Look, we’re writers, right? And we’re in this together, right? We don’t have to get competitive or petty. Why, we could help each other out!
In the interest of neighborly goodwill I’ve written you some writing gems, some diamonds-in-the-rough-draft, with the intention of bringing your story (that’s totally not competing with mine) up to par. You can trust a guy with a cute puppy, right?
There’s nothing more informative than information. Specific details create realism i.e. the word pictures soaking in your brain meat. Here’s my dirty secret: Amazon.com product descriptions. They’re an untapped resource for compelling minutiae.
He opened the compact double doors of his Sunpentown Refrigerator, noting the slide-out wire shelf, tall-bottle rack, and separate freezer compartment with ice-cube tray and adjustable thermostat.
You see what I did there? Meanwhile when I’m writing a period piece I’ll just google image that epoch (ex: the 1920’s) and apply what comes up.
The year was 1920, back when pictures were black and white and nobody smiled and the rich people wore fancy hats and had parades.
Just from looking at 20+ pictures it’s like I was really there at those prohibition barrels and that black guy with a trumpet.
Characters shouldn’t drive the plot. Have you seen characters lately? They’re drunk, high, fucked up, schizophrenic, narcissistic, and really unlikeable. Readers are tired of these guys. Let the concept drive its own damn self.
The Lord of the Rings is a great example of where a writer went wrong. You’ve got this great idea: adventurers have to destroy a magic ring to prevent the resurrection of pure evil. Then Tolkien gets bogged down with the why when all we care about is orc murder. I don’t care about the internal conflicts of Frodo Baggins as he wanders the gray crags of Mordor. I want him to kill Sam and put on the ring and join Sauron and make Gandalf evil.
The 5-paragraph essay applies to every short story format! Most short stories are five paragraphs much like an academic paper! Rhetorically, a narrative’s thematic overview (or thesis statement, anyone?) is in the first or second sentence.
One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. (Kafka, “Metamorphosis”)
It’s like Kafka spark-noted his own damn story.
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. (Jackson, “The Lottery”)
Why, Jackson, you’re employing a hook – an interesting opener meant to draw a reader’s attention. You’re just not doing it well.
Bullet points are trending. You take the word bullet and you combine it with point, like I’m pointing this bullet right at your face. That’s evocative. If you want to create a list but you’re trying to avoid poetical rubbish, claim your incumbency to post-modernism.
Commas give your reader a chance to breathe. Readers don’t know how to pace their reading and can get burned out quickly. Commas calm them the fuck down. Furthermore, commas inform the reader exactly how to read a piece. Here’s an excerpt taken from Richard Connell’s Hunger Games rip-off “The Most Dangerous Game:”
Nothing escaped those searching black eyes, no crushed blade of grass, no bent twig, no mark, no matter how faint, in the moss. (Connell, “The Most Dangerous Game”)
By generously applying commas, Connell effectively conveys the scene’s thematic sense of urgency.
Then there are writers like Ernest Hemingway who clearly never went to college:
They sat together at a table that was close against the wall near the door of the cafe and looked at the terrace where the tables were all empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of the tree that moved slightly in the wind. (Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”)
Amusingly, Hemingway included a comma in THE TITLE. What an idiot.
We’re not reading your short story for the poetry. Flair is for crabby waiters at Applebee’s. I know you want to impress the bitches with your syntax, but out here it’s prose before hoes. Writing should be pedestrian – you want to get across the street before the cops show up.
Don’t plagiarize, improve. Sometimes previously published works are outdated and in need of a reboot with modern writing techniques. What I’ve found is that it’s not considered plagarism if you change enough words.
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!” (Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart)
Nobody would shriek “villains” anymore, so time for a little contemporary adjustment:
“Bros!” I exclaimed, “Chill the fuck out! I killed that guy YOLO.”
Show, don’t tell. If you’re planning to write short fiction, just show it to your friends. There’s no need to “tell” it in the written medium. They’ll appreciate your cool story and you won’t have to do any work.
And that’s it for today. Good luck with future impoverished endeavors!