Give it a short
While you minimise social interaction, put the spare time to good use and write the short story you've always wanted to. Here's how
American writer Ray Bradbury once concluded that if you were to write a short story every week, it would be impossible to write 52 bad ones in a row. Viewing this period of social distancing as an "inward" journey, Murzban F Shroff, the author of Breathless in Bombay (stories) and Waiting for Jonathan Koshy (novel) says that it is important to first note the difference between a short story and a novel. "A short story is a slice of life while a novel is a whole universe. At the same time, a short story is not an anecdote. I call it a more promiscuous form of writing. Here, the reader is discerning, unsparing and doesn't want to be entertained but illuminated," he says.
Know your format
Murzban F Shroff
Shroff, who has received several Pushcart Prize nominations, identifies two kinds of short stories: close to home, close to the bone (narratives where the writer mines into their own life, fictionalises it and delivers psychological insight), and the exploration of an alternate universe. He adds, "It is very important that an epiphany or a message is delivered in the beginning, or a remote sense of it. You have to be dramatic and awaken empathy."
Cut to the chase
Author and screenwriter Neil D'Silva who has six books to his credit including the bestselling title Maya's New Husband, suggests sticking to the bare minimum. He says, "You don't need to describe your characters too much (adjectives are okay) but it is vital that you get your character into the meat of the conflict as soon as possible. For most readers, the takeaway from short stories is their uniqueness. Not only should the conflict be unique, but also the way your character deals with it should be out of the ordinary."
Research is key
K Hari Kumar
"At the core of any story is an idea that is bullet-proof," says screenplay writer and author K Hari Kumar. That idea, he says, will come to you only by listening to people or reading up. "Thanks to the Internet, news archives from all over the world are accessible. You can find out news articles pertaining to your idea. Mark those which you might use to tell your story; quotes, facts, figures, etc. If a personal experience has inspired your idea then your content will be more engaging," he says. Kumar, whose horror fiction title India's Most Haunted: Tales of Terrifying Places released last year, also adds that visualising the story before writing it is critical —"Don't rush it because there is no deadline. Write as it comes to you."
Sense of structure
Writer and poet Rochelle Potkar, whose first book of short stories titled The Arithmetic of Breasts & Other Stories dug into the vagaries of the human mind, advises writers new to the form to think about the beginning, middle and the end. These can be shuffled the way you want it ie if you start with the ending, your narrative takes the form of a flashback while if you start with the middle, you build suspense. "The form entails a maximum of 10,000 words. So, the first draft can be written in one sitting. The first draft is the one you forgive; it needs to be chiselled. Generally, if you know the ending, you are clear about the beginning," she says.
There must also be space for surprises. And always let your work be reviewed by someone other than your peers, Potkar shares, adding, "The feedback must be constructive. You need to be ruthless while editing and honest about the gaps in your writing."
If your story has received good feedback from your peers, why not publish it for the world to see? Writer Meghna Pant tackled this seemingly daunting domain in her most recent book How To Get Published in India, where she has tips for short story writers.
"Identify the right publishers to see which among them is publishing short stories (their requirements vary annually). Check their websites for submission requirements. In your submission package to a publisher or agent, you will need: a query letter, a book synopsis (highlight a theme, and four to five of your most hard-hitting stories), three sample stories and your bio," she says. Pant also adds that for publishers to take you seriously, you need to build credibility and start with literary journals and anthologies.
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