Friday, April 6, 2007

Fiction: A Germ That Spreads

Asking students to write short stories is like sending them to the dentist. They don't want to go. And can we blame them? Fiction writing takes tremenous effort even for veteran authors.

Novelist Fanny Hurst said, "Writing is a chore. It cracks your bones and eats you, and yet it dominates you. You hate it while you love it."

To write fiction well, students must read the great classics: Hawthorne, Faulkner, Poe, Dickens and Dostoevsky, etc. As they read, they should study how the authors develop their plots. They should also read contemporary fiction to become familiar with the rules of paragraphing and dialogue. Most importantly, students need to reflect on the germ that infects their minds so that the germ can spread. The germ may be an image, a personal issue, or a plot idea. All this takes time and teachers don't seem to have enough time to help students develop into good fiction writers. Here are some suggestions to streamline the assignment:

Require each student to write a short short, i.e., a story of no more than 6 typed pages.

Give them a list of interesting characters and let them select the one that intrigues them most. I've had success with this list: a clown, an orphan, a soldier, a wizard, a spy, a hermit, a fairy, a sea captain, a bank robber, a talking cat, and an athlete. You may want to require everyone to select a different character or you will end up with 10 stories about aspiring professional athletes!

Help them to define the character's predicament. The predicament will drive the plot. In a short short, everything that happens must contribute to a satisfying resolution of the character's predicament.

Tell them to begin their stories as close as possible to the climax. This usually means slashing the opening paragraphs of the first draft and jumping into the action quickly.

Ask them to write a surprise ending.

Send me 2 or 3 of your best stories (with confirmation of student permission) and I'll publish them here!

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