By Melanie Page (Author of Tale Spinning – the art of the short story)
Simply Story Telling – Part 1
Chaucer once said, ‘All human activity lies within the artist’s scope’. Ok, so it was Chaucer in ‘A Knight’s Tale’. It’s still a great line. The fact is, you don’t need a high falutin’ concept or a love story for the ages to write about. In fact, it is the little things that are significant.
I’ve always maintained that it is perfectly possible to write an excellent and engaging short story about a man who lost his wallet. Let’s give it a go.
Enter a character. He has lost his wallet. He needs to be in a setting, he needs to have a reason to be there (Vonnegut, rule three: Every character must want something). His first action, or dialogue, will relate to this. Then, there will come a pivotal moment when he discovers the wallet missing. That is the complication to the story.
Terry walked up to the florist’s counter and lay the bouquet tenderly down, so as not to bruise the delicate, half opened roses. The woman behind the counter smiled, which was hardly surprising, considering the price. ‘That is an excellent choice, sir.’ She deftly slipped the dripping stems into a kind of sleeve then wrapped the flowers in white tissue and cellophane. ‘The lady is very fortunate, I’m sure she will love these.’
‘I hope so.’
As she moved to the register, Terry reached around to the back pocket of his jeans. Then his grin slipped momentarily. He reached around with the other hand. Again, nothing. Panicked, he slipped his hand into the front pocket of his pants, and then into the inner pocket of his bomber style jacket. Zip. Zilch. Zero.
Now, of course, this is a draft. There are imperfections, which is why we are going to tidy it up. One is a point-of-view slip, where I have said that ‘his grin slipped momentarily’, but how would he have known that? Instead of going chronological, why don’t we look at this from the florist’s viewpoint. That was we can describe Terry better. Let’s also look at using some literary techniques.
Finally, he had made up his mind. The lad had been mooning over the bouquets in the front display for a good fifteen minutes, his hand reaching for one, caressing another. And he’d chosen the baby pink roses. A girlfriend then, a first date perhaps. Or perhaps not. But not a longtime girlfriend either.
He held them gingerly, as though the drips on his shoes would do him an injury, three paces bringing him to the counter. She had to look up; he was long and thin as a ruler with a few sparse hairs on his upper lip, jeans that were soft with age rather than fashionable and a faux bomber jacket than hung down over gangly hands.
It wasn’t hard to smile, a boy like that, so eager and earnest. ‘An excellent choice sir.’ She slipped a plastic sleeve over the stems and wrapped them in white tissue and cellophane. ‘I am sure she will love these.’
He grinned; his whole face lit up. ‘I hope so.’
As she moved to the register, he reached back into his jeans pocket. There was a flicker in his eyes and then a glint of panic. He reached back with the other hand and the panic grew. Now he checked his other pockets, hands moving jerkily. When he looked up his eyes were wide. ‘I’m sorry.’ His voice was thick and slow, as though reality didn’t make sense. ‘I’ve lost my wallet.’
Now, the first was one hundred and thirty-two words, the second two hundred and forty-one. The second is better; more detailed and with purposeful use of language. The woman is an impartial observer and we get a better picture of Terry than we would if we were in his point of view. Still, you could probably trim it a little if you were writing for a competition.
So where do we go from here? Well, we need to escalate the conflict (amp up the tension, show why this really matters) and then we need to help Terry resolve the problem. And maybe, we can find a twist.
But that is for another day.
In the meantime, why don’t you give it a go? Can you envisage another ‘lost wallet’ scenario?
You can connect with Melanie
Here – (1) Melanie Page | Facebook
Her new release Tale Spinning – the art of the short story, is available now on Amazon worldwide and Here – (1) 3 Umfana Publishers | Facebook