. Get Started: Emergency Tips

Is your short story assignment due tomorrow morning? These emergency tips may help. Good luck!

  1. Who is your protagonist, and what does he or she want?
    (The athlete who wants her team to win the big game and the car crash victim who wants to survive are not unique or interesting enough.)
  2. When the story begins, what morally significant actions has he or she already taken towards that goal?
    (“Morally significant” doesn’t mean your protagonist has to be conventionally “good”; rather, he or she should already have made a conscious choice, with repercussions that drive the rest of the story.)
  3. What unexpected consequences — directly related to the protagonist’s efforts to achieve the goal — ramp up the emotional energy of the story?
    (Will the unexpected consequences force your protagonist to make yet another choice, leading to still more consequences?)
  4. What details from the setting, dialog, and tone help you tell the story?
    (Things to cut: travel scenes, character A telling character B about something we just saw happening to character A, and phrases like “said happily” — it’s much better to say “bubbled” or “smirked” or “chortled.”)
  5. What morally significant choice does your protagonist make at the climax of the story?
    (Your reader should care about the protagonist’s decision. Ideally, the reader shouldn’t see it coming.)

Drawing on real-life experiences, such as winning the big game, bouncing back after an illness or injury, or dealing with the death of a loved one, are attractive choices for students who are looking for a “personal essay” topic. But simply describing powerful emotional experiences is not the same thing as generating emotional responses in the reader. (See “Show, Don’t (Just) Tell.”)

For those of you who are looking for more long-term writing strategies, here are some additional ideas.

those of you who are looking for more long-term writing strategies, here are some additional ideas.

If you are having trouble getting started, look out the window. The whole world is a story, and every moment is a miracle.
-Bruce Taylor, UWEC Professor of Creative Writing

  • Keep a notebook. To R. V. Cassill, notebooks are “incubators,” a place to begin with overheard conversation, expressive phrases, images, ideas, and interpretations on the world around you.
  • Write on a regular, daily basis. Sit down and compose sentences for a couple of hours every day — even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Collect stories from everyone you meet. Keep the amazing, the unusual, the strange, the irrational stories you hear and use them for your own purposes. Study them for the underlying meaning and apply them to your understanding of the human condition.

Read, Read, Read

Read a LOT of Chekhov. Then re-read it. Read Raymond Carver, Earnest Hemingway, Alice Munro, and Tobias Wolff. If you don’t have time to read all of these authors, stick to Chekhov. He will teach you more than any writing teacher or workshop ever could.
-Allyson Goldin, UWEC Asst. Professor of Creative Writing

2. Write a Catchy First Paragraph

In today’s fast-moving world, the first sentence of your short story should catch your reader’s attention with the unusual, the unexpected, an action, or a conflict. Begin with tension and immediacy. Remember that short stories need to start close to their end.

To read the rest of this amazing article with tons of examples on what not to do, go to Jerz’s Literary Weblog! 

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