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Old 4th July 2010, 01:03 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

About long overdue and for some, about damn time!

Given the success of my Essay Writing Tips thread, which focuses on academic essays and dissertations, here is the other side of the coin: Fictional Writing.

If you guys want to know in a nutshell what this guide is for. This is for Primary & Secondary level Paper 1 papers. Those of you who would prefer the more hardcore essay tips would do well to click on the above link instead.

So let's get started.

What is fiction?

Fiction is not real. That's it. Papers that involve this genre of writing are usually very fluid in the type of questions they can set or ask from you. Here are the very broad categories of question types that you can write fiction about:

1. Philosophy.
2. Religion.
3. Life.
4. Relationships.
5. Fears.
6. Wishes / Hopes.
7. Dreams.
8. Normal daily activities and events.
9. Pretty much anything else.

What this means for you, is that like your typical A level GP papers or your O Levels type of argumentative essay, you need to keep an open mind and an eagerness to engage in any topic.

How do you write a short story?

You need three things basically.

1. Setting
2. Characters
3. Plot

Setting.

Two types of setting. A physical location and an event.

Setting is the location where events take place. Setting is an important component that cannot be dismissed. A fight taking place in the living room is a very different kind of fight compared to a fight in a hawker center. Setting gives meaning to the event and situations where the plot takes place.

Event also helps set a mood and atmosphere for the writing. A funeral properly described lets the reader know and feel the heavy atmosphere of the event. A birthday party likewise presents excitement and joy.

While simple short stories generally contain a simple setting, those of you who like to have fun with your settings try mixing it around. A well crafted setting adds flavor, and in many cases, helps with your storytelling alot.

Have a birthday party at the cemetery! Have a funeral in the Ministry of Sound! The questions that you raise in the reader's mind engages the reader, creates curiosity, and if crafted well, provides immense satisfaction when its solidly linked to your plot and characters.

Characters

Characters are not just people who think, talk and act in your short story. Characters are the primary movers and shakers in a plot. They are also the embodiment of themes and concepts in any story. A ranger in the park is not just a man with a badge and a gun, he can also represent man's noble attempt to protect and conserve nature's sacred habitats. A soldier is not just a man with a gun, he is the protector of his home and his people. A thief is not just a man who steals things, he can be the representative of how harsh living in the city is if you do not have a proper education. The same thief can also be a representation of a person who chooses not to walk the light side of life.

A character is not just what a person is. How a person acts or performs is also an indication of personality and representation. A teacher who spends more time ogling at school girls is a creepy pedophile waiting to strike. A teacher who regularly conducts home visits and wins over the hearts and minds of his students becomes more than a teacher, he can become a parent, brother and friend.

Characters are important then because a well created one can really flesh out your story. A flat character is not by any means inferior. A character who is out and out bad makes the contrast with a real primary character even more striking. And for short stories, flat characters are fine if your main character isn't as flat.

This brings us to the topic of Protagonists and Antagonists.

Protagonists are primary characters that lead a plot from start to finish. They need not be heroes and villains are more often Antagonists than Protagonists. However, depending on your story, this can be changed.

Antagonists are counterparts to the Protagonists. They are usually characters who provide situations and events or even entire plots in a story.

Usually, and especially in exam situations, this is irrelevant to your interests (the protagonist & antagonist thingy) but I think its a nice touch to touch on them abit.

Plot

Two types of plot. Short situations and an overarching scheme.

Short situations are very different from events. Because events can occur before, during, or after the situation. A fire before, during and after a birthday party is a situation, the birthday party is an event. Be very clear about this.

A situation is a short event that the characters need to react and deal with. This provides a platform for greater interaction. Supposedly the characters meet at a birthday party, and the hired clown comes in who happens to be a robber in disguise. The birthday party (an event as the setting) suddenly becomes a robbery situation (a short situation) where the characters need to get through safely (becomes a plot).

A plot is the overarching scheme of things. This is usually the whole chain of situations with a specific goal/purpose/moral/theme in mind.

Those who like to create complicated situations and plots can mix and match. This again takes extra time to write because it requires more data to match them all up. In an exam situation, unless you're already a writing buff (like me back then) you usually don't have time to do this.

The question on the question paper usually covers an event, location, short situation or plot and sometimes character/s. 'A day in the park' usually means an event and a location is provided and you fill in the characters and situation/plot. 'I will never trust him again' contains a character and the plot, you need to come up with the rest . 'My father' is a type of question where the focus is on character development. The plot would involve introducing a stage by stage presentation of a single character, very commonly through a series of short situations and major events. Plot is pretty much non-existent here.

This is why you need to pay close attention to the question and follow it. Don't be a stubborn fool and insist on writing your own story regardless of whether it follows the question well or not. Your marks depend on this. Do the smart thing and follow what the question needs.

Bringing them together

Here's the very simple formula.

Characters in a Place doing Something.

Character - Setting - Plot.

Take a good look at every piece of fiction you've read, heard and watched. It is always a series of people doing something at a particular place.

Hell even Hentai consists of characters doing something at a place.

Remember this formula, build up from there and you'll have a compact short story.

Finishing it off

Now you have characters at a place doing something, how do you end it satisfyingly?

Have a resolution in mind. Take note of the questions set for you. The answer is usually there. If its a walk in a park, you usually conclude by going home and some inner voice concluding how enjoyable, or what thoughts were provoked and the conclusion to those thoughts reached etc etc. (Optional: You could also end with being robbed and stabbed and left bleeding and dying in broad daylight. If you're into that sort of thing and the question perimeters do allow that, by all means )

If its like "My Father" conclude with some words of affirmation or affection as a conclusion. Or conclude your analysis of the character.

Tips!

Some of you might not be convinced. "Maybe Lancelot's guide is not good enough/complete" it sure as hell could be. Typing this at work does not leave alot of time for planning.

Go read a book. Find a book that's a collection of short stories. Read those stories. See how they set it up, who the characters are, how the plot/situations are introduced, acted upon and resolved. See how they conclude the story. These are skills that the writers have developed through practice in order to end up being good enough to be published. If you can find a style of your own, all the better. If not, use the simple formula above and you should do fine.

PLAN BEFORE YOU WRITE!!!

I notice that people love to start scratching their papers the moment the examiner announces that its time to start the paper. DON'T DO IT.

Take your time, read the questions, PLAN your composition. Have a rough skeleton, then flesh it out. Get an introduction and conclusion ready, fill in the middle. When you are satisfied, write it out.

If you dive into a story without thinking, you're bound to hit a few snags and walls that will totally throw you off. You might end up with something totally wrong and realize you wasted a page or two and that time spent is lost forever.

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Last edited by Lancelot; 4th July 2010 at 01:20 PM.
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Old 4th July 2010, 01:11 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

This is really helpful since most of us are doing narrative writing

At first, i didn't realise i had mistakes; left out certain important elaboration in my story.

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Old 4th July 2010, 01:24 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

With proper planning that can be avoided.

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Old 4th July 2010, 01:33 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

Thanks alot!!

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Old 26th August 2010, 06:37 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

I received feedbacks on my essay.

My teacher told me to vary my sentence structure.
What does he mean by "complex sentences" ?


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Old 24th September 2010, 08:51 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

I wish to add some stuff (:

Well imo narratives are more to the aesthetic side, so it is important to bring the reader with the "logical approach" and the "emotional approach" simultaneously from the start of the essay to the end.

The ones that are especially good have good literacy techniques such as well-paced foreshadowing, emotional triggers, anchoring techniques...

One thing I really find works is "contrast".
This is commonly found in "plot twists", "emotional fluctuations" evident in narratives and fast-paced sequences in the stories.

I really think adrenaline-pacing is important especially for the less-linguistically inclined writer. If done well enough it can even pull up marks to near full marks.



@Believee:
He may have meant run-off sentences. which mean extremely long sentences that have so many clauses in it that it gives an uncomfortable feeling to the reader. hahah
Otherwise you may have rigid writing style, for example: object-verb-subject.

I suggest you research on clause structures such as transitivity, mood or thematic structures. It gives you a selection of different ways to write the same sentence.

You could learn shifting around from passive to active styles once in a while to learn different sentence forms, perhaps inject explicit markers of circumstantial meanings like when,while, though, if, before, after, since...
you should try reducing any pseudo-intransitives as well

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Old 19th July 2011, 10:35 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

Hi! Could you have a quick glance at this composition I wrote? Thanks!
Theme : A Friendship Worth Treasuring.
Today was unlike any other school days, except for the fact, we were going to Tampines Stadium as it was sports day. I met up with my friends at the usual interchange and headed for the Stadium which was within walking distance. As we arrived to the stadiums, the event were beginning to take place, starting from the first race which was the hundred meters race. Next up, two hundred and after awhile more, four hundred meters, finally, I thought to myself, it was my time to shine for my class.
I stretched my body and began to warm up. At the blow of the horn, I dashed off with all I got and began to sprint after the hundred meters point, during the two hundred meters point, I felt a sharp pain located at my calve which caused me to fall down and lost my position as first, but suddenly, the person who sprinted pass me, stopped and ran back. She dashed towards me and asked me if I was alright. After a few minutes, people began dashing pass us, ignoring the fact that I had fallen. Suddenly, a teacher began to rush over and rush over and asked me what had happened, I complain of pain on my calve. The teacher suspected me of having cramp and brought me on a stretcher to the nearest first aid post. The person who was supposed to get first, Mireille, accompanied me to the first aid post despite the teacher's countless nagging of asking her to finish the race. She told the teacher with a straight face.
" How do you expect me to be so heartless and complete the race when Lorina is injured? I would rather be disqualified than watch her get disqualified all by herself just by falling in the middle of the race which was unpredictable. "
I stared at her with teary eyes and unknowingly, tears began to stream down my face, my face turned red and I hugged her. Thanking her. It might be a stupid thing she did, but to me, she was my idol, my hero, the type of person that had a strong sportsmanship, despite thinking of herself, she actually thinks of others first. Despite the knowing the fact that she would get disqualified, she still stood by my side.
It might be the two of our secrets, but I would be glad to let you in with us, we are currently best friends and our friendship is worthy. I would never trade our friendship for even a million bucks! To others, we might not last, but deep in our hearts, there is a part of us which are connected.

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Old 10th January 2012, 11:21 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Short Story, Narrative, Fiction Writing Guide

Hi, I think you should spend a few more sentences in trying to introduce the main character to the reader, such as establishing her identity, her purpose of going to the stadium and things like that. I felt that you were rushing in too quickly into the main event and each sentence was just action after action. It started to become mundane and somewhat predictable. Since the story is told in first-person, perhaps you can try to add in some emotional feelings when she fell down. Describe her emotions, or wound in her leg, people around her, things like that.

Several grammatical errors seen and incorrect use of connecting words (e.g. despite). Work on it, best of luck!

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