What Makes a Gripping Short Story?

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Bonjour, enfants! Today, I am writing my second blog. Wow. Has it really been that long? Have you enjoyed reading my short stories? I am no master at it, but I did learn an awful lot in the process. I’d love to share my thoughts. I encourage you to share yours too.

It isn’t hard to google short stories and figure out the mechanics. This blog certainly isn’t intended to bore you with structure and substance. Instead, I’d like to write about my learning process, particularly mechanisms to generate interest.

 

ACTION

 

It’s a feature of my stories and a hallmark to this genre. Some of the best stories in this genre have healthy doses of action and suspense – have you read Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find? The very opening sequence in my first story – He Came on a Summer’s Day – is a cage fight. It’s intended to capture the reader’s interest and catapult them into Randy Moffatt’s world.

I quite enjoyed writing the sequence, allowing the reader to understand Randi’s quirks and flaws, particularly her self-deprecating confidence, a curiously oxymoronic mixture. It’s also a great opportunity to instil an ounce or two of humour into the mix. Potent combination, that. Of course, no story can be nonstop action. Not even Ludlum achieved that in his books. Readers need to catch their breath, not just the protagonists. Randi can be laid back. She can be sexy when she wants to be.

 

CHARACTERISATION

 

From the reader’s perspective, learning about the characters has to be like peeling the layers of an onion. Or corn-on-the-cob. Particularly the protagonist. The journey should be one of discovery. In fact, one doesn’t even learn of her last name till the very end. She even lies about herself having gone undercover, changing her appearance in the bargain. Randi is a chameleon, as cunning as the con artists and ne’er-do-wells she’s trying to nab. I am discovering aspects of Randi as I write each story, revealing to myself and introducing said nuances of her nature to the reader through behaviour, reactions and emotions.

 

SUPRISE

 

The climax, the denouement if you will, should come as a surprise. I confess that I had difficulty with this as I’m kind of read-the-last-page-of-the-book-before-I-start kind of a gal. I like to read the synopsis of a movie plot before watching. Having said that, I enjoyed M Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense as much as anyone else. No spoilers for true mysteries. Interestingly, the way I achieved this is to surprise myself. I don’t plan on the reveal till the very end. It’s a bit tricky, because I have to go back to the beginning of the story and leave the audience a few clues here and there.

Just to play fair. Like Ellery Queen or Agatha Christie, both masters of storytelling, especially the shorter versions. I learned a lot from reading their works. Also, Leslie Charteris. I enjoyed tremendously the experiences of The Saint more in the shorter versions than larger, full-length novels. I like to think that Randi’s journeys are a bit like Simon Templar’s.

Truth is – I am still experimenting. A very long way from mastering it. I do need your help and feedback.

I hope you have enjoyed my stories and this blog in particular. Please do tell me what you think. I would love feedback.

Au revoir.

Sol Collins

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