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“To the racetrack.” Mary edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on John’s bent head. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.” “Where are you going? “To the racetrack,” Mary said, trying to figure out whether John was too upset to let her get away with it this time.“Not again,” said John, wondering how they would make that month’s rent.“We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”The second example is mechanically correct, since it uses a separate paragraph to present each speaker’s turn advancing the conversation.
This process is comparable to producing something delectable in the kitchen–any ingredient that you put into your bowl of dough impacts your finished loaf of bread.
To create a perfect loaf, you must balance ingredients baked for the correct amount of time and enhanced with the right polishing glaze.”Your job, as a writer of short fiction–whatever your beliefs–is to put complex personalities on stage and let them strut and fret their brief hour.
Write Meaningful Dialogue Labels“John asked nervously” is an example of “telling.” The author could write “John asked very nervously” or “John asked so nervously that his voice was shaking,” and it still wouldn’t make the story any more effective.
How can the author convey John’s state of mind, without coming right out and telling the reader about it? That is, mention a detail that conjures up in the reader’s mind the image of a nervous person.
A short story conserves characters and scenes, typically by focusing on just one conflict, and drives towards a sudden, unexpected revelation.
Go easy on the exposition and talky backstory — your reader doesn’t need to know everything that you know about your characters.
But simply listing the emotions you experienced (“It was exciting” “I’ve never been so scared in all my life” “I miss her so much”) is not the same thing as generating emotions for your readers to experience. Read Raymond Carver, Earnest Hemingway, Alice Munro, and Tobias Wolff.
For those of you who are looking for more long-term writing strategies, here are some additional ideas. If you don’t have time to read all of these authors, stick to Chekhov.
Right from the start, view your characters inhabiting a distinct place. Jerome Stern says it is how you set up the situation, where the turning points of the story are, and what the characters do at the end of the story.
A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. If you are having trouble deciding on a plot, try brainstorming.