Number 91 — June 30, 2006
Infusing Emotion — Part 3

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No matter how long ago we left the halls of learning, the fundamentals of our education seem to remain with us. At least, I think that's true in my case. I'm thinking of Newton's Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Having changed my career occupation from engineer to my retirement occupation of writer, I paraphrase Sir Isaac to announce Stephen's First Law of Writing: For every emotion, there is a reaction emotion. They may be superficial or deep-seated emotions, but they are felt by the characters and it's up to the author to expose those emotions to the reader. The benefit is, when done well, a good story results.
     Think about your own experience. Your partner arrives home from a long day on the job and greets you in a loud and accusatory tone.
     "What are doing?" he shouts.
     Even before you think, you react to the challenge, with either a defensive or offensive emotional response. You exacted a promise from your child to be home by ten. At half past eleven, he bursts into the house. You turn on him.
     "Where have you been?"
     What's his response to your attack? It's an emotional reaction of his own, either offering a defensive excuse or aggressive rationalization.
     "Jim doesn't have to be home till midnight."
     A recent novel selected by our library book club overflows with emotion, but it is not a good read. Why? Because the main character experiences all the emotion with little or none shared by or with the other characters. During the group discussion, I learned every club member found it emotionally lopsided.
     Let's return to Joe and Jack from the previous two articles. The incidents I related all occur in the first chapter, reporting the family history in which the reader learns about Jack's emotional development and Joe's emotional reaction. In the second chapter, Jack will be dead and Joe is a widower and the father of a girl. What emotion will we see? Joe will have rejected his father's immorality to become a hardworking, home-loving single parent. He reacts to his wife's death with an emotional commitment to care for his daughter, Suzanne, who reacts with profound emotional affection for her father. This turned out to be an unstated story theme: What obligations does a father have to care for his children in the event of the death of his wife?
     Bent Coin is a story covering five generations of the Haldimann family: Andrew to Jack to Joe in the first chapter and Suzanne to Sam in the rest of the book. I included no more than a sentence or two about the physical characteristics of each player, concentrating my efforts on their mental attributes. I did this by exploring their emotional actions and reactions to the circumstances in which they find themselves. Even the secondary characters—criminals and lawyers, banker and stock broker—find themselves experiencing emotional moments that I expose by using internalization.
     Suzanne has a mixture of emotions. She fears her son has the same irresponsible attitude towards money as his father. After her husband leaves, she has an affair with an investment counselor who responds with love and affection. She develops a profound respect, but not a romantic attraction, for a Mafia lawyer who responds by telling her his inner most feelings. She imposes restrictions on Sam's inheritance who responds with an emotional reaction and walks out of her life, telling her he'll run his business his way without her guidance. For his part, Sam recognizes his mother made a bad marriage based on her emotional response to her father's death. On and on I go with emotional obstacles that create emotional conflicts; not nauseating, sentimental slush, but the inner thoughts the characters experience as I put Stephen's First Law of Writing to work.
     Next week: How to build emotion into your stories.

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Number 92 — July 7, 2006
Infusing Emotion — Part 4

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Consider this situation. Joe is 41 years old. He married for the first time seven years ago and has a four-year-old daughter, Suzanne. In the twenty-seven years since he left Tuppers Corner, he devoted his time and energy to real estate development and construction, becoming a rich man. He loves his wife, Elizabeth, and their child, but with plenty of money for servants and a wife devoted to their daughter, he has never learned even the simplest baby-caring skills.
     The date is July 4th, 1898, a lovely day. A northeasterly breeze across Lake Michigan cools the holiday crowds along the lakeshore beach on Chicago's waterfront. Elizabeth suggests they go boating. Despite Joe's inexperience on the water, he agrees and rents a flat-bottom rowboat. He sits midship in his shirtsleeves, pulling on the oars, while Elizabeth faces him from the rear seat and Suzanne fusses on a cushion between them. They're clad in light summer clothes, Elizabeth with a long skirt over her petticoat and high button boots. Suzanne wears a pink dress and miniature boots fashioned after her mother's. Joe concentrates on keeping the bow into the wind across the waves to keep the craft steady. The wind strengthens off the bow quarter and the waves increase in size. He looks towards the beach.
     "We're pretty far out," he says, "we best head in."
     He pulls on the right oar, taking the wind broadside parallel to the waves. The boat rocks slightly. Suzanne jumps to her feet.
     "Look, Mummy. Look at the big boat." Elizabeth turns to see a freighter, or maybe a grain carrier, in the distance.
     "Sit down, Suzanne." Joe yells as he propels with all his strength, looking over his right shoulder at the freighter. At that instant, Suzanne—whether in response to Joe's command or otherwise—topples to the leeward side as the boat rocks. Elizabeth lunges. Joe hears the splash. He turns to see both passengers going headfirst into the water. Joe leaps after them as Elizabeth surfaces, holding Suzanne in her arms. He reaches out to take his wife's hand when she thrusts Suzanne into his face. He clutches his daughter, but in doing so misses Elizabeth's outstretched hands. With panic-stricken eyes, she calls Joe's name before she sinks below the surface.
     Joe is helpless. He can't leave Suzanne alone drifting pilotless in the upset craft, and he can't take her with him if he tries to save Elizabeth.
     With a mental picture of the accidental events, the author's challenge is to describe Joe's emotional reaction in the scenes that will follow. What will Joe think during the later events? Here's a list of scenes the author might explore to show Joe's reaction to the experience:

  1. floundering in the water immediately after the accident;
  2. explaining the accident in the shore patrol's rescue boat;
  3. facing the curious holiday crowd of swimmers and sunbathers;
  4. reporting the drowning to his in-laws;
  5. returning to his wifeless home;
  6. feeding and dressing Suzanne;
  7. answering a reporter's telephone call;
  8. explaining the events to his business partner, a priest, or a friend;
  9. searching for escape paths from the life-changing calamity during the days, weeks and months after the misfortune.
     Psychiatrists tell us the normal reactions to accidental and unexpected death might include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, despair, and grief that eventually lead to resolution and acceptance. It would be a mistake for an author to include every possible emotional reaction. What then, guides the author? The answer lies in the story character. In this case, although it is early in the book, the reader knows Joe was a responsible, hardworking, independent youth who became a successful business leader. Select emotions that portray those characteristics that are consistent with the character you want the reader to see. The danger is becoming maudlin, or too sentimental. The author must not become sympathetic or allow personal emotions to enter the story.
     Here's the important point. I created a simple action scene; boating on Lake Michigan on the fourth of July. Then comes the surprise; the unexpected accident with a horrendous result. From there, I imagined nine sequel scenes, each potentially packed with Joe's emotional response. That is the challenge to the author; writing scenes filled with emotion.

     I return to my character analysis dealt with in various articles. The emotions a character feels must be consistent with that character's traits. The tough guy does not feel compassion over a dead body when avenging his buddy's murder; Joe cares about his father and grandfather and emotes accordingly; no matter who, everyone feels emotion in each of life's situations in which they find themselves. Our duty as authors is to capture that emotion.

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Number 93 — July 14, 2006
Infusing Emotion — Part 5

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I continue this topic with a scene depicting Joe delivering the bad news to his in-laws.

     Joe stood at the front door of his in-law's mansion. Suzanne, still wrapped in a damp blanket from the rescue launch, burrowed in his arms, her head on his shoulder, her arms around his neck. He reached for the door knocker. His hand fell away. How could he tell them? Again, he raised his hand and paused when he realized he was holding his breath. He sighed, inhaled deeply, and pressing his shoulders back, he raised the knocker. He wrapped his arm around Suzanne, kissed her cheek and came as close to God as he had ever been.
     The door opened. Esther gaped. With a dismayed facial distortion, she waited for him to speak. She clung to the door as if to protect herself from a mad man. Even as their eyes met, he remained silent, blind to the image projected by his disheveled appearance.
     "You aw right, mistah Haldimann?"
     His eyes closed. He nodded, but no words came.
     "Y'all bettah sit down, mistah Haldimann." She turned and fled. "Missus Arlene. Come quick! Hurry, Missus Arlene."
     He saw her outstretched hands. He heard her call his name.
     He saw her panic-stricken face and watched her body sink beyond his reach and disappear beneath the surface.
     "Joe? What's wrong, Joe?"
     Gasping, he opened his water-filled eyes.
     "Elizabeth's … ." The words wouldn't come. He took another breath. "… dead … drowned … ."
     Mrs. Arlene stiffened. She reached for the door jamb as if to support herself. Her complexion turned an ashen whiteness.
     "Esther! Take the child for a hot bath immediately. Towel her off, strenuously all over. Be sure her shivers have stopped. Put her in the guestroom bed with a hot water bottle and keep her warm." She sneered at Joe. "Excuse me, Mr. Haldimann. I will call the doctor at once."
     Her aloofness chilled his mind. His lips quivered and his body began to tremble. He drew back, fending off Esther, refusing to allow her to take his daughter. Mrs. Arlene glowered at him, her voice sharp.
     "Would you like to bathe her, Mr. Haldimann?"
     He could not yield his daughter to the care of this contemptuous woman. He turned and left.

     Note my use of action, authorial comment, and internalization to show Joe's emotion. For example:

  • How I perceived Joe's emotion: Joe stands at the front door of his in-law's mansion trying to summon the courage to tell his in-laws their daughter is dead.
  • How I wrote it combining action and internalization:
         He reached for the doorknocker. His hand fell away. How could he tell them? Again, he raised his hand and paused when he realized he was holding his breath. He sighed, inhaled deeply, and pressing his shoulders back, he raised the knocker.

Another example:

  • He tries to maintain his control, but he wants to cry out in anguish.
  • How I wrote it:
          He saw her outstretched hands. He heard her call his name.
         He saw her panic-stricken face and watched her body sink beyond his reach and disappear beneath the surface.
         "Joe? What's wrong, Joe?"
         Gasping, he opened his water-filled eyes.

A third example:

  • With his wife gone, he realizes, perhaps for the first time, his daughter is his most precious possession.
  • How I wrote it:
          He could not yield his daughter to the care of this contemptuous woman. He turned and left.

     He arrives home, runs a hot bath for Suzanne—which he probably would have done anyway, even though his mother-in-law suggested it—and then a sequel scene might go something like this. This is in draft format and I have included the [A] Action / [I] Internalization markers I use to guide myself through the scene. I'll erase them later, of course.

     [A] He crashed on the settee, and sobbed. [I] What had he done? It didn't need to be this way … one simple movement … one second, that's all, one terrible second in a whole lifetime … it could have been different … seven years … gone … no … no … no … [A] his fist pounded the seat … [I] no one will ever replace her.
     [A] The telephone rang. He listened to the ring; one … two; [I] a friend of Elizabeth's? three … four; who else would call on Sunday night? five … six; go 'way, nobody's home; seven … eight. [A] He raised the receiver to a strident blast of red hot passion.
     "What happened?"
     "Charles! It was terrible. I feel—"
     "You feel what? How do you think Martha and I feel? You walk into our house, announce our daughter just drowned and leave."

     I'm launched into another scene with plenty of room for emotion. I'll continue this series on Infusing Emotion next week with a discussion on combining action and internalization as a means of invoking reader interest. I assert nothing exceeds the value of internalization in generating character emotion. In my view, it is the writing technique most neglected by authors, particularly self-publishers.

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Number 94 — July 21, 2006
Infusing Emotion — Part 6

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Story conflicts result from three basic categories of goals and obstacles: man versus nature; man versus man; and man versus self. I think it safe to say most authors understand and use the first two, but how does man versus self work?
     In discussing character analyzes in previous articles, I suggested authors consider six attributes: name; gender; goals; motivations; flaws; and type. (Articles 22 through 25.) I used "type" to separate characters as being on one side of the conflict or the other defined as "good" or "evil." This, however, is an oversimplification, inferring that a good character is eternally good and an evil one is eternally evil. This makes them fairy tale metaphors in which, for example, Character A (e.g. Bugs Bunny) representing good (or another positive characteristic) always defeats Character B (e.g. Elmer Fudd) representing evil (or some other negative characteristic). Such characters are stereotypes with no inner struggles; they are always one type, never changing to the other, which is not true to life. This is where man versus self comes into play and we must look a little deeper into our characters.
     Suppose A, having defeated B innumerable times, feels sorry for his victim and acts in a way to relieve his conscience. In other words, he succumbs to an inner struggle and the resolution hinges on the combatants altering their mental attitudes without changing their respective goals and obstacles. One still wants to find the gold, but indicates a willingness to share; the other still doesn't want the opponent to succeed and must decide if A's change is genuine or another trick. Only, after each satisfies his internal conflict, can they become partners, agree to share the treasure and thereby resolve their conflict. How is the author to show readers such a development?
     The answer is to recognize any story should have at least two distinct types of conflicts. One is external conflict in which A wants the prize, whatever it may be, in the face of B's opposition. The other is A's and B's inner conflicts representing a challenge of conscience, morality, honesty, religion, or whatever. When one character resolves an inner conflict—decides to act—he can then move towards resolving the external conflict.
     Actions solve external conflicts. Whether the main story problem, or subsets of the main story problem, action always presents readers with an explanation of how these people solved this problem in total or in part. But before characters can act, they must decide to act. Consider Joe Haldimann as a youth on his father's farm. (See Article 89.) He wants to leave, convinced if he stays he will suffer the same fate as his grandfather and father. Why doesn't he go? Because he feels sympathy, and therefore a duty, to his crippled father. He tells his father he doesn't want to be a farmer, but this fails to be an escape avenue when Jack rejects the idea. Then Joe sees the glow in the sky and he knows Chicago is on fire. It is now he decides to act. I, as author, have to write at least a few sentences showing his internal conflict. He rationalizes completing the harvest will satisfy his duty. Then he can leave. Characters must resolve their internal conflicts inside their heads before they can act.
     Internal conflict is emotional or abstract. We show this to the reader by going inside a character's head with internalization; the character's mental attitude at the beginning yields to a changed attitude at the end.
     Let's consider Jack in Article 90. His mental attitude at the beginning is to avoid marriage. Clearly, he does not want to be a father. After the Civil War his attitude changes. After resolving his internal conflict—acknowledging his love for his son—he recognizes an alternate choice, yields to Joe and gives him the farm, which, in his mind, resolves the conflict between father and son.
     In the scene depicted in (Article 93), Joe, suffering a tumultuous emotional upheaval, finds Mrs. Arlene's reaction threatening. Possibly he expected they would console each other, but he interprets her directive to Esther as an intent to take his child away. He resolves his internal conflict by refusing to allow Esther to take the child. Now he can act. He turns and leaves. Note that in writing this passage, I did not spell out every little detail of Joe's rationalization. I did not offer the underlying explanation of Joe's action; an obvious reaction to Mrs. Arlene's aggressiveness.

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Number 95 — July 28, 2006
Infusing Emotion — Part 7

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The time has come to draw some conclusions so we will understand how action and internalization work together.
     Let's return for a moment to Article 90 — Infusing Emotion — Part 2. In the first underlined passage, we see Jack rationalizing his father's message and drawing the conclusion marriage is somehow a mistake. In the second underlined passage, Jack has confirmed his conviction and has become a womanizer. In other words, internalization and resulting action are related. Of course they are; that's everyday common sense. Jack thinks and then acts. But, we know from life experience, the reverse is also true; people often act first and rationalize after. Thus, we have the possibility of two conflicts in any situation; the external conflict, which is action; and the internal conflict I call internalization—revealing how a character feels about a particular circumstance—which is emotion. If a character has two conflicts derived from the same situation, there must necessarily be two resolutions; one for each conflict. Let's see if we can figure out how this works.
     Moving on to the fourth underlined passage in Article 90, we see Jack has resolved his internal conflict by recognizing pride in fatherhood and now understanding marriage. That is, he changes his attitude, but we soon learn that it does not change his actions. In this case, despite resolving his inner conflict, he does not act any differently. That is, the reader sees that Jack places more value on his morally offensive conduct than he does on his relationship with his son and the author does not need to spell it out in so many words. This requires the reader to be a participant in the story, or at least to think along with the author as to what's happening. In other words the story has more depth.
     Jesse Lee Kercheval, writing in Building Fiction tells this story.

     "I often give my students a round-robin exercise. The first person gives a character a want; the second frustrates it; the third makes it seem possible again, the fourth complicates it once more, and so on. One round stopped with number four.

  1. A man wants to be a concert pianist.
  2. Then he loses an arm.
  3. Luckily, he meets another piano player with one arm.
  4. Unfortunately, it is the same arm.

     "Here is the perfect example of the limits of external conflict," Ms Kercheval writes. "Because the conflict and following complications are external, the second complication stopped the story. The only possibility seemed too absurd: He learned to play concerts with his toes.
     "If the story had a parallel internal conflict, it could continue. Although he wants to play the piano professionally and his loss of an arm stops him, on the inside, he has muddled thoughts. He knows he must learn to live without the piano, but feels worthless when unable to play. He wants to change but can't. The second one-armed piano player who can't solve the external conflict because piano music requires a right and a left hand, not two right hands, can help solve the internal problem. He can show the first pianist how to play with one hand; how he might become a singer playing only the melody with his right hand, or how to live a full life as an ex-piano player teaching piano tuning. Alternately, he could save the first piano player by showing him what lies ahead if he wallows in drugged or drunken self-pity. The true outcome of the story depends on what happens in the head of the first one-armed piano player. How thoughts, memories, fantasies, and resolutions bring about the solution to his battle within himself." (Edited for length reduction.)
     Ms. Kercheval shows us another way in which inner conflict—aka emotion—can be used to enhance the range and scope of our storytelling.

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Number 96 — August 4, 2006
Story Forms — Part 1

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As a storyteller addressing audiences, I have written and told short stories that I have never published. As an author, I wrote and published full-length novels. Other story forms available to consider include short shorts, novellas, the lesser known novels-in-stories, and a technique Matthew Kneale used in English Passengers, which doesn't have a format name, as far as I know.
     Novels are the most common form of fiction, popular with both authors and readers. I understand sales of short stories enjoy an increasing audience, but I'm sure they lag a long way behind novels. Novellas seem less common as I wander the bookstores, while the others on the list seem absent. I intend to devote the next two or three articles to exploring the differences among these forms of fiction. I begin by comparing the common or general characteristics of novels and short stories in six categories. I hasten to add, many exceptions exist. Like everything else in creative writing, generalizations are not immutable.




1. Time

Unrestricted time span.

Limited time span.

2. Characters

Unrestricted cast of characters.

Limited to 2 or 3.

3. Settings

Unrestricted locations.

Limited to 1 or 2 sites or places.

4. Narrator or POV character

May have multiple POV characters.

Usually only one; two at most.

5. External conflict

Climactic second to last chapter and resolution in last chapter.

Resolved with an action, dialogue, or symbolic gesture near end or in last sentence.

6. Internal conflict

Characters change in someway with final success or failure.

Characters left on the edge of change.

     The difference between a novel and a short story lies in the space available to expose details. In the former, the author can develop character, plot and theme expansively. The trick of writing the latter, as the name implies, is succinctness, which in turn means replacing details with perceptive passages. Let's look at an example.
     I opened my desk copy of my novel Bent Coin at random. I happened to be on page 124 where subsection 7 begins. It describes Harry's disastrous stock market experience on Friday, October 29, 1929, the day of the famous market crash. The scene contains 787 words that among other revelations, explain Harry's reasons for buying heavily following the market dip on October 4.
     I might write this scene in a short story like this.

     The 1929 stock market lured Harry into accelerated buying. Convinced he'd conquered the complexities of the market, he invested heavily in Canadian metals[1], most on margin. Late on Friday afternoon[2], October 29, he stopped by his broker's office to check progress on his investments. He found bedlam and chaos. In desperation, his broker had entered a sell order for all of Harry's stock, which had sunk past the price where he could recover the margin principal, let alone the interest. About three o'clock in the morning, he learned his margin account was eighty-five thousand dollars negative, plus interest. (102 words.)

     Omitted details:
[1] The stock market dipped on October 4, 1929, causing an international scare in financial circles. One investment class that appeared attractive was Canadian metals for several reasons. The ore assays were more or less proved, meaning the material was known to exist in the ground; the mines were in operation; the smelters or conversion facilities existed; and on October 4, Canadian mines dipped hardly at all. On October 29, they crashed along with most other stocks.
[2] Harry spent the day deliberately avoiding his broker because he had committed to put up a large amount of cash by the end of October. He didn't have the money, so by arriving late in the afternoon after the banks closed, he hoped to talk his way into a few more days, sell his stock at a profit and meet his obligations.
     The type of fill-in information in footnotes 1 and 2 enhances a novel, but clutters a short story. Edgar Allan Poe wrote in reference to short stories that "undue brevity" is to be avoided, but "undue length" even more so.

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Number 97 — August 11, 2006
Story Forms — Part 2

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Short stories are readily available in libraries and many texts deal with the subject. More words from me are not germane. It's enough to say, a short story is not a novel; it is like a poem in which the author selects words and sentences for a particular purpose and makes the whole significant by deleting extraneous material. So, I move on to the less common short shorts.
     I think another name for short shorts might be vignettes that my dictionary defines as short descriptive literary sketches; brief incidents or scenes. I think, had I been a lexicographer, I would have said a short short is a slice of life depicted in a few words.
     Be that as it may, the rules for writing them are simple: Start fast and watch your language. Curse if you like, but you don't have room for extra adjectives, long exposition and extended dialogue. Generally, they fall into two types; those that encompass time and those that show a scene. How better to describe them than through examples?
     Here is one from my collection.

Passing On

     She and I did crafts. We shared a lifetime, making do-dads for our home.[1] We created for pleasure. A curious form of pleasure, uniting us in love. I, a decrepit old man, clumsy and inelegant, overflowed with love for her. I cooked her meals, cleaned her house and catered to her needs. Despite my weary bones, I gladly gave my love to ease her pain. She had a monumental list of ailments.
     I made her a table of pecan and walnut. To welcome Christmas, she placed a mat over it, with ivy and holly edging, and over that a plaque with a biblical quotation and Images of Joseph and Mary. "Sing to the Lord," it read, "the Prince of Peace will come."
     She made two cardboard angels with silky hair, placing them beside the plaque. They stood side by side in hoop skirts, hands clasped in prayer.
     On December 24, 1994, we turned in early, as was our way. I fell asleep, despite her restless stirring. In the night, I felt her nudge me.
     I could hardly hear her whisper. I moaned and grunted.
     "Shush," she said. "Just listen."
     Bad ears and half asleep, I couldn't hear a sound. She signaled to be quiet and pointed to the door. I struggled from the bed, inched across the room, and peeked around the corner. On the table, the angels knelt. The plaster cherubs that hung on the wall, the molded figurines who celebrated yuletide on the corner table, the trumpeter and sugarplum fairies from the den—all were on the table, facing the angels, their voices harmonized like a Temple Choir. They sang the Ave Maria. A soft white light projected heavenward from the center of the plaque. The anthem ended. Together, we knelt in prayer.
     Bless her, Dear Lord; with a peaceful passing to a painless place.[2] (308 words.)


  1. In the first sentence or two, do at least one of a or b below:
    a. Identify characters and/or their relationship;
         and /or
    b. Identify the setting.
  2. In the last sentence, at least one character must be on the edge of change, either by direct statement or, more commonly, by inference. (This usually takes careful thought.)

     Let's see these rules at work above. In the fourteen underlined words in sentence 1, we learn:

  1. the story is about a couple, presumably married; [Identifies characters.]
  2. they have lived together for a long time; [Identifies relationship.]
  3. they occupy their own home; [Identifies place.]

     In the eleven words of underlined sentence 2, the narrator is on the edge of change to a life of solitude. We could also infer he wants to join her in a peaceful, painless place, maybe so they can work on crafts together.
     Short shorts are easy, fun and challenging. Jot them down in idle moments: riding a bus; contemplating peace; waiting for the doctor. I have often thought it would be an interesting challenge to write one short short a week. Just think; in a year you'd have enough stories to publish a book.

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Number 98 — August 18, 2006
Story Forms — Part 3

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Here are two more examples of short shorts. Look at the opening sentences that should hint as to who and where, and the last sentence that should indicate the edge of change, in some sense, either physical or mental.

Why So Fast?

     "Stop to smell the roses," Mother said. She was a gardener. As far as I knew, she originated the advice. But, life whirled by so fast, I couldn't waste it smelling flowers. Besides, the pollen made me sneeze. Worse, the devilish roses always pricked me with their thorns. Later in life, my wife dubbed me "Bolter" when we traveled. With eyes glued on the road ahead, I sped through town and country to every destination. Never did I stop to smell the roses.
     Smelling is not my only problem. I have a dull sense of taste. What many think exotic, I find vile. My likes are simple; plain food with little seasoning.
     As for hearing, it is the weakest of my senses. My ears have rung since childhood. Musically, I am deplorable. Once, I took piano lessons as a challenge; I failed miserably.
     My sense of touch is normal, my eyesight dimming slowly. On balance, I would judge myself to be subnormal, or at least on the lower end of the good-sense scale, but I credit myself with one redeeming sense: extrasensory perception.
     Through the ringing in my ears, comes Mother's voice from time to time; "For heaven's sake, slow down." (201 words.)

     Comment: In the opening, a young boy gets advice from his mother. In the end, having ignored Mother's advice all his life, will the old man finally learn?

Tony's Christmas Gift

     In the lonely forlornness of retirement, I sometimes sit outside at the picnic table and read my books. On a bright, sunny afternoon a few days after Christmas, Tony hurtled around the corner of our apartment building at his usual reckless pace. He is twelve years old with a fifteen-letter surname I couldn't possibly pronounce, let alone spell. A couple of years ago, we became friends. He's talkative, precocious, and as restless as a housefly.
     I had returned to my book when Tony reappeared with a dark green box he set in front of me.
     "Grandpa gave me this for Christmas."
     The moment awakened memories of my childhood. When I was Tony's age, so many years ago, my parents gave me an identical game called CARGOES. I stared at the reincarnation of a memory in a tattered box bound with massive amounts of scotch tape. I unfolded the game board; before my unbelieving eyes, lay the map of all the continents and all the oceans, with the world's major seaports clearly identified. It's a simple game in which players roll dice and move their "ships" along an intricate maze of sealanes, winning points for early arrival and suffering penalties for overdue shipments. Tony and I rolled the dice and played a few turns each.
     "Grandpa gave me another present. Want to see it?"
     He vanished again, leaving me absorbed in glorious memories of my youth. In an instant, he was back with a colorful box, about six inches on all sides, each decorated with strange characters looking hither and yon with obvious delight. He set it on the table, allowing me to read the inscription on the cover, printed in a neat hand:      To Tony, Christmas 2005, from Grandpa — with a lifetime guarantee.
     When I picked it up, I saw it had no bottom. It was empty.
     "What is it?"
     "I'll show you. Watch."
     He removed the lid, looking skyward as if the wild-eyed creatures had escaped their prison and flown away. I gaped in wonder, thoroughly confused. He stopped twisting about and looked into my eyes.
     "You don't know what it is, do you?" he said, showing a huge smile.
     "You're no fun."
     "Maybe, but tell me what it is."
     "It's a bottomless box of endless love."
     He darted off, leaving me to wonder about the miracle of love. (392 words.)

     Comment: The opening words, " … lonely forlornness of retirement," succinctly set the scene. Did Tony's Grandpa work his magic, and Tony share his love, leaving an old man on the verge of change?

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Number 99 — August 25, 2006
Story Forms — Part 4

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When is a novel not a novel? Answer: When it's a novella. I have always thought the author of a novella to be a person who buys a ream of paper for the manuscript, but runs out of words halfway through the ream. Maybe, it's a Roger Dangerfield format that "don't get no respect." Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval defines novella with these words: "It is any book of fiction too long (for publication) in a periodical as a short story, but not long enough to (stand) alone as a book. In the current publishing climate, that means a novella is roughly anything over 50 manuscript pages and under 150." Assigning the arbitrary value of about 275 words to a manuscript page, her suggestion is from 13,000 to 40,000 words.
     While I have no wish to challenge Ms. Kercheval, I think she set the lower limit too high. Without any basis of fact, my intuitive sense tells me I do not find many short stories over 10,000 words; most of them less. Her upper limit is correct, especially because modern publishers produce shorter novels than in the past. A novella is somewhere in the middle range; we might say more or less 25,000 to 30,000 words on average. More important, however, is to consider the characteristics that make it different.
     Returning to the comparison table between novel and short story in Article 96, we note the word "unrestricted" repeats in the novel column as opposed to the repeated word "limited" in the short story column. Obviously, if one has an arbitrary or imposed condition somewhere between unrestricted and limited, then a novella might be the answer. The easiest example to imagine falls in the category of characters. With only two characters, the maximum number of internal conflicts is two. With three characters, however, if an author chose to explore each internal conflict, there could possibly be six relationships: A to B and C (2); B to A and C (2); C to A and B (2). Such a story would involve heavy emotional treatises, but it is possible. Four characters so thoroughly studied would involve twelve relationships, an impossible number to handle. Obviously, the author would compromise somehow, but the point remains to describe characters in such intricate detail needs more space than available in a short story. Similarly, a writer setting a story in various locations—office, home, and vacation cabin, for instance—would lack space in a short story.
     The stopping point in short stories arrives when at least one character is on the edge of change, but the author does not explore how the change manifests itself. Readers must use their imaginations, as is often the case throughout the body of a short story with its scarcity of detail. It is the edge of change and shortened details that make short story writing a pleasure for authors and a challenge for readers.
     In novels, readers live with the characters and care about the outcome—living happily ever after, or failing to achieve a solution to the conflicts. So after 30,000 words of a novella, if readers don't care about the outcome, the story failed anyway and most readers will have put it down long ago. It follows, therefore, in a novella the author must include a climactic crisis as in the second to last chapter of a novel, and a resolution that resolves the issues.
     A few final thoughts on the subject of novellas: One wonders why an author would deliberately lessen the chances of finding a publisher by writing a novella. I suppose that is what experimental fiction is about.
     Personally, in place of the term novella, I would prefer short novel, distinguishing it from a short story, but treating it as a novel. Certainly, the short novel would have most of the characteristics of a regular novel except length, which more than anything else, means fewer characters.
     Mechanically, novellas do not usually have chapter breaks. This feature alone, may be the only identification that allows the scourer of bookshelves and bookstores to distinguish a novella from a novel, unless may there's a sign somewhere.

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Number 100 — September 1, 2006
Story Forms — Part 5

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I end this series on story forms with a look at a couple of forms offering a challenge, which to some degree, I suppose, classify them as experimental fiction. I found one of them, Novel-in-Stories, in the second to last chapter of Building Fiction. Ms. Kercheval begins with this statement: " … novel-in-stories has a history that is the opposite of the short story or the novella in one respect. I said those forms grew up in opposition to their lack of commercial potential. The novel-in-stories is a form that exists as a marketing device."
     In describing the form, Ms. Kercheval writes: " … a reason to choose the form has to do with what I called the connect-the-dots quality of its larger narrative structure. Because the book is made up of stories, much of the meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch type of transition that connects chapters is absent. You can show an incident from one character's perspective, then shift to another time and place from someone else's point of view … . The novel-in-stories is essentially an impressionistic form … ."
     I think this form may have a practical application in my novel Lost River Bridge. As some of my readers are aware, I'm editing my novels and publishing them as free eBooks on the web. Two of them are already posted and available, the third is in process, and finally I will attack Lost River Bridge. I imagined the original work as a vehicle for my Ozark storytelling career. I wrote it in twenty episodes—instead of chapters—linked together by a central theme, with separate, but interlaced, stories nonetheless. In 2004, while writing for the Gravette News Herald, I wrote a sequel of 20 episodes, each one published in 4 parts in the same fashion as the oldtime serials in magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan. Since appearing in the newspaper, they have lain dormant, hidden from the public eye.
     The original twenty episodes, published in print form in 2001, end when the main character dies. The second set, examines the later decline of the community and its restoration. I can imagine the novels-in-stories idea as a good vehicle to integrate them. I sense it will allow me the liberty of combining the stories in a way I had not previously considered.
     Finally, I come to English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. I had not previously come across a book written in this manner, although I have no doubt similar ones exist. Each chapter is subdivided into sections written from different characters points of view. One character may describe a particular incident or experience, followed by another character relating the same experience, or his reaction to it, or opposite view of it, and so on. Over twenty characters narrate the story, "… giving the effect of a story not so much told as peopled." (Book cover blurb.) Mr. Kneale writes each character's part in its own unique dialect; a difficult task, to say the least. The cast includes an English Bishop who promotes the expedition to find the Garden of Eden, which he believes was in Tasmania; a surgeon concerned with a thesis on human races; a Manx captain and his crew of smugglers; and a Tasmania aborigine. It's a big book, about 450 pages, and I would guess around 200,000 words.
     The task for the author in such a venture, would be learning to write in the singular dialogue of each character. This form would also have an application to my Lost River Bridge tale, but I doubt I could create and reproduce a distinctive speech pattern for each character. After all, everybody living in the Ozarks speaks with the same dialect.
     The purpose of this series has been to suggest before plunging into story writing, think about the form of the story you are about to produce. Instead of, "I always write in this form, … " explore the options. A form suited to your needs may exist.

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