Thursday, 23 January 2014

Short stories, and what kick-starts them

I've just had a short story accepted for publication in the Margaret River short story anthology for 2014. It's called Walking the Dog.

(It isn't really about walking a dog.) It wasn't a place-getter, it was short-listed, but it was nice to receive this honour, especially as a short story of mine was included in last year's Margaret River anthology. 

Both stories are close to my heart. Both contain traces of my own life. And this started me thinking about my short stories. I don't write many. Last year, from memory, I wrote only one, a very short one, called Night Stop, which, incidentally contained a large chunk of my own life, and which was accepted for publication in Stilts. This year I have already written one, which is a piece of memoir rather than a short story but it could work as either, and which I intend to submit to the Fish Memoir Competition.

So how do I write them?  And I'm not talking about the nuts and bolts -- structure, plot, characters -- here.

I am interested in exploring this because it seems to me that every writer has a different approach. A tutor I had at QUT once told me that he needed three things before he could start a story. I am not so analytical. I've got some ideas of what I need, but they are nothing definitive.

Clearly, one of the things I need is a snippet or some part of my own life. The other thing I need is an impetus for starting the story. Night Stop was written because I had wanted to get into a Stilts publication for a while, and when they set a guideline of the story having to be about travel or adventure of some kind, it came easily to me because I love to travel. Who doesn't? I particularly like road trips, and driving, which is what Night Stop is about.

I didn't write Walking the Dog for any particular reason. So that one is an exception to the impetus rule. I had just read Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses, which I loved, and I had spent two weeks with my elderly parents, and when I returned home I had this idea that I wanted to write in an old man voice. I put the two together - the time spent with my elderly parents and the voice used in Out Stealing Horses - and came up with a first person story about an old guy who's recently lost his wife. Unconsciously, I suppose I was thinking about this when I spent time with my parents. How one of them would be, if they lost the other. The setting is my parent's house, and the village where they live, which was useful to me. I could imagine my dad in the house, and I could imagine him down on the beach. 

The part I don't know is how I came up with the plot of the story. I suppose if I knew that I would be writing a lot more short stories, although it doesn't really bother me that I don't write more. I am much more interested in getting my first novel published, and the draft of my second one finished.

Any ideas from other writers on how they write short stories?  Love to hear them... 

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