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Hereford Eye
August 13th, 2007, 10:43 AM
Yeah, I know: I'm reputed to be against rules and this reputation is hard-earned. Still, in the last day or so I came across these compilations that seem to make sense to me.
Numero Uno:
Characters: typically, the hero is a child or an animal
Plot: simple, usual episodic, goal-directed, motivated by a single emotion
Theme: typically embedded in a single problem susceptible to a permanent, didactic solution
Style: restricted in vocabulary so uses cute or periphrastic language, often verse or rhyme.
Format: format matters;
Di Erge:
1. A simple, clear plot is necessary, based on a single situation.
2. Tell the story from a childís viewpoint.
3. Rely on your text alone to tell your story, without leaning on what the illustrations will do.
4. Jump right in. There is no time for long description and rich background, so start your story action immediately.
5. Make every word count. Get rid of words that donít. A modern picture bnook should not exceed 1,500 words or six typewritten pages. Most are much shorter than that.
6. Offer hope to the reader, even if the subject matter is sad.
7. Think visually. Think of your story as a short film; keep things moving and interesting; look for page-turning points.
9. Use interesting language. Never condescend by using simplistic language. Talk up to the reader, but never down.
10. Read your story out loud. Listen for its weak spots and how it bears up under several readings.
11. Make a dummy book. By cutting apart the text and arranging it page by page throughout the book, you will get a sense of pacing and balance.
I omitted step 8 as it involves reading other lie stories to get a feel for the things in this checklist. I found that redundant.

Both sets of rules are meant to apply to children's lit but what struck me was how they seem to apply equally to short stories. Certainly, the notion of telling the story from a child's viewpoint or the notions of illustration do not always apply....or do they?

KatG
August 13th, 2007, 01:55 PM
HE, you know this is just going to piss me off. Of course, at first it just confused me -- short stories have to be about children or animals, huh? -- then I realized it was talking about children's lit, which you confirmed. But even for children's stories, this is a little confusing.

Why don't you just state what you found useful to possibly keep in mind for some of or all of your short story writing from this mish-mash and we can go from there. I don't think your short story writing really needs improving, but hey, it's nice that you keep learning. :)

Hereford Eye
August 13th, 2007, 03:04 PM
you know this is just going to piss me off
There are so few victories left in life, it's nice to know that I haven't lost it when it comes to setting you off.:rolleyes::D

Now, before I go re-writing stuff, suppose you tell me which of those thoughts does not apply to all short stories.

KatG
August 13th, 2007, 08:52 PM
:p

Fine. As you know, there are no rules. So what this person is really writing about are things to keep in mind when writing a short story for young people, which someone writing for young people may or may not find useful. Or she's writing guidelines for writing picture book text, which is a whole different area from narrative fiction. You feel that some? of these items are also useful to keep in mind for writing short stories for adults.

1. Characters: typically, the hero is a child or an animal

Obviously not the case with adult fiction. And not a requirement for children's short fiction either. It is not an absolute requirement for picture books, but I'll admit that most of them go that way.

2. Plot: simple, usual episodic, goal-directed, motivated by a single emotion

Nope, don't see how this one is of much use, unless you want to do this, in which case, couldn't you remember it on your own? Picture books do tend to be more linear because they are paired with visual images, but some picture books are not straight stories.

3. Theme: typically embedded in a single problem susceptible to a permanent, didactic solution

I'm not sure if this is saying one problem with multiple themes or something else.

4. Style: restricted in vocabulary so uses cute or periphrastic language, often verse or rhyme.

Okay, this makes more sense for picture books -- you frequently get rhyme in picture book text. But in a short story? And further down, you say the article writer says: "Use interesting language. Never condescend by using simplistic language. Talk up to the reader, but never down." So this is all a little confusing.

So what I'm asking, HE, is what exactly about this article you read did you find particularly useful for yourself?

Hereford Eye
August 14th, 2007, 07:37 AM
Going to require multiple posts. Start with "typically, the hero is a child or an animal."
Obviously not the case with adult fiction. And not a requirement for children's short fiction either. It is not an absolute requirement for picture books, but I'll admit that most of them go that way.
It occurred to me that writing a short story is a learning exercise. Starting from point a, you try to find point b. For the reader, when you make it from point a to point b and they can appreciate the path you took, that, too, is a learning exercise. Then, the picture of our children and grandchildren reading books pops into memory to then be compared a picture of me and the LWSHLWM laying in bed reading and I found more similarities than differences. For children and for us, it's the feeling that happens when you finish, the appreciation that what you read makes sense, fits with the world as we know it, taught us something maybe we hadn't considered or hadn't thought about for a long time.
In the abstract, that's the idealization of children reading, isn't it? I propose it's the idealization for adults as well. The very best stories - from our own particular POVs - are the ones that resonate with our perceptions of the world as we see it and the world as we want it to be. That's child-like.
So, the characters wind up as beings learning something about their world, not necessarily big somethings, but something. Readers bring to the conjunction a curiosity, an eagerness for discovery, and they expect the characters to satisfy the urge. Characters and readers share this common anticipation of discovery, a quality that adults - in their smugness - refer to as child-like.
Or they should be beasts, anthropomorphic exagerations of some human quality easily associated with some predator conjured for the purpose, implicit if not explicit, of examining that aspect of humanity.
Finally, since I never grew up, the child as protagonist, even at an age over the onset of Medicare, resonates.

Hereford Eye
August 14th, 2007, 08:23 AM
"Plot: simple, usual episodic, goal-directed, motivated by a single emotion"

Nope, don't see how this one is of much use, unless you want to do this, in which case, couldn't you remember it on your own? Picture books do tend to be more linear because they are paired with visual images, but some picture books are not straight stories.
Episodic does not translate for me as linear. It translates more as a scene or an event from a series of related scenes or events, the order flowing as best suits the story. In a short story, the episodes have to get us from point a to point b and are thus goal-directed. And, in a short story, more than one emotion is a distraction. This does not mean that characters cannot run the gamut; it refers to the feel of the piece, the feeling the reader is expected to take away from it. Just finished reading Rich Horton's compilation Science Fiction The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition. The least satisfying story in the collection was Robert Reed's A Billion Eyes because it violated this notion. I could not grasp what emotion Reed was after, the story took too many twists to make its point, which I am certain was ecologic and cautionary. But, it didn't grab me. Disappointing because I ususally enjoy Reed's stuff.

Hereford Eye
August 14th, 2007, 08:37 AM
"Theme: typically embedded in a single problem susceptible to a permanent, didactic solution."

I'm not sure if this is saying one problem with multiple themes or something else.
What he's saying is that children's lit, say fairy tales or picture books or something like that, typically deal with a single problem, the solution to which is a teaching point. What I'm saying is that a short story works best with a single theme, what you might say is the point of the story. Writing a story, the author always has a POV of what the story is about. A short story that wants to be about the glass ceiling and the intricacies of Tiger Woods' golf swing is taking on more than it can chew.
As far as the didactic bit goes, rather than re-key it, I'll simply refer back to my post on plot. Everything I addressed there about learning applies here.

KatG
August 14th, 2007, 10:56 AM
Well then, that's a little clearer. And hopefully of use to you, though as I said before, I don't think you really need any help in the short story department.

But if you're suggesting that I follow the same "should's" in my writing, I will, as you know, tell you to stuff it. :) When it comes to writing fiction, ideas that narrow a writer's options instead of widening them are not of much interest to me.

Take for example the Robert Reed story you mentioned. It didn't grab you and perhaps it was because it didn't follow this notion of writing. But it apparently did grab Rich Horton, causing him to put it in a Best of the Year anthology, and presumably grabbed many other readers.

So is the notion of how to approach short stories flawed? No, it's a very workable proposition if you want to write a short story that way, useful for thinking about how to create concepts and achieve narrative goals. Is it the notion that everybody should use all the time to write short stories? Obviously not. It is simply one choice, and possibly the choice for you, but not always the best choice for all.

One of the interesting things about short stories is that they can be just one scene, such as your geisha's hands tale, or they can be episodic. They can be fragmented or they can be cohesive. Because the form is short, there are a lot of structural options. And in writing for adults, there are not issues of teaching young child readers language vocabulary, abstract concepts and basic knowledge such as colors. Unless of course, you think it would be fun to do an adult short story that attempts these things. Actually, that might be fun.

lin
August 14th, 2007, 11:03 AM
These sound like "rules" (I also hate that term...if there are rules, there has to be a rule book available to all players) for children's stories, not "short stories".

Otherwise 1 and 8 are going to look even stupider than most fiction "rules".

Hereford Eye
August 14th, 2007, 11:35 AM
Rules? Me advocate rules? Pshaw! Never happen.
BTW, to clear up a point and save Rabkin's reputation, he did not claim his analysis constituted rules; he claims they are generalizations that can be drawn from children's lit.
But approaches to evaluating a short story? Well, that can happen because I get real tired of saying "brilliant" or "that sucks" without being able to frame a rationale for why I feel that way.
As for Mr. Horton's selections, KatG, any anthology winds up being evaluated story to story with some being thought more worthy than others. I can see why he selected A Billion Eyes while, at the same time, I can evaluate the story as missing a personal mark. That's the inalienable right of a reader.