When you sit down and write a short story, and it flows from your fingers as if your fingers are magic wands, writing is good.
Often, when we tackle a new topic, a new character, and want something different, it can start well, but then the flow stems into a bottle neck of ideas that cause confusion.
Writing is always hard to really hard, on the scale of things. It’s the nature of the business, the nature of the mind.
I wrote a story yesterday, “The Thing that Happened to My Snooping Neighbour”. I thought I could knock out a short story in two, maybe three hours and be done in time for tea. Boy, was I deceiving myself.
I wanted to write about a real event that happened many years ago. The basic idea was based on when I worked in the night shift, so I slept during the day.
My apartment was small, so I lived in a living room-bedroom. It was comfortable, and I have fond memories about the place. I had a very nosey neighbour. One day I was woken up by the sound shuffling papers in my room. When I investigated, I saw my next door neighbour going through my paper-mail. He was a nosey parker who loved gossip.
The character, the small event, and the fact that it was already an event from long ago put everything into a box of perspective that created a nice view of how it worked within the mechanics of story telling.
I sat down and started to write at 10 am. I’ll be finished by 1 pm. I thought.
12 pm came around, and I was still scribbling away on my note book. I’d written on my computer for an hour, then stopped. The things I’d written were good, but in my little world of writing, I could clearly see that I was headed for the mundane, boring, world of a story that would end up in a corner.
Taking notes is important, and it’s a dangerous little aside to the real work of writing through to the finish line.
Note-taking seems so tempting, I love it. My apartment, not dissimilar to the one in my final version of the story, is full of notebooks, pads, and hardback notebooks that people gift me for birthdays and special days. I love those Moleskin notebooks with the soft cover, they feel good, full of potential. Note-taking is an addictive pastime for writers.
When I take notes, I feel like my mind can run free. That’s the whole point, to write without hindrance of frame works and goals. We write a few notes, explore and idea and see what comes out of it.
When we write a story, and allow ourselves the freedom to explore and find out what the story is about, then we can easily fall into the wrong mental frame of thinking we have all the time in the world, and going down the tempting rabbit holes will only take a few minutes. But writing a story that has a beginning, middle, and an end, takes discipline. Notes don’t need that, in fact, note-taking requires that you abandon all hope of finding something interesting, and just wander through your thoughts while jotting down anything that seems hopeful.
Story telling is an ancient practice. For that reason, when we need help in developing a short story, an article, or a full blown novel, we can turn to the stacks for sustenance.
There we will always find that those who went before us have written down their experiences in an ordered way that helps us get through the tough frameworks of various story techniques.
Over the years, I built up a veritable array of books on writing. How to write…, writing for morons, Aspects of the Novel, Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel — which baffled me a long time ago, until I realised that he knew that writing doesn’t have any rules. So, he wrote a little book that seems to be airy, and ambiguous to the beginner. He seems to talk about people and their problems, philosophy, and life in general, albeit at a depth where you might need an oxygen mask to stay with it. Then after reading, rereading a few more times, it began to dawn on me that writing is all about life, people, experiences and anything attached in any way.
My little short story from yesterday, I started with an idea, then ploughed into it as if it would write itself. That was a mistake. I then stopped and took notes, then stopped taking notes because I knew I should be writing a story. I then read a few pages of Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel, and things started to click in my mind.
I needed a premise. Even for a little ditty of a story that would end up being enjoyable fun to read, a premise, or at least solid idea of what the hell these people in the story are all about. Why are they doing what they do?
So, instead of scribbling down ideas, I got coffee and rolled a cigarette. Sat and thought deeply about my two characters who stand in a room and confront each other.
My thoughts of premise revolved around who is the worst of the two? Why do their problems exists, and which one really causes those problems? Will these actions lead to his or her demise, or help them achieve something beneficial in their life?
It’s then when I thought along these lines that I began to see sparks of premise. Premise is the reason why things happen, and especially, why things end as they do.
A character who carries a concealed gun all the time is going to end up in trouble. Even if they are permitted to do so, they are out for trouble, and they will end up finding that trouble. I think in a good story, that trouble, will be the day the main character bit off more than he could chew. “Carrying a concealed weapon leads to a person’s downfall”, could work as a basic premise for a short story — or develop into a more complex structure in a novel
My character, the baddy, is a gossip. So, I thought along the lines of what happens when a gossip over steps the mark. What will happen when they step into someone else’s life, and discover that they have stepped into the lions’ den. Their curiosity is like the proverbial cat who fell off the roof while chasing a bird.
When we sit down to write a proper story, a novel, it’s okay if we start by meandering, exploring, and discovering who our characters are. But when the time comes to get things lined up, and start making sense for our readers, it’s important that as a writer we are honest with ourselves. There is a lot to be said for people who can write by seat of their pants, but most of them/us, tend to spend a long time discovering, exploring, and note-taking to figure out exactly what it is we want to say.
At least, when venturing off into the dawn in hope of a sunrise, take a small pocket torch and know something about where you wish to go.
A premise is like a guiding light that makes writing anything from a story, novel length story, or an article.
The Thing that Happened to My Snooping Neighbour — a 9-Minute Story on my medium page.
More from Sean P. Durham