Gestation of a short story #1

What are Greenday talking about? I love September. With the exception of going back to school (which only bothers you if you actually have to go – teehee), September is a time of renewal, revival and getting around to things you put off til after the summer holidays.

In that spirit, over the next while, I will be tracking the development of my latest short story as I write it.

This story-to-be was inspired by that rich source of short story material: a passing comment, an almost-anecdote. The one I have in mind was told to me by someone I know, at least a year ago, on the subject of his childhood. There was an image in there that has stuck in my head ever since: A mother, father and their children are driving along in their car. The mother and father have had a row at home. Suddenly, the mother begins to sing happily.

What intrigues me about this little vignette is what it might say about the dynamics of family life and married life from a child’s viewpoint. Children can be highly perceptive and they can also misinterpret and over-interpret. How might one of the children interpret what is going on in this family on this day?

This series of blog posts tracks my efforts in building this story. Whether or not the story is a success (see how I’m covering myself there?), I hope it’ll be of interest to some to follow the process a writer can go through in an attempt to create a short story (obviously, there are many ways to do this – mine is only one).


Days 1 & 2

Physical environment – house sketch

After mulling over various possibilities for the story for a while, I develop a picture of the family at the centre of the story. The family – mother, father, and three or four children – lives in a big, chaotic house in a medium-sized town. The family’s life revolves around their shop. The small grocery shop is integrated into the house in the converted front downstairs room.

Part of the dynamics of the story is that the mother in the family runs several mini-businesses from within the home. The house is always being extended and modified to make room for each new business venture. So the house is always noisy and busy.

I realise that movement and the physical environment – all the family members moving around this big, chaotic, disorganised, confusing house – are key to the story. So I decide to sketch out a plan of the house. I want to be completely familiar with the layout of the house in my own mind, so that the characters’ movements around the house are consistent and flow smoothly.

This is my initial sketch (architects and technical drawing experts, look away now!):


At this stage, the characters are still in their infancy in terms of development. Later, I will create detailed character sketches. Before that, I need to create a timeline for the family in the story. This is to ensure that all aspects of time in the story are correct and consistent. For example, to specify the age of each character, I need to know when they were born, and all the family members’ dates of birth have to be consistent with each other.

This is the rudimentary timeline I drew up (yes, on the back of an envelope – keeping it real!):

Practise paragraphs

By this stage (the end of day 2), I have also written a few disconnected paragraphs of the actual story. These are really sketches themselves, rough “practise” drafts to help me get an idea of how the story might look and sound.

What’s next?

The next steps are: fill out the timeline, create detailed character profiles, and identify key scenes. I’ll be moving forward with these tomorrow.

Posted on September 7, 2011, in Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Orla,
    This sounds like a plan for something longer than a short story!!! You never know. I’m very interested to see just where the story takes you. The fact that you are documenting it will almost be like unravelling a ball of string. When you’ve finished you can retrace your steps and see just how its evolved from your original concept. Am using a timeline myself in a WIP story and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve amended it so far and I’m not finished yet. The dynamics of age especially between siblings is very important and can make all the difference in characters.
    Good luck and I’ll be glued to progress.


    • Thanks for commenting Mary!
      I’m looking forward to comparing the finished product with the plan too. Good point about the dynamics of age between siblings, I’m working on my timeline now, it can be tricky.


  2. Thanks for commenting Derbhile. You’re absolutely right, the house is central to the story and it has characteristics just like a character – chaotic, rambling, disorganised etc. I hope to get across the idea that it influences every aspect of the characters’ lives.


  3. Interesting that you’ve started with place – like the house is another character in a story.

    You seem quite methodical in your approach too.


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