Writing – How Goes That Short Story?

Last week, I was blathering on about starting at the beginning, but not necessarily the beginning, or something like that. I’d suggested an assignment, writing a 500-word short story and I did manage to write one. It’s not outstanding, but it does have all the elements needed, beginning in the middle of action, paragraphs that allow the reader to get into the character’s head, understand a bit about her motivation, her personality, her attitude and maybe a hint at the reason for it. There is immediate introduction to the “protagonist” as well. The story is set up, progresses, reaches a climax and resolves in 500 words. Understanding these elements will help a writer no matter the tale’s length (next week’s blog will be about word count and genre, which could be helpful to someone out there). Believe me, I learned the hard way.

I had also said that I would get into ways to “cut the fat” in the writing endeavor, especially the short story. As my eyes droop, I realize this will require more discussion in another blog. However, one way to cut extraneous words is to recognize that they are such. You must be your best first editor. Adjectives and adverbs are great (I use a lot when blogging, because they can be so much fun), but not often necessary to get the point across. Also, can you find a way for a thought or action to be complete without expounding on all the motivations for it? Back story has no real place in a shortened tale, and it is important to dive right into the main character’s reason for being there in your work. If you tried the 500-word story exercise, were you able to edit out those words, sentences, phrases that ultimately did nothing more than increase word count rather than move the story forward? If you did, that’s great, because the same editing will help in all your writing. Like I said, I learned the hard way.

Well, that’s going to be it for now. I ran behind in preparing my blog for this week and the hour is getting late, but I hope this is enough information to keep your interest until next week’s blog. In the meantime here is my short story, for what it’s worth.

Perspective by Robin Maderich

I stop short, my heels skidding on the icy sidewalk. Rubber heels, yes, but soles without tread. I should know better. I am an adult, fully responsible and all that. Lucky for me I manage to save myself and my packages, smashing bags against my abdomen in a crushing grip.

Every year the Christmas season becomes less joyful and more stressful. The guy screaming at the parking meter a dozen feet away truly isn’t helping me feel any jollier.  Jollier is a word. I’ve looked it up. It’s a comparative adjective. Why do I bother looking up words, you ask? Try spending two hours every day on the bus commuting to work. My pocket dictionary has become my steadfast companion. I vowed to make myself smarter when I bought it. Don’t ask me how I’m doing. The answer should be obvious. No tread on my boots, after all, and the snow falling at an inch an hour.

At least I’m wearing a hat. A fuzzy knit hat designed for fashion rather than warmth, but it provides some protection, working great at catching snow, allowing it to build and build until, well, it doesn’t anymore and slush skids down my cheeks and into the hood I’ve neglected to pull up. Yes, I’m having the best day in the most wonderful time of the year. Although, I suppose my day’s not as bad as the one the guy now punching the meter is having. He’s still swearing. I can hear him despite the traffic in the street and the snow clumping around my ears.

I need to get past him. Unless I want to backtrack, cross the street at the light, make my way up the blasted hill once again with all my packages and then struggle back over to this side where my car sits only about thirty feet beyond him and his uncontrolled anger, this is exactly what I have to do. The very idea, however, turns my bowels to jelly. I talk big, act like I can conquer anything with the holiday chip on my shoulder, but really, I can’t. His display scares me silly.

So I stare at him, undecided. And in the next minute the worst happens. His focus turns on me.

A word slips past my lips. Not a comparative adjective but a good, old-fashioned four-letter word that is used as verb, adjective, and adverb, handy for many occasions. His red-rimmed eyes are wide. The color deepens on his cheeks to rust. His mouth opens. I try to suck in a breath, maybe to scream. He takes a step toward me, and then another. I stand there, foolishly believing my many Christmas packages might shield me.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

I—what?

“I’m sorry,” he says again. His head bows. “My wife passed away three weeks ago. This is my first Christmas without her.”

All my breath rushes out. I leave my packages behind me in the snow and take his hands in mine.

Next week: Writing – Word Count – Really?