Pure Slush

flash ... without the wank

Dear Diary

<  A Writer's Little Pity Party

by Jack Swenson    Writers in Love  >

 

Dear Diary,

I have wanted to be an honest to God fiction writer for a long, long time. I wanted to be a writer, but when I was young I couldn’t do it. God knows, I tried. I wanted to write like Isaac Babel and William Carlos Williams, two masters of the short fiction form. (Yes, Williams wrote prose as well as poetry.) I even quit my job and went back to school to learn how. But my professors couldn’t teach me. They wanted me to write like they did. They wanted me to write about adolescent angst and families in crisis. They wanted me to write long stories. They dismissed my little tales as sketches.

So I did what any sensible, young, out of work would-be writer does. I taught school. I did it for more than thirty years. 

Now I am older and wiser and free to do what I want to do the way I want to do it. Luckily, by the time I got started again, flash and micro fiction had been invented. Voila. My kind of writing had a name!

So what I advise all you writer folk to do is follow your bliss. Later, like Frank Sinatra, you’ll be proud of the fact that you did it your way.

How does one go about writing a story? Are there any rules? What do I write about? Where do I get ideas?

For what it’s worth, here’s how I write a story. I sit down and write a first sentence. Then I add a second, third, etc. That’s all there is to it. You’ll know when it’s time to stop. If you don’t, you’ll figure it out later. You can cut a line or two then. 

You want rules? Okay, here are a few. Skip those that don’t make sense to you. 

1. Don’t write lengthy descriptions of characters. Readers skip over exhaustive description.

2. Start with a dynamite first line. Maybe a couple of lines. Here are the first two lines from a story I wrote this morning:

Max leads the parade up the hill. He is sawing on his violin, wearing nothing but a raincoat.

3. Include some dialogue but not too much, unless the story is all dialogue.

4. Create word pictures. Add some zing to your descriptions:

The path to the cabin is ablaze with light as we turn and go back. The cabin roof glows red and white. The grass is black. The moon is full. Night birds flash white bellies as they circle the chimney.


Now, what do you write about? I’ll never forget the advice I got from one of my professors. Write about cardinal issues, he said: birth, death, marriage, divorce. Don’t fiddle around. Write about things that are important.

And finally, ideas. Where oh where do we get ideas? From our own experience and from the experience of others. I don’t know how other writers do it, but when I run out of ideas, I steal them. I read short fiction. I read stories on Fictionaut (www.fictionaut.com). A story about a funeral or a wedding may inspire you to write about one you attended.

Here’s a story that illustrates some of the ideas sketched out in these notes. The story’s inspiration was a painting by Marc Chagall. 


The Violinist

Max leads the parade up the hill. He is sawing on his violin, wearing nothing but a raincoat. He has removed the girl’s blouse and bra. She and Max’s wife are huddled by the cabin door. I am pleading with Max to go back inside, but I am laughing as I do so.

Max is drunk. The others are feeling no pain. We all had too much wine with dinner. The girl’s cherub of a husband is asleep on a day bed by the fire. I catch up with Max and pull him back in the direction of the cabin. He grins when he sees the girl. He has taken off her clothes, seen her naked, but he hasn’t had sex with her, he says. He is thinking about it. She is a virgin. Her husband is gay. It is a marriage of convenience, Max claims. 

The path to the cabin is ablaze with light as we turn and go back. The cabin roof glows red and white. The grass is black. The moon is full. Night birds flash white bellies as they circle the chimney.

Earlier, before dinner, I was an audience of one while the four musicians played string quartets. The music was thin.  The musicians were tentative, too careful, afraid to make mistakes.  It was later that the party goers trooped outside and Max set fire to the night.


published 22 October 2011