Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Short Stories


FOREWORD


Creative Writing 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the field of Literary Theory and Literature. The course, which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of Literary Theory and Literature, also addresses students and the general readership alike. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Creative Writing by making the article merely an introduction.


Creative Writing 101 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

- Creative Writing 101: Into the Writer’s Creative Mind: Overview & Dynamics

- Creative Writing 101: Theorizing Creative Writing as a Discipline

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Poetry

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Short Stories

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Novels



Previously in the Creative Writing 101 series, poetry writing was examined and summarized as an institutionalized discipline through studying the various aspects of its poetic and compositional framework. In the fourth article of the series, another generic form of writing is to be explored—that of the short story. To grasp the dynamics of short story writing, a brief overview defining the short story will be presented, before going through an outline of the fundamental elements that constitute a short narrative, followed by an example of a Creative Writing course for such a discipline to be taught in class.


“The term ‘short story’ has relatives in the shape of the French conte and nouvelle, the Spanish novela, the Italian novella, the German Novelle and Kurzgeschichte (a word used to translate the English 'short story'), the yarn, the sketch, the tale and the Russian skaz.” (Penguin Books, 1999)

The classification of the short story in terms of its length has been the subject of many controversies over the years, whereby literary scholars and experts finally agreed on having multiple types of short story within the short story genre itself. In other words, instances of early samples of short stories like ‘long’ short stories, such as D.H Lawrence’s Fox (1923), is a story made up of 30,000 words, whereas ‘short’ short stories such as Kleist’s Das Bettelweib von Locarno (1810) is contains only 800 words. In addition to that, the short story was initiated to dark and gothic themes like in most of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories, such as The Pit and The Pendulum (1842). Presumably, other appellations of the ‘short’ short story are referred to as flash fiction or micro-fiction, in which no more than 1,000 words are to be contained in the story, allowing it to attract and target a wider audience.


[Book Cover of Crafting Novels & Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction (Creative Writing Essentials) by Writers Digest]



Short story and poetry: To what extent are they similar to write?


Baraka (2005), the famous African American writer, qualified the short story as containing “a sacred form”, for he thinks that the short story has to be celebrated for its shortness because it reflects a story. In other words, the story is in one way or another a tale of someone's life. He also thinks that for a good story to attract a wider readership, it has to be short and concise. Baraka (2005) further explains that even though the short story is far different from poetry in its form, it does have similarities with the poetic genre, and for that he refers to the rhythm or the rhythmic effect found both in a poem and in the tale and which writers use in parallel with language, as part of the short story form and content. Coupled with Amiri Baraka’s reflections on using poetic rhythm while writing the short story, Vanessa Gebbie, when interviewed about her method of writing flash fiction, gives insights on how she proceeds with composing short narratives when she says, “often, I will begin what I think is a poem, only for it to turn into more overt narrative. I will experiment with the line endings, the layout, until I am happy.” (Blair & Chantler, 2014).



The Fundamentals of writing the short story



[On Writing Short Stories by Tom Bailey (Editor)]



There are five elements that are used in the process of crafting a story regardless of its length—Character, Plot, Setting and Time, Metaphor, and Voice. In attempting to work on the dynamics of writing the short story, England (2020) refers to Tom Bailey’s thoughts on the creative process of the short story, which is a story no matter how long or short it is, where any writer is prepared to write a tale that goes hand in hand with these five fundamentals of writing. First, the Character in the story is the “Who”, shaped in point of view (also called POV) and in dialogue. Second, the Plot denotes the “What”, announcing the events that take place in a story. Third, the Setting and Time are the “When and Where” of the narrative, announcing the place and time of the story to the reader. Fourth, the Metaphor reflecting the “Why” in the story through symbolism and figurative language. Last but not least, the fifth element known as the Voice is the “How” in a story or the manner through which a writer conveys ideas through “diction (word choice), sentence structure, and paragraphing” for the sake of storytelling. Nevertheless, not all writers of short stories are committed to the five fundamentals of the narrative as it is exemplified in the stories of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, argues Jha (2020). Plot is given little importance and is not to be found in Chekhov’s short stories, for the Russian writer has a tendency to highlight time in a story and thus, emphasizing the manner with which a story is supposed to be outlined and narrated from the beginning until the end, describes Jha (2020).

Short fiction writing


In the U.K, the second level of teaching the short story as part of Creative Writing studies in the Open College of the Arts focuses on mini projects to be done by students throughout the year. According to Milton et.al (2013), all the projects are centered on the creation of fictional characters, the inclusion of the characters within the plot and the setting, and an overview of the modern short story. Once the students understand the dynamics of characters in the short fiction, they will be trained to master the structure, the language, and the layout in the short story. Many ongoing writing tasks are assigned to students weekly, encouraging them to write up to 3,000 words of short fiction divided into many elaborate and targeted writing tasks. Afterwards, the students are assessed on the language they would use in their short fiction writing, their creativity, the contextual knowledge of their stories, and finally on the presentation and technical correctness of their works. For instance, students are required to read a list of classic and modern books of short story writers like The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (1987), including The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1933), and Vanessa Gebbie’s Short Circuit (2009) as a guidebook for writing short fiction.



[Book Cover of Short Circuit : A Guide to the Art of the Short Story by Vanessa Gebbie]



All things considered, the discipline of writing short fiction in higher education is part of learning the creative process of writing narratives regardless of length and structure. Short fiction writing is a creative process of its own, slightly similar to writing poetry when it comes to the poetic rhythm in the short narrative. The beauty of short stories may vary in the number of words included in a narrative, whether it is a ‘short’ short story or a ‘long’ short story, but it is built upon the same creative apparatus of any prose or fiction writing to convey a certain agenda. The only difference, however, is its limitation to fewer characters and fewer events to include in the storyline, accentuating the story to be told through a single event set in a specific time and place, and sometimes not including a plot at all as in the case of Anton Chekhov’s short stories.



Image Sources


Oxford University Press, USA. (2010, July 1). [On Writing Short Stories by Tom Bailey (Editor)]. Goodreads.com. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8758400-on-writing-short-stories

(first published November 11th 1999)


Salt Publishing. (2009, October 27). [Book Cover of Short Circuit : A Guide to the Art of the Short Story by Vanessa Gebbie]. Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Short-Circuit-Guide-Art-Story/dp/1844717240


Writer’s Digest Books. (2012b, January 12). [Book Cover of Crafting Novels & Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction (Creative Writing Essentials) by Writers Digest]. Amazon.Com. https://www.amazon.com/Crafting-Novels-Short-Stories-Essentials/dp/1599635712


References


England, Z. & San José State University Writing Center. (2020). Creative Writing: Short Stories. Sjsu.Edu. Retrieved December 6, 2021,

from https://www.sjsu.edu/writingcenter/docs/handouts/Short%20Stories.pdf


Gebbie, V. (n.d.). Vanessa Gebbie. Vanessagebbie.Com. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from http://www.vanessagebbie.com


Intellect Ltd Interviews, University of Chester, Blair, P., & Chantler, A. (2014). ‘As if on a magic carpet’: An interview with Vanessa Gebbie. Short Fiction in Theory & Practice, 4 (2), 233–239. https://doi.org/10.1386/fict.4.2.233_7


Jha, S. N. & L. N. Mithila University, Darbhanga. (2020). Styles and Techniques of Anton Chekhov’s Story Writing. The Refereed & Peer Review International Journal, 7 (90), 32–34. https://www.researchreviewonline.com/upload/articles/paper/RRJ156320.pdf


Lee, M. A. (Ed.). (2005). Short Story and Poetry. In Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story (1st ed., pp. 3–6). Praeger Publishers.


Milton, N., Ryan, G., Cashdan, L., & Open College of the Arts. (2014). Creative Writing 2: Writing Short Fiction [Slides]. Course. https://www.oca.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Creative-Writing-Writing-Short-Fiction-Sample.pdf


Penguin Books. (1999). Short story. In C. E. Preston (Ed.), Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory (fourth edition ed., p.815-827).


Penguin Random House. (n.d.). Tom Bailey. Penguinrandomhouse.Com. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/60174/tom-bailey/


Sustana, C. (2020, March 29). Flash Fiction Definition and History Little Stories That Pack a Big Punch. Thoughtco.com. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-flash-fiction-2990523

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Neyra Behi

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