On Monday, July 25, I led a two-hour writing workshop at Coronado Community Center here in Hot Springs Village. About 35 writers and would-be writers attended, and we had a great time together.
The “five secrets” we talked about are not really “secrets,” of course. These five essentials to writing a good short story are well known. But we all need to be reminded of them from time to time:
- Create complex characters.
- Develop the story arc.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Write realistic dialogue.
- Maintain consistent POV.
I spent the first hour giving pointers and presenting examples to illustrate each of these. After a break, we came back together during the second hour and heard Village Writers’ Club member John Swinburn read a short story he had submitted for critique following our club’s writing workshop in May.
We all discussed his story, paying special attention to the POV. From whose “point of view” was this story told? Was it from the perspective of the female protagonist, Faith? Or was it from the perspective of another important character, Lucius? The story seemed to slip from one character’s POV to the other’s. That kind of “head hopping” is a common mistake that novice writers make. Normally, a well-written story has a primary POV character, from whose perspective the complete story is told. That helps a reader become emotionally invested in that character.
However, we noticed the opening paragraph seemed to be written from the author’s perspective—he spoke directly to the reader, asking the reader a question. Also there were other parts of the story where the author presented information about the characters, and the story did not appear to be written from either character’s point of view. Finally, we decided this story must be written from an omniscient POV—a viewpoint not often used in a short story, but one that is still a viable option for a writer if he wants his reader to view the characters “from a distance.”
We closed our workshop by reading and discussing a piece of historical fiction written by my longtime writer friend Ellen Withers, from Conway, Arkansas. She had given me permission to use her story, “Discovery at Idaho Springs.” Ellen used every one of the “five secrets” to skillfully develop a truly memorable short story.
Many thanks to all who participated in the workshop and to John and Ellen for sharing their stories. Now, I hope all who attended are inspired to sit down and soon create a tale that will entertain their readers. Happy writing!