self publishing

The Short (Story) Road to the Novel

The short story, once in prominence not only as a commercially viable work but also as a separate art form no less than the novel, has all but vanished. The short story is an excellent training in storytelling – it is like a contained experiment. Even if it fails you have lost what? 6 – 10 pages of writing! Also it’s easier for someone to point out what went wrong in those 6 – 10 pages, what worked, what did not. Doing the same for a 200 page work is far more difficult. Maybe you lost interest on-third of the way into the novel, but plodded on and finally you come out with the verdict I don’t like it.

Maybe a simple adjustment at those points of sagging interest will lift your story from “I don’t like it” to “it was nice” or maybe even “I liked it.” It’s easy to do it in a short story.

A short story helps just like those short driving trips when you are learning to drive.

Ray Bradbury famously advised aspiring authors to start their writing journey with short stories instead of novels. Himself, a prolific writer of over 400 short stories, his main assertion was of course Plot Structure which is much easier to maintain in a short work and extremely easy to lose in a full length novel.

The simple plot structure of Beginning – Middle – End makes it easy to follow and provides a solid backbone to storytelling. The other major advantage of the short story is the POV.

The short story is too short for a change in point of view (POV) and thus you are saved from the indecision that plagues the novelist. Whose point of view should this sub-plot be from? Am I losing tension because of the shift in point of view?

Difficult questions you could easily do without.

Apart from being a training ground, the short story also acts as an extremely efficient means of not losing the ‘writing habit’. Ray Bradbury’s other important advice was to write one short story every week for at least a year. His point was it’s difficult to write 52 bad short stories. I for one totally agree.

I have a list of my favourite short stories it’s almost 250 now, Here’s a look at five from that list in no particular order and why I love them.

1. The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekhov

Chekhov is the master of the short story, known for drawing out the darker side of human emotions through his stories. The lottery ticket written more than a 100 years ago catches us in those moments of horrid selfishness, true today as they were then. It’s also a masterpiece in terms of building a story around a very small time frame.

2. The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

The ending of “The Necklace” no longer holds the surprise that must have been one of the draws when it was first published, but the message is still as profound. The effort to show off and fit into a higher class or income group results in a miserable outcome. It’s a classic example of the story structure of Exposition-Climax-Denouement.

3. The Last Leaf by O Henry

The Gift of the Magi is his most famous work, but The Last Leaf remains etched in memory years later. The self-pitying Johnsy , the supportive Sue serving her friend, and the ambitious but unfortunate artist Behrman. Characters created over the space of less than 1500 words that refuse to leave you.

4. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

A not so wise uncle had gifted me this book when I was seven, I thank him for it. This story will bring a smile to your face despite the macabre, a punishing of wrong and the burden of guilt expressed so succinctly in a matter of a few pages.

5. The Rocking Horse Winner by D H Lawrence

A touching story of a child’s desire to change his life and become “lucky”, this one is one of the most evocative pieces of writing that’s there.

The short story is easy to modify or if entirely unsalvageable, easy to ignore and move on. Give it a try, you won’t regret it.

Happy Writing

Anirban S. Bose

5Stories is a monthly digital only magazine. Every issue features 5 stories across various genres. 5Stories aims to be at the forefront of storytelling, pushing the boundaries while exploring the best and the most exciting short stories. Only original, previously unpublished short stories appear on 5Stories. 5Stories facilitates connections between emerging writers and global readers at large. Welcome to a fascinating read!

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self publishing

The 5 Things your 1st 3 chapters must have (Part 3, 4 and 5 of 5)

In our quest to understand what exactly the publisher is looking for in those first 3 chapters that are sought as a sample, we have already looked at:

  1. Within the first chapter we must have an introduction to one of the 3 main characters.

  2. Your first chapter must have the HOOK

The third thing on your list follows from the second

  1. The best writing in your book must be in those first three chapters

First, let me explain how this follows from the second point. As we have seen, the narrative HOOK is the dramatic action that “hooks” the reader’s attention and prods him to read on.

All dramatic action is embodied in threat. The more imminent the threat, the more dramatic the HOOK is.

All threats however, aren’t created equal. A person hanging from the Brooklyn bridge is not really under the same threat as your middle aged protagonist who has lost his job. What makes these threats equal or apparently equal, is the writing.

Your writing is the HOOK.

Second, and I am elaborating on this just to help you relax your raised eyebrow. When I say, the best writing in your book must be in those first three chapters, I do not mean that they have to be restricted to those chapters alone. If you can, have great writing throughout, but if you can’t, let those first three chapters be the best ones.

To not be “because I said so” about it, let me cite a practical application of this: Scribd notes that more than 30% of all reads on its subscription program is less than 10% of the book. That is, almost one out of every three readers set down a book after reading the first 20 – 40 pages!

THREE Chapters, that’s all you get to transform your tame threat into a raging question through your writing.

When we talk about your best writing, I do not mean you describe ‘the sun setting in a crimson haze beyond the barren and snow dusted pines’ Your writing has to make the threat and dire consequences that could follow more palpable. Which is why, at least for the first three chapters, the less ‘frilly’ your writing is, the tighter the threat.

  1. If your HOOK is not your biggest bind, then the main problem must occur within the first three chapters

The biggest bind or the main problem is the problem you want resolved at the end of your novel. Your climax must provide a satisfactory resolution to this main problem. The problem must be resolved one way or the other.

Nicholas Sparks in his most famous work, The Notebook, starts off with a HOOK that is also the main problem. It is a superbly understated HOOK and a perfect example of how the main problem in a story is also the HOOK in a romance novel.

There is always a moment right before I begin to read the story when my mind churns, and I wonder, will it happen today? I don’t know, for I never know beforehand and deep down it really doesn’t matter. It’s the possibility that keeps me going. And though you may call me a dreamer or a fool. I believe that anything is possible.”

A lot of novels however, do not start with the main problem. And that’s fine, as long as you proceed quickly to the hook. Remember the fictitious HOOK I had warned about? A HOOK that isn’t the main conflict can easily lose its way and become the fictitious HOOK.

  1. The first 3 chapters must show off your understanding of story structure

Of course story structure or narrative structure is critical to captivating the reader, what makes it most critical in the first three chapters is the fact that editors and discerning readers alike will rarely plod through a book that doesn’t care about story structure.

Narrative structure of SETUP-CONFLICT-RESOLUTION has always been under attack, not least for being ‘formulaic’. I don’t get the antagonism. No one’s suggesting that narrative structure is a creative formula. It isn’t; it is a structure formula. Once in a while you will come across a book good enough to make you ignore the structure, but by and large structure wins because at its heart is storytelling.

This 5th and concluding point is not only critical but also very rarely understood. Think back to any fairy tale that you read as a child. There is a setup, usually a disadvantaged beautiful girl who is being tormented, then the major conflict in reaching her goal, usually meeting the love of her life, and the final resolution. The simple words “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after” are such strong indicators of setup and resolution respectively that their mere mention evokes curiosity and satisfaction. Fairy tales satisfy the most discerning audience, children. It wouldn’t be stooping if we learnt a thing or two from them.

To bring it all together in a single sentence: the first three chapters should have completed the setup or at least taken it to an exciting place.

 To sum up

  1. Introduction to your principal character

  2. The Hook

  3. Fluid writing

  4. The principal Conflict

  5. The Setup

Happy Writing.

Anirban S. Bose

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