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Journey Within Your Mind
By Rowdy Rhodes
February, 2007, 09:50

Move your imagination outside the box, creating powerful, gripping short stories.
Short stories can be in the form of fiction or non-fiction, first person, or narrative. They should be, well, short. In order to successfully accomplish writing a short story you really need to know what it is that you're writing about. You don't have a lot of time for superfluous explanation to the reader. Your sentencing has to be succinct, filled with expression and emotion.

The tips provided here are for fiction writing, narrative style, but can easily be adapted to suit non-fiction by modifying some of the suggestions. All of the following information will lead your readers through your story, from a gradual establishing of characters and settings towards the ultimate climax while suspending their reality for a short period of time.

1. You have three types of narrative points of view to choose from. Your story can be written in first person (you are one of the characters, i.e. write using "I"), third person (you provide one character's thoughts about what is occurring in the story), or third person omniscient (presenting the observations of all or some of the characters). This will immediately determine how the reader begins visualizing the story's events.

2. You start by creating people, especially the main character who is sometimes referred to as a protagonist. The main character's development needs to be relatively indepth so that the reader can closely associate with the person. So take your time and pay close attention to details such as strengths, weaknesses, integrity, perserverance, and physical and mental limitations. One of the most important emotions you want to extract from the reader is sympathy for this character. You want your audience to pay attention to this character and become concerned about his well-being.

3. This is where the real fun part begins. Put your main character in a precarious situation or amid a problem or conflict that they must successfully contend with or they will lose something important. Use your imagination, beyond contemporary limitations, and create a believable, yet dangerous, scenario. Generally speaking there are one of five problem types to choose from that a main character will deal with:

  • Other people
  • Themselves
  • Nature
  • Society
  • Fate

Single examples respectively of these would be:

  • Bar fight
  • Paranoia
  • Animal attack
  • Government coup
  • Death

If you use other people as the problem you will also have to create a somewhat equal antagonist to be the catalyst for the problem that your main character has to overcome. At all times you must make the protagonist sympathetic to the reader so that the reader will side with him. The reader needs to be led to cheer and fear for the main character as he fights to overcome the antagonist. This is what creates a "page turner" story. The reader needs to know what is going to happen to their "friend."

4. In order to accomplish, not only suspension of the reader's reality, but also sympathy for your main character, all of the settings and characters (even a one-on-one, person-to-person conflict) must be believable. If not, then the reality suspension you hope to create comes crashing down and the reader becomes distracted. Engage the reader through realistic, intense descriptions and dialogue of the characters and events. Without vividness of detailed description, the short story becomes flat, easily tossed aside by the bored reader who doesn’t really care what happens to your protagonist.

5. Story tension is created your protagonist trys but fails to resolve conflict. A simple example: Think of a sailor rowing a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean after his ship sinks. He is the only surviving member of the crew. There is a raging storm around him. The boat has a large hole in it, but he must row to shore or surely drown in the icy waters. Every time he uses the oars the boats fills with water. So he bails the water out, but when he returns to rowing, more water surges in. Bail, row, more water: this sequence builds tension. You can only do this for so long though since you're writing a short story. So make the tension, problems, and issues being faced by your main character concise, yet intriguing. The simple example above immediately raises the questions of how, if, and when the sailor in the boat will make it safely to shore. If the reader really cares about the sailor it will create a lot of tension.

6. You must create a grand finale of crisis for your protagonist to resolve. A culmination of events that take place which your main character, in a last ditch situation of success or failure, is forced to confront. Without a grand finale of crisis it is impossible to create the climax to the story. The sailor above arrives close to shore only to find it is virtually impossible to land his sinking craft because of a corral reef and rocks!

7. By this time in the story line, your main character – and your reader – has gone through one or more failed attempts at resolving the crisis. The grand finale of your story is now set. The protagonist is in a final win or lose situation that must be dealt with. It is here that, through the use of the main character development above in Step 2, the protagonist's positive attributes come fully to light. This is the climax to your story. The main character either succeeds, becoming the hero of the day, or fails and the antagonist wins. Not all short stories need finish with happy endings. Sometimes sailors drown.

8. Depending on the type of short story you have decided to write you may want to attenuate the resolution and climax. What this offers the reader is opportunity to contemplate the story's significance in relation to the characters, nature, themselves, even society itself.

9. Using combinations and variations of the suggestions above provides writers with an infinite number of story possibilities and variations. Using them while allowing your imagination to move outside the box can create powerfully successful short stories that twist and turn, keeping the reader transfixed on every word, their reality momentarily suspended as you take them on a journey within your mind.

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Rowdy Rhodes is the Site Manager of The Freelance Writing Organization International and General Manager of Inkwell Newswatch (IN). He is also known to freelance an article or two when the fancy strikes him. If you are looking for written content for your web site, ezine, or print publication, drop him a line at and he'll get back to you as soon as possible.

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