Experiment 1, Stage 2: how to write a short story

My origin piece is a paper I wrote about Bruce Springsteen and his role in American culture and politics. For my first experiment, I want to turn the paper into a short story. Obviously, I can’t turn the whole paper into a short story, because there are many different sections and trying to shove them all into one short story would be way too chaotic.

For my research about how to write a short story, I came across a lot of similar advice. From a website called
“The Write Practice”, I found this infographic (https://thewritepractice.com/how-to-write-a-short-story/):



So, there’s that. I don’t know, that timeline ( and basically all of the stuff I found) seemed super unhelpful. I think part of this is because I’m in two classes where we’re reading metafiction, and so regular short stories just seem boring to me right now. Like, where is the self-consciousness about the construction of a narrator?? Anyway, there are still some aspects of the short story genre that I think I need to take into consideration, even if I do attempt to make some sort of metafiction-y and unconventional short story inspired by what I’ve been reading in my other classes.

So, how do you write a short story?

  1. character: most short stories have characters, and Springsteen’s songs, while they are about places, are also really about the people to whom certain places have value. Creating fictional characters is an important aspect of the writing process, and one that might happen before a writer begins or emerge organically as the story unfolds.
  2. create a mood: a good short story will use characters and setting to create a world that has a particular emotional landscape. This is particularly important in short stories, because there is limited space (compared to a novel) to develop themes.
  3. story arc: generally, a short story will have a beginning, a period of rising action, a climax, and period of falling action, and a conclusion. However, authors often play with this basic setup in order to emphasize narrative tension.
  4. simplicity: short stories are usually pretty simple in terms of number of characters, plot, and themes. This is mostly because of the limited length of a short story (although there is not set length). Obviously, simple doesn’t mean bad or not complex, but the type of multiplicity that you can often see in novels is just not feasible in most short stories.

I read some short stories to see how well these conventions apply to actual examples in the genre. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry seems to fit pretty well (characters, mood, story arc, simplicity). However, some more recent short stories were less clearly attuned to these conventions. The Yardman by Bonnie Jo Campbell is way less interested in a story arc. Instead, Campbell focuses on language to create a mood and develop characters. Lastly, Cat Person by┬áKristen Roupenian has all of these conventions. I found that it was not the adherence to or divergence from convention that made a short story appealing, but rather the author’s use of language to create a self-contained and absorbing world in a short space.

This makes me think that the challenge of creating a short story will be to render my created world in a way that resonates with the reader. In another class I’m taking right now (English 317), we are reading a lot of Rust Belt literature, which I think has some similar ideas/themes as Bruce Springsteen’s music (relationship between work and identity, loss of employment, etc). I think that looking deeper into how those writers struggle with these topics will be a major part of my next step (the annotated bibliography).


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