“We’re putting together an anthology,” they say. They have an email to prove it. Very few combinations of five words so excite The Short Story Guy. Maybe “short stories turn me on,” or “sure, we’re a paying market.”
It is not a literary style I’ve written in. Despite that, perhaps because of it, I am intrigued.
I fire up the idea engine.
I have researched this strange literary technique, its shining authors and common subject matter. I have started and abandoned a few concepts. Having tossed out the chaff, now is the time of wheat. Surely, I think, an inspired idea is assured. Any time now.
Today is the day. Other projects need aging. No other anthology offers. No requests for Short Story Guy to make commencement speeches or sign other people’s books at Barnes & Noble. Theme! I think. Yes, theme. My submission needs a theme. One that matches the anthology. I select it.
The white screen mocks me. Where there should be a burgeoning anthology submission, there is a blinking cursor. I take a walk and come back fresh.
This is ridiculous. Short Story Guy has completed multiple short stories. In multiple genres. And yet the blank screen lingers. I’ve postponed blogs and other stuff. This demands all. I open up a prior short story, one published, with good pacing and rising action. Yes, I think. I use it to help make a generic outline.
The short story has characters. Well, a character. Fortunately the protagonist. His quest and motivations are strong–save that thing he loves. His voice sounds like an acoustic guitar in the Grand Canyon; his character arc is as lost as the movie Ark in that big government warehouse.
I abandon 1,000 words and start again.
My short story has a protagonist, and that protagonist has an employee. This may sound fine, but for a morning’s work it is grim. I give him a wife.
By afternoon things have heated up. The protagonist is sharper. The beginning is snappy. He is breaking bad news to loved ones. But things are not what they seem. That always does the trick. I have an ending in mind — it will be happy.
By evening, fictional storm clouds loom on the short story horizon. I complete the night session, sit back, and sigh. I abandon 1,500 words.
There comes a time when every Short Story Guy looks in the mirror–never in the short story itself, mind you–and says “it’s not you, it’s me.” Words plague me: story vision, intentionality. But I do not give up. The secret to writing, Short Story Guy knows, is showing up. I return to the computer.
Hours pass. The words start flowing. Some are good. I see places to resurrect the best one-liners and proto-character moments from the abandoned versions. The night sessions ends with my skimming back over the voice. I have it.
I don’t have it. My character is speaking to me now, which is a good sign. I have written him into an unredeemable corner. The concept is good, but the savvy reader will sneer and say, “whatever.” There are too many characters, all putting a drag on the story. The thematic question is so big the story is trying to boil an ocean.
Story Story Guy hangs his head.
I abandon 3,500 words.
I have it again. Things gel: the rewritten scenes are sharper and fuller, more one-liners come out, my protagonist reads more rounded. I all but super-glue my rump to the writing chair.
I have a beginning. The action rises. There are plot points where plot points are often found. My hero is torn over whether to save the thing he loves or move onto an interesting and lucrative new course. Family issues are in play. Questions of duty and loyalty. I even write the ending scenes.
If only it had a damned middle.
I have come to hate the story. I would rather brain myself with a ball peen hammer than drop more creative juice into it. But I do. Writing credits are like that.
I warm up with scene sharpening, some darling hunting, and when I think the middle isn’t looking, I attack. I am beaten back.
I dive in again. In time, not short or easy time, eventually the words flow. An a-ha comes – the thing that has been in the subtext all along. A sticky wicket falls. More paragraphs, less sticky wickets. I stay up late and keep writing.
I finish. The protagonist’s quest is done. The white screen dragon is slain. Draft 1 rises up in victory.
Short Story Guy drags himself off to bed.
Short Story Guy sets out a walk that starts light and ends with him shouldering knowledge. Draft 2 has begun…