I have a new short story published in Short Fiction Break:
It’s called The Olympics 400 metre sprint
On a different note to my regular diatribe, passive voice can also make your writing more concise, strangely enough, by removing unnecessary words, i.e. information that isn’t required to get the message across or are unimportant.
“John Doe was hit by a car and then rushed to hospital.”
“John Doe and what happened to him is the focus of this sentence, not the thing that hit him.”
Additionally, it isn’t important how he got to a hospital, only that he’s there. (I’m particularly upset at ending a sentence with a preposition)
This passive construction is much more efficient than;
“A car hit John Doe, and then an ambulance rushed him to a hospital,” which sounds as awkward as ‘passive’ sounds when ‘active’ should be used.
It isn’t vague like passive can be, but it isn’t concise, either. Another example is “John Doe was charged with the murder of his wife, Jane,” which sounds much simpler than “Police charged John Doe with the murder of his wife, Jane,” or even “Sergeant James Ryan charged John Doe with the murder of his wife, Jane,” where it isn’t clear whose wife Jane is. (or this one)
If writing a short story that only should contain 1500 words then you could look for the words that just add completeness like;
“John sat down and read a book.” – 6 words
“John sat and read a book.” – 5 words
There is sat down and stud up.
Unfolding your novel within a tight timeframe is one of the most significant methods for developing suspense. Whether your protagonist is in a one day race against time like Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code or has a total of 61 hours to rescue the day like Jack Reacher in the novel by Lee Child, putting your protagonist on a ticking stopwatch will likely make readers turn more pages.
Traps to be cautious of in a time-focused path to writing crime fiction, or a short story, like my last published story ‘Newton’s Second Damn Law’. One is that effective suspense requires some set-up. If you have ever been through an extended period of very high stress, you know that there comes the point where you begin to disengage from the situation to reduce stress. The same thing can happen with fiction. It’s seldom useful to sustain a constant mood of highest-level suspense for the entire duration of a novel. Giving your protagonist a short period to solve a problem is an excellent approach to building suspense but be sure to create contrasts. Downtime offers readers a chance to take their breath. It can even calm them into a false sense of security as you construct the next surprise that will leave them more interested and invested.
The other issue you must deal with is the implication of having something unfold in a short period. Your protagonist could be on the run for 48 hours, but is there time to drink, eat or sleep? If not, what effect will all this have? As I’ve said in previous blogs; be sure that you do not reach beyond your readers’ suspension of disbelief.
Providing your character with a limited amount of time to solve a problem is a great way to build suspense, but you can place constraints on your protagonist that increase tension in other ways as well:
Writing crime fiction that transpires in a limited physical space is another efficient way to create pressure. 12 Angry Men, is set in a one room with the jury of a murder case for the whole of the 96 minute movie. Stephen King explores this in some of his novels: trapped in a car by a rabid dog, is in Cujo, a woman and her son and Gerald’s Game handcuffed to the bed is a woman. The principal characters in the Elizabeth Engstrom novel ‘Lizard Wine’ are snowbound in the car with a menacing ex-convict.
It is also possible to challenge your character in other ways, too. The protagonist of King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon cannot find their way within the woods. If your protagonist is in a different country where they cannot speak the language or has run out of money, what happens? By reducing the possibilities available to your main character, you will create suspense.
Within the novel environment, there is always a central conflict. The conflict between characters and the protagonist or the inhospitable climate is always present. This battle keeps readers reading your novel and wanting more information, even though it introduces an air of unpredictability.
Romance Novels – Character vs Character. A conflict that is preceding a love affair.
Thrilling Adventure Novels – Character vs Environment. The protagonist has to survive a hostile or unfamiliar environment.
Social Critique Novels – Character vs Society. Characters at odds with the dominant society.
Psychological Angst Novels – Character vs Self. Secondary to Character vs Character, but adds depth and complexity to the protagonist.
Supernatural Events Novel – A Character or group of characters must face the fright of the unknown.
Futuristic Dystopia Novels – Character vs Technology. This conflict sees a protagonist or a group of characters face the traps of the progress in technology.
You nailed the countdown theme with this one. I really like the self-aware humor, like “my face was experiencing a strange reorganisation by the wind.” The tension really ramps up when the parachute fails to come out.
The technical terms are interesting, but to be honest, something which the reader will probably skim over. It’s hard to know what those values mean, but if you can put the speeds in context (say, x times the speed of a cheetah, for example), it makes it more relatable to the reader.
Also, reading this felt somewhat more like reading someone’s journal than reading a story. It has the countdown theme, it has a climactic occurrence, but there is no decision on the part of the main character, no choice he has to make to reach the climax. It all seems to happen to him, in a way. If, for instance, something had happened to the instructor and he was left in charge of pulling the parachute, this would force the character to act, which is what makes for a strong story.
You have a lovely writing style, and I hope you keep writing!
This is a well-written story, with all the factual elements added giving it more sense of realism. As the MC prepares to jump, then does so, the protagonist’s doubts and fears are well-shown. The views and experience of free-falling also described well the situation.
What I think lacked for me is perhaps a sense of danger in the story. There is no indication until the end that something could go wrong. Perhaps if a hint was given early in the story, I would be mentalized that this wonderful experience could go terribly wrong.
While the technical information gave the story credibility, I think it might have been better to keep it to a minimum, and use the available word count to emphasize more the potential dangers.
The ending did indeed almost end in tragedy, but there wasn’t too much sense that the protagonist’s life was in danger, or great panic from him.
By enhancing that sense of urgency or panic, a good story can be so much better. Good luck
Once, I wrote the first draft of a short story that stank so bad; I had to open up a window while reading it.
I felt like ripping it up or pressing delete and then beginning again.
I spent a long time to discover the job of your first draft is to be, and it’s ok if your writing is lousy and unedited.
It’s a good thing that my first drafts are for me alone, and yours should be too.
You will sit down to write the first draft; you will likely lack self-confidence or feel indifferent to what you’re about to make.
You may likely feel that you’re writing and feeling stupid.
Most successful authors seldom experience a white-hot flash while working on their first drafts. A lot of writers question themselves and think about pressing delete.
They don’t do that though.
Alternatively, there’s a determined (and coffee caffeinated) person plugging away at his or her manuscript one word at a time, looking at their word-count and all the while thinking:
“It’ll do for now”, “I’m almost there”, “I can fix this later.”
You can fix it later too, but wait, you’ve got to finish your first draft.
You’ve got to reach the end and stop reorganising your outline or having the ‘Shiny new Idea syndrome’.
With non-fiction books then the learning and expressing the subject of your manuscript would be essential. A fiction book is more or less the same. Wheather it’s in present-day or a few hundred years ago or in the future, then you need to be aware of currency, eating and drinking material. Off-world Sci-fi or fantasy also needs to be checked as you don’t want characters in a fictional world going for a chicken evening meal and paying for it in Dollars. You must spend time reading outside of your comfort zone, reading the work of authors you admire and the novels of authors you detest.
You must take notes, write down and learn to arrange your ideas before you start your book. I was asked on a writing course to study poetry. My first thoughts were, “Yuck, I hate poetry and will never write any.” But, I considered Shakespeare and looked into his work and discovered he was the Iambic Pentameter master (which is poetry and sonnet material), and that may be a reason his work is still loved 400 years after his death.
If you fail to feed your mind, then don’t expect it to serve you quality ideas when you next sit down in front of the blank page.
Maximum length: 1,500 words, — as Google Docs counts them. Many writing softwares count words differently; it’s to do with hyphens and apostrophes.
Contest theme: Countdown. Your character has a deadline. It might be a cancer prognosis giving him 6 months to live, a blackmailer giving her twenty-four hours to comply before a secret is revealed, a few more minutes until the clock strikes midnight and his one true love vanishes, or something else entirely. Whatever the case, your character is racing against the clock. Tell a story with a countdown.
To participate, you must enroll for the contest by Tuesday, October 24.
Your story will be due for workshopping on Monday, October 30.
Your final submission is due Monday, November 6.