Thursday, August 29, 2013

Step 4: A Formula and a Short Short

Thought for the Day: "Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief." ~from Hamlet by William Shakespeare

bird-by-bird.gifAnne Lamott is the author of seven novels and five works of non-fiction, among them the peerless Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. If you could only read one book on how (and why) to write, Bird by Bird should be that book. Among the extraordinarily useful advice Lamott provides in Bird is a formula for fiction that another author, Alice Adams, shared in a lecture on writing the short story. It is simply this:

A-B-D-C-E, for Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending. 

Lamott says, "You begin with Action that is compelling enough to draw us in [use what you know about scene here] and make us want to know more. Background is where you let us see and know who these people are, how they've come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you Develop these people, so that we learn what they care most about. The plot--the drama, the actions, the tension [more on plot next week]--will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the Climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some real way. And then there is an Ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean."

formula 2.jpgThis is not the only way fiction can or should be structured, but it is an EXCELLENT way to get started! The A-B-D-C-E formula works beautifully for narrative non-fiction (like maybe a college essay...) as well, and can even be used successfully in argument or academic writing.

Below is an example of a short short story, that is, a story of 500 words or less. These stories are sometimes called sudden or flash or micro fiction. They are harder to write than you might think... Can you detect an A-B-D-C-E pattern here?

micro fiction.jpgFrom Carpathia, by Jesse Lee Kercheval, from Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Really Short Stories, edited by Jerome Stern. This book is available at our library. 

It happened on my parent's honeymoon. The fourth morning out from New York, Mother woke to find the Carpathia still, engines silent. She woke Father; they rushed to the deck in their nightgowns. The first thing they saw was the white of an ocean filled with ice, then they saw white boats, in groups of two or three, pulling slowly towards the Carpathia. My father read the name written in red across their bows--Titanic. The sun was shining. Here and there a deck chair floated on the calm sea. There was nothing else.

The survivors came on board in small groups. Women and children. Two sailors for each boat. The women of the Carpathia went to the women of the Titanic, wrapping them in their long warm furs. My mother left my father's side to go to them. The women went down on their knees on the deck and prayed, holding each other's children. My father stood looking at the icy water where, if he had been on the other ship, he would be.

When the Carpathia dropped off the survivors in New York, my parents too got off and took the train home, not talking much. At the welcome-home party, my father got drunk. When someone asked about the Titanic, he said, "They should have put the men in the lifeboats. Men can marry again, have new families. What's the use of all those widows and orphans?" My mother, who was standing next to him, turned her face away. She was pregnant, eighteen.  She was the one drowning.  But there was no one there to rescue her. 

Writing Prompt #4: Write a story of 100 - 500 words using the A-B-D-C-E formula. You can choose one of the ideas from the end of last week's post, either rewriting what you wrote last week, or choosing a different idea this time. Or maybe you have an idea of your own for a story. Whatever your idea, you should employ what you've learned about scene in the Action and Climax sections at least, and probably in the Development and Ending sections too. Only in Background might it be appropriate to tell, rather than show. Try to include description and character development and at least one line of dialogue. I would be delighted if you shared your efforts with me!

Writing Advice:
How To Write Flash Fiction
Flash What? A Quick Look at Flash Fiction

Anne Lamott.jpgInspirational Words:
"Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of." ~Anne Lamott

Resources and Links:
Fiction Factor: The Online Magazine for Fiction Writers
Flash Fiction Markets (Even if you do not feel ready to submit your work for publication, take a look at some of the magazines that publish flash fiction, such as Flashquake and Brevity, for ideas on how to improve your own short-shorts.)