Gestation of a short story #3: Dark night of the soul

Days 4 & 5

Things are not going too well.

Maybe it’s divine retribution. I am guilty of infanticide: I have had to kill off the three siblings. As per my previous post, the number of characters in a short story has to be kept to the minimum. So the siblings’ lives have been cut short before they even properly started and my main character is now an only child. Sniff.

This changes the whole dynamics of the family and the character profiles have had to be amended as well. The mother’s energy now comes in part from a need to keep herself busy, to fill the gap in her life left by the absence of any more children.

The father-son relationship has also changed. Now that the boy is the only son, he is destined to take over his father’s family business. There is now an air of expectation and pressure in their interactions, especially as the boy is a reflective, bookish character and does not fit his father’s idea of the kind of person needed to take over the business.

Just as well I hadn’t got around to the doing the main character’s detailed profile yet – I can start that from scratch with him as an only child.

With all that in mind, I set about re-drafting the timeline earlier today. I was busy crossing out the hapless siblings and considering how to close the resulting gaps when a thought occurred to me. Is it really necessary for the story to be set in the 1950s?

The anecdote that originally sparked the idea for the this story took place in the 1950s, and I guess I just left that in in my initial planning. But does this really add anything to the story? Could it just as easily take place in the now?

Also, transposing the story to the present would remove the burden of historical accuracy (and the research work involved for me). (I could just go and ask the person who originally told me the anecdote for details about the period, but I don’t want this to be anything remotely resembling someone’s memoirs; the anecdote is simply the spark for a work of fiction.)

One step forward, two steps back. I’m starting to wonder if this story has as much potential as I originally thought.

Posted on September 12, 2011, in Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. As my own sister once said when I mentioned a character who was a bit saintly, lifeless and pointless, “Off! Off! Off!”

    It’s what fans chant at a footballer from the terrace when he’s not up to snuff, apparently 🙂


  2. Good luck with the story, Orla! I think if you care about the characters and centre it around a defining event, you will be OK. And follow the Rule of Three. I hope it’s ok to drop a link here to my blog, where I discussed this a while back


    • Thanks for commenting Susan. I checked out your article, great advice.
      Interesting phrase above, too: “care about the characters”. If I understand you correctly, I guess I don’t “care” about the sibling characters – I simply felt they should be there to bulk up the numbers in the family! – hence my concerns about them being one-dimensional.


  3. Hi Orla,
    I think this story is a fighter, it doesn’t want to be tied down! Before you bury the children, will there be any reason for the extended house if they are gone? But yes I agree that you have to keep your characters to a smaller number. Did you ask the children if they would be happy to be shaddowy characters in the background? Remember back then children were seen but not heard.


    • The extended house is to allow the mother to take in more lodgers, Mary. The big, rambling house is also a feature of the story. The lack of siblings doesn’t affect that, thankfully!
      Maybe it would be possible to keep the sibling as background characters. I’m not sure I have the skill to do that successfully in a short story.


  1. Pingback: Gestation of a short story #4 « Wait til I tell you

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