Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Ultimate Short Story Workshop: A Quick Summary

On the 28th of July, 2018, I conducted a creative writing workshop at Atta Galatta in association with Juggernaut books. The aim of the workshop was to give a jumpstart to writers who were keen on getting their creativity flow through short stories.

It was my first time facing creative writing students as all my previous students have been engineering students during my stint as a lecturer at my alma mater. Yet, it was fun from the word go.

Here is a brief summary of the topics that were discussed at the workshop:

The concept of the Artist Brain and the Editor Brain:

Writers often struggle with creativity because there is always a war going on inside their heads. Everytime the creative or the 'artist' brain comes up with a brilliant idea, the 'editor' brain or the logical brain nitpicks and discourages the writer.

Yet, when these two work alternatively on the manuscript, it often results in a brilliant, bestselling story.
The trick is to involve the artist brain in the creation of the ideas/ first draft. The editor brain is great at structuring the story and revising it and hence use it that way. 

Exercise: As the 'artist' brain works best under time pressure, the students were asked to come up with a short synopsis for a story idea they had within ten minutes.

Types of writers:

Writers are different in the way they create stories. Yet we can divide writers into mainly three categories.

1) Pantsers or Gardeners
2) Plotters or Architects
3) Plotsers or Hybrids

Read in detail about the different categories by clicking here.

6 Key elements of a short story

1) Character
A character can be a person, animal or thing around which the story is developed.

2) Setting
Setting talks about when and where the story is happening.

3) Conflict 
Conflicts can be of two types: Internal and External.
The kinds of conflicts are 
a) Man vs Man
b) Man vs Nature
c) Man vs science fiction
Read more about conflicts and character sketch here.

4) Plot
The plot is a series of events that takes the character closer to his/her goal.

5) Point of View or POV

The different types of POV are: 

a) First person (Walking-in-their-shoes style)
Here the main character is the narrator. This technique is very effective to draw the reader into the story.
Pronouns used: (I, Me, Myself)

b) Second person (Reader-is-the-character style)
Mostly avoided in fiction as it lacks the pull of the first or third person pov. 
Pronouns used: (You, Your, Yours)

c) Third Person (Fly-on-the-wall style) 
The narrator knows how the characters think, feel, react to various events and experiences. 
Two styles: Third person limited, Third person omniscient
Pronouns used: (She, He, herself, himself)

6) Theme
A theme is an underlying message the story has for the reader. It can also be a hidden lesson.
Read more about it here:

How to create vivid characters:

You can create a vivid character by getting to know your character better. 
Here are some details to jot down. Tabulate the following data for your character.

a) Biodata of your character
b) Physical characteristics
c) Describe their life in general when the story is beginning.
d) What are their goals, deepest fears, secrets, likes, dislikes?
e) How was their childhood?
f) Did they undergo any tragedy?
g) What is the best thing that happened to them?
h) Nuances and idiosyncrasies like accent, mannerisms etc
i) Habits

Even though we won't be using many of these in the story, it still creates a vivid picture of your character in your mind. This helps to write better scenes.

How to hook the reader from line one?

Writers use many techniques to grab the attention of the reader right from page one.
Some are:
1) An interesting first sentence
2) Beautiful description
3) Action
4) Humour
5) In-media-res (Beginning at a pivotal moment) (Read more about it here)
6) Intriguing character
7) An unusual situation
8) Show, don't tell. (Read more about it here
9) Pace
10) Exploding the moment ( Read more about it here)

Read more about hooking the reader by clicking here.

A Quick Formula to Plot a Story

The easiest way to plot is the ABDCE formula. In the ABDCE structure for plotting a story/novel developed by Alice Adams, the story begins with an Action or an inciting incident.

  • Action: This is the inciting incident which sets off the story in motion.
  • Background: What happened to the characters in the past that made them what they are today.
  • Development: The course of the story where the characters chase their goals.
  • Climax: This is the point where the goals are achieved with dramatic consequences.
  • Ending: All the loose threads in the plot are tied up.
You can use this technique to plot a novel as well. Read more about it by clicking the below link
Editing your first draft
Some quick tips:
Stage 1) Take it up after a break. check for obvious flaws and errors.
Stage 2) Tighten the prose
Stage 3) Read aloud to see how the story sounds
Read more about editing in these posts:
Final Checklist
A checklist always helps when we are in the editing stage. At this stage, the editor brain has taken complete charge of your manuscript. It loves lists.
Check if there are:
1) Grammatical errors and passive voice
2) Structural problems
3) Punctuating and formatting errors
4) Interesting first sentence/ paragraph.
5) Is the character likeable?
6) Is the ending interesting/ cliched/ cheating? 
7) What is the readability quotient?

Hope this post gets you closer to your dream of converting your inner visions into perfect short stories.

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  1. helpful informative post thanks to share

  2. Wow, this looks interesting, I have been pondering over writing over a long time, but this makes me take a step forward :)

  3. Super informative, wow!! Wish I was in town and could have attended the

  4. This is super helpful, thanks! Bookmarking this post :)

  5. This is ready reckoner for any budding writer and any one wants to try out one's skill in short story he has everything. Yes, this battle of a writer and a editor is something that keeps the writer in us in knots, and once we know how to get this two hats in its proper place, the writer in us grows in leaps and bound.
    By the way you have a such a lovely blog.

  6. Great insights there...happy to found your blog...will be a regular reader here :)

  7. Very interesting tips Preethi.I have a couple of books inside me but I have not been able to start. I hope I could sometime. I want to write my own story but it would be showing many people in a bad light.How do I go about it? Help please. #wordsmithkaurreads

  8. This was an excellent to short story writing.Love the idea if biota writing for characters.The workshop sounds amazing.

  9. Thank you so much. I am planning to write short stories and your post is very helpful.
    Shalini Samuel