direct emotions, thoughts or feelings as I wrote this objective piece. Any emotions should come about by implication from character expressions and reactions.

 

Join me next week when we try something just for fun – the Second Person POV!

POV Exercise – The Late Student, Part 2

POV Flowchart

The commonly used points-of-view for fiction writing. Image from Wikispaces.

 

You can see other writing exercises here.

The Late Student, Part 2

Welcome back! We’re trying out different takes on one scene to get practice writing in different points of view.

We’ll use the same prompt as last week:


A student walks into the classroom late. The student walks down the aisle and sits in an empty seat. The professor stops the lecture for a moment to watch the student. The professor tries to continue the lecture, but he forgets what he was talking about and looks a bit frustrated and annoyed.


 

This time, we’ll write in the third person.

Once again, the goal is to write a short scene based on the prompt. Choose a 3rd-person POV and write the story from that viewpoint. Let’s look at the different flavors of 3rd-person POVs that are used in writing:

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The Late Student – Part 1 Results

You can see other writing exercises here.

The Late Student Part 1 – Results

On Tuesday I gave this prompt:


A student walks into the classroom late. The student walks down the aisle and sits in an empty seat. The professor stops the lecture for a moment to watch the student. The professor tries to continue the lecture, but he forgets what he was talking about and looks a bit frustrated and annoyed.


 

I wanted you to write a very short story in the first person from either the professor’s or the student’s viewpoint. For beginners, this exercise helps build some experience writing in the first-person, while for seasoned writers, it’s a chance to show off! Bizarre writing prompts are great, but it’s important to work with more mundane situations as well. When the situation is mundane, the writer is forced to paint in more emotions and detail to show how it matters to the main character – if it matters to your character, it will matter to the reader.

As usual, I give you my take

 

I don’t share my takes on these exercises because I think I’m an expert – heck, no, I know as well as anyone I need to improve a lot. I share them because some of my students have rarely or never written fiction, and I strive to get them writing regularly. I hope some readers of this blog appreciate the examples, and I always welcome feedback to make them better.

Anyway, here’s what I have for The Late Student, First Person POV:


I jumped out of the bus and ran up the hill. Not again, God he’s going to flunk me! I weave through clusters of students, brushing past elbows and handbags as I come to the door of the building. I run up the stairs, and I come to the classroom. I look in. Dr. Spencer’s really into the lecture, gesturing wildly and shouting so loud I could hear him halfway down the hall. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

I open the door slowly, and Dr. Spencer still doesn’t turn. My heart races as I step in and close the door behind me. I look to the third row, and spot Erika next to an empty seat. I’ve totally got this. I creep toward the seat, quiet as a ninja. I pass the linebacker – he told me his name, but my brain’s not registering it now.  He smiles widely, and his wink says I know how you feel bro. I narrowly avoid bumping into his muscled arm as I pass through the aisle between desks.

Erika sweeps back her red-dyed hair and smiles slightly when I sit next to her. She winks at me, and butterflies fill my stomach. Without missing a beat, she picks up the handout she’s got on her desk, revealing a second copy underneath. She hands me the extra copy, and I whisper, “You are a lifesaver!”

“How nice of you to join us, Daniel!” Dr. Spencer’s voice booms. My heart drops through the floor as everyone turns to look at me. I do my best Han Solo sheepish grin, and hear some stifled laughs from the room. Dr. Spencer, of course, is hardly amused. He glares into my eyes, and my stomach churns as I realize he’s waiting for me to say something in my defense.

“My, uh, bus was late,” I say, “Won’t happen again.” Some students start to laugh, but Dr. Spencer’s glare cuts them off. He then says those fateful words, the ones no student ever wants to hear.

“I’ll see you after class.”


 

Have fun with the prompt, and next week we’ll try a different take on it.

POV Exercise – The Late Student, Part 1

POV Flowchart

The commonly used points-of-view for fiction writing. Image from Wikispaces.

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You can see other writing exercises here.

The Late Student, Part 1

Time for a little exercise I like to give my students as homework. It’s a really easy one, and lends itself well to showing off your writing style. I use the following prompt to set it up:


A student walks into the classroom late. The student walks down the aisle and sits in an empty seat. The professor stops the lecture for a moment to watch the student. The professor tries to continue the lecture, but he forgets what he was talking about and looks a bit frustrated and annoyed.


 

Same story, different points of view

So this is where POV comes in – we’re going to write this scene from different viewpoints in 300 words or less. Let’s start with first person – choose either the student or the professor and write the scene from his or her point of view.

When I teach this, I choose the student’s POV and start like this:


I jumped out of the bus and ran up the hill. Not again, God he’s going to flunk me! I weave through clusters of students, brushing past elbows and handbags as I come to the door of the building. I run up the stairs, and I come to the classroom. I look in. Dr. Spencer’s really into the lecture, gesturing wildly and talking loud enough to hear through the door. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

I open the door slowly, and Dr. Spencer still doesn’t turn. My heart races as I step in and carefully close the door behind me. I see a spot in the third row – I’ve totally got this. I creep toward the seat and sit down, quiet as a ninja.

“How nice of you to join us, Daniel!” Dr. Spencer’s voice booms. My heart drops through the floor as everyone turns to look at me.


 

I hope you’ll share your own take on it! See you Thursday!

Writing Exercises for May – POV

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You can see other writing exercises here.

On Tuesday, I challenged the readers of this blog to share first-person diary entries. I encourage you to write diary-style entries regularly – whether they are your actual diary or diaries as written by characters residing in your head.

The Door I Chose – My experiment with first-person POV in a sci-fi inspired drama

I shared the opening of The Door I Chose, I story I wrote as a series of diary entries from two possible realities. The main character, Sean, stumbles out of his parents’s car after an accident, and goes back to the car to open either the driver’s side door or the passenger’s side. That’s where the timeline splits – if Sean opens one door first, his father survives, and if he opens the other, his mother survives. The story splits into two narratives, each one following a possible outcome of that fateful crash.

Flowers for Algernon – a great first-person novel

If you want an excellent example of a sci-fi-ish story told in the first-person, I encourage you to read Flowers for Algernon if you haven’t already. It follows the story of a mentally disabled adult who undergoes an experimental treatment. The complexity of the narrative increases as the main character’s intelligence is boosted by the experiment – it’s a really cool way to show how the character and his view of the world changes and evolves.

 

In your writing, I hope you will find cool ways to use first-person narrative. It lends itself very well to dramatic, life-changing and world-view-changing events!

 

Below is my opening for The Door I Chose – I hope it will inspire you to share your own work.

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