This is a guest post by Chad Simpson.
I’m writing four blog posts for yeah write, at under 500 words each, and I hope to squeeze in to these 2000 words a version of everything I know about writing. In order to do this, I’m going to discuss how I came to write a story called “Miracle.”
If you’ve read Ron Carlson’s excellent little craft book, Ron Carlson Writes a Story, you know where I’ve gotten the idea to do this. If you haven’t, and you’re someone who’s interested in writing, it is very much worth your time.
Because I write a lot of flash fictions and/or very short stories, people often ask me how I know when a piece is “done.” While I sometimes feel that nothing I ever write is “finished,” the truth is: for me, a piece is “done” when it becomes meaningful, when it can stand on its own and find some way of resonating.
Whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction, this typically happens by way of character.
I said before that when I’m working from real life, I typically have to divorce myself from what’s real so that I can turn the anecdote into something that might be meaningful to people who don’t know me or the people I might be writing about. In “Miracle,” when the narrator flashes forward to the scene in which his brother is telling him about being run over by his own car, the brother becomes not-my-brother*; he becomes a composite of two or three people I’ve known over the years. The recovering crack addict/unfailing optimist I worked with at a homeless shelter, the liquor store employee who once tried to get me to pay cash for my bourbon so that he could charge me a little less than the store’s price and pocket the money.
This way of creating characters has been enormously helpful to me. The way I see it: while we’re all complex beings, capable of a tremendous range of emotions and actions, in actuality, we’re all also stereotypes. We think of ourselves as sons, mothers, liberals, etc. As a writer, I like to layer a set or two of “types” into one character in order to achieve the kinds of complex characters we expect to find in fiction. When doing so, I aim for what might be called believable incongruities.
*A quick note regarding writing about family members, friends, loved ones, etc.: I spent a long time avoiding doing this, fearing I might offend or hurt people. Eventually, I decided that when I want to write about, say, something that happened to my brother, I’m entitled to my rendition of events, my subjective take on things. I would never want to hurt the people in my life via my art, but I also don’t want to live in such a way that I don’t say what I have to say, make what I have to make. A true story about “Miracle”: my brother forgot about the fact he was once run over by his own car until he read the story I wrote about it.
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In “Miracle,” I leapt into the future and rolled a little scene, attempting to build the brothers’ characters. In doing so, I created a gap in time, a future for the scene that kicks off the story. I also gave myself a place to return to in the story, an anchor.
I’ve tried to write stories without scenes, but it’s inescapable: scenes are the lifeblood of story, of narrative.
Once I returned to the scene in which the narrator drives to the bar, I was able to find the image of the brother’s friends making a chalk outline of his body on the street in masking tape. At that point, the story became about a desire to connect—the narrator’s wishing he could join the crew in the street—and it was this image, I hoped, that would make the story resonate, that would make its 400 or so words meaningful.
Looking for this week’s challenge? Notes from Erica M
It’s our final prize week during the summer series, so you know we have big plans. Click over to page 2 of this post for details. It is on page 2 you will also find the challenge grid.