How do you save hours of false starts and find the key to inspiration? Start applying these free short story writing tips...
In general, if you want to write convincing stories, you will write about what you know deeply, from your own EXPERIENCE. If you want to write convincingly about what you haven't experienced, you should do intensive research and interviews, and possess a world class imagination. Meditate on this quote from Thomas Wolfe's novel Look Homeward Angel:
"Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?"
Literature is a way of bridging this silent gulf between people, a form of companionship, an expression of what is most essential and meaningful about human life. Express in your stories what you believe human life is all about, your viewpoint on the meaning of existence.
The Elements of Storytelling
A good short story writer will account for the following elements in their story:
1) CHARACTER: Develop your characters, explore their interactions and value conflicts, and their internal life or "interior monologue."
2) CONFLICT: Have a protagonist, the principal character in the story, and an antagonist, the adversary to the protagonist. The writer can also portray an "anti-hero," a character notably lacking in heroic qualities, such as Holden Caulfield in the adolescent classic The Catcher in the Rye. Jack Kerouac's fictionalized portrayal of Beat Generation avatar Neal Cassady as frantic, endearing, but selfish Dean Moriarity in On the Road straddles the line between hero and anti-hero.
3) PLOT: The action of the story, what happens.
4) THEME: The main idea of the story. To understand the difference between plot and theme, consider Herman Melville's Moby Dick. The plot of the story concerns Captain Ahab's search for Moby Dick to gain revenge. The theme of the novel concerns the nature of evil and God, and profound questions of destiny versus free will.
5) SETTING: The place where the action is set.
6) MOOD/ATMOSPHERE: The feeling and emotion that the story evokes.
7) DESCRIPTION: Give concrete details of people and things.
8) SYMBOLISM: The meanings of the events and images in the story. Symbolism means when one thing represents or stands for another thing. Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his long allegorical poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner uses the visible symbol of the albatross to represent the invisible realm of spirit which underlies matter. When the Ancient Mariner shoots the albatross, a harbinger of good luck on his sea voyage, it becomes an omen of ill fortune and a symbol of the Mariner's defiance of the mysterious and unknown realm of spirit. By slaying the albatross, the Mariner enters into discord with nature, which brings disaster to his shipmates and forces him to repent and to reconcile with the divine and the malevolent aspects of the spiritual universe.
9) IMAGERY: The recurring visual aspects of the story, related to symbolism.
10) STANDPOINT: The viewpoint of the narrator, for example the first person voice of the protagonist, or the omniscient voice who knows everything about all the characters in the story. The rise of literary High Modernism in the early 20th century emphasized the importance of the subjective inner monologue (e.g. James Joyce's Ulysses and the works of William Faulkner), often depicted as multilayered montages of narrative perspectives which undercut the notion of the narrator's omniscience. Literary Postmodernism took these trends of narrative ambiguity and perspectivism to new edges of chaos and deconstruction. Again we depart from the scope of this online course. I refer readers interested in the new trajectories of narrative experimentalism (in relation to the online world) and discussion of "isms" to the online work of Mark Amerika at AltX.com. For an intelligent critique of Amerika's work, go to Clicking for Godot: Interactive art struggles to produce masterpieces by Scott Rosenberg at Salon.com.
11) LANGUAGE: The situation the author describes determines he proper type and tone of language to use.
12) DIALOGUE: To write convincing, realistic dialogue, listen closely to what people around you say, and remember the timbre and quality of their voices. Make photocopies of good examples you encounter in your reading, and keep files of them to use as models to follow in your own writing.
Use these elements of storytelling to have a "map" for your story, a general idea of where you want to go, but allow writing to be a process of discovery. The first sentence of the story is crucial, since it hooks the reader, and often sums up the theme of piece. Write and rewrite your story until you are satisfied. Reading your story aloud is a great way to comb out awkward language. Burn this phrase into your brain and act on it: Writers are readers! Remember the advice of Shakespeare's contemporary Ben Jonson: "For a man to write well, there are required three necessities: to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style."
To cluster a topic, place the name of that topic in the middle of a piece of paper, and draw a circle around it. Branch off from this original topic circle by drawing connecting lines to any words that freely come to mind regarding the topic, then put a circle around these associated words. Don't worry about organizing these thoughts, just let the associations pour out with the free rhythm of the mind. Then you can look at your clusters and group related concepts together, and re-do the cluster map for more refinement of your concepts, as many times as needed to get clarity. You may add tiny related pictures and colored pens to help you distinguish and organize your bits of information.
The British brainpower expert Tony Buzan developed a system analogous to clustering, called MIND MAPPING. I've used this method of visual thinking for years, to stimulate my imagination on creative projects, focus on goal setting, and even deal with life crises (since a problem always becomes more manageable when it's written down, and even more so when it's visualized).
"The diary of a frustrated poet...doesn't have to be your story. These free poetry writing tips can give you the key to inspiration."
Introduction to Creative Writing
The successful short story writer and poet, like any creative artist, learns to balance creativity and discipline. The free flow of ideas, images, and insights can exhilarate the writer, but you should balance these sensations with structure and form, if you wish to effectively communicate your vision with others.
How to Generate Writing Ideas
1) Keep a DREAM LOG, a daily journal of your dreams. Write them down as soon as you wake up, even while you're half awake. Go back to these records when you're more lucid, and you may find that your unconscious has delivered a gold mine of ideas and images that you can utilize in your writing.
Introduction to Poetry
Structural Elements of Poetry
1) RHYTHM is a pattern of repeated sound, marked by the duration and quality of the repetition. The accent of a rhythm refers to the stress placed upon a specific word. Notice the rhythm and accents in this selection from Edgar Allan Poe's "Anabel Lee": "For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams/ Of the beautiful Anabel Lee/ And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes/ Of the beautiful Anabel Lee."
In this act of outpouring, however, your emotional honesty must not override your artistic control, if you aspire more to artistry than to mere confession or to the transcription of the utterances of the unconscious. Here we discuss the creation of literature, not the inner shadows of depth psychology and automatic writing or the supernatural vagaries of channeling. Nor does the scope of this online course encompass an advanced discussion of aesthetics or the philosophy of art; suffice to say that we can define art on both the functional and qualitative levels.
We can define art functionally (i.e. what does art do?) as the transmission of a vision of the world through a chosen artform, in this case poetry. The person beholding the message conveyed in the respective artform responds to the reality contained therein. Within this loose definition, the most haphazard and unedited artistic expressions have a place. After all, a vision has been communicated, right? Of course, this functional definition omits crucial questions of the value and quality of the transmitted message, of proper and improper art (see Joseph Campbell's Reflections on the Art of Living for definitions of these terms), of artistic ethics, and of the debasement or uplifting of the human spirit -- for surely there is a world of difference between, say, the Shakespearean sonnets and MTV's Jackass. If these multiple differences mean nothing to you, you should really ask yourself if you're in the right profession.
The qualitative definition of art (i.e. what is art's value?) seeks a transmission in which the human spirit has been enriched; the artist illuminates a new angle on the perennial predicaments of the human condition. This higher sphere of art and poetry consists of the refinement of the emotions of life into a plastic form (an "artifical universe" of creation, in whatever medium), a nuanced layering of meaning, an exquisite balance of the unconscious ground of creativity with the craft of conscious intent.
With due respect to those masters of excess, the vivid automatic writings of Andre Breton and his Surrealist cohorts, "the spontaneous bop prosody" of Jack Kerouac ("first thought, best thought") and the Beat Generation, and the finer fantasy moments of two-fingered typist and conscientious objector to re-writing Harlan Ellison, I encourage fledgling poets (and fiction writers) to err on the side of refinement not of unbridled expression.
One way to begin your poem is to consider an experience you have had, a situation or predicament or realization in the midst of life. Make this experience the heart of the composition, the stimulus for your act of writing. Take this central perception and view it from many angles, brainstorm the images, words, and descriptive details that this experience summons up. Use the technique of CLUSTERING or MIND MAPPING to brainstorm efficiently. Write the word for your experience in the center of the page, and draw a circle around it. Then draw connecting balloons containing all the words you associate with this experience, letting your mind roam freely. Engage all your senses when developing imagery: sight, sound, taste, touch, and feel. Then choose an appropriate format to organize your poem: epic, dramatic, or lyric form, narrative poem, haiku and other forms (try villanelles, sestinas, sonnets, elegies, pastorals, ballads, pantoums, odes, blank verse, the stanza).
We real cool.
We Left school.
We Lurk late.
We Strike straight.
We Sing sin.
We Thin gin.
We Jazz June.
We Die soon.
Always read your poem aloud to comb out awkward syntax, phrases, metaphors, or rhythms. Do not forget that poetry has always been an oral tradition. Share your work with friends and with other aspiring poets. Be responsive to their constructive criticism, but let no one quell your inner voice. I urge you to take further action: enroll in a workshop in poetry writing, ask your local librarian about contacting local and national poets, and read books on writing poetry such as those recommended on this page.