Now that you’ve had some experience writing creatively by emulating other authors (“The Mockingbird in the Rye” and “After Hills Like White Elephants”) it’s time to try your hand at writing your own original story. You’ve read a number of short stories this year of varying styles and exploring a diverse selection of themes that show you the nearly limitless possibilities open to you as a writer:
“Helen on Eight-Sixth Street”
“The Cask of Amontillado”
“The Gift of the Magi”
“A Good Man Is Hard To Find”
“Everything that Rises Must Converge”
“What You Pawn I Will Redeem”
“Hills Like White Elephants”
“In Another Country”
None of these stories is like any of the others, yet they still have some basic things in common. Think of the elements of narrative voice that we have studied: Diction, tone, mood, imagery, syntax. All of these stories, as well as the novels we’ve read, employ these tools effectively but often for divergent purposes and effects.
Consider the choices you have regarding point of view and how it can shape the story you tell.The content is entirely up to you. You can base your story on something that is close to you or just spin a yarn. We know that Fitzgerald and Hemingway’s work was based on deeply felt personal experiences, and we at least hope that Jackson and O’Connor’s work wasn’t. There’s no “right” way to do it. Any approach that creates a story that engages the reader and keeps him or her reading to the end is the right way.
Consider Kurt Vonnegut’s rules:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in
order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should
have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves,
should cockroaches eat the last few pages.*
* Hemingway and his iceberg seems to contradict this rule, but none you had much difficulty in finishing “Hills Like White Elephants,” so he revealed more than is obvious.
Don’t be overly concerned about theme at this point. Just write each sentence so that it entices the reader to read the next sentence. If you do these all things well, the theme will reveal itself to you.
Write at least 3 pages. Feel free to go long if you want.
Try to include some dialogue.
Be funny, be serious, be silly, be romantic, be tragic, be absurd. It’s YOUR STORY!
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