Here’s how I wrote my first short story:
1. I came up with five story ideas by looking at various objects around the room. One was a photo of a group of bridesmaids at a wedding (I was one of them). I thought, perfect. A bridesmaid wrecks a wedding. What a story.
2. I put the list of five topics – all engaging, all suspenseful – aside for a day.
3. I did a version of eenie-meenie (in which I use letters from a word I come up with to pick an answer, like p-a-r-r-o-t) to choose which topic I would actually write about. The first topic about a bridesmaid got chosen. I reread all five topics. All were now ridiculous, trivial. But now I had a challenge: make this shit into a story.
4. I wrote down five questions to ask myself to figure out who my main character was. I made up a name of someone I thought sounded like a bridesmaid (though I’ve been a bridesmaid, and it’s not my name).
- What is Kylie’s biggest fear?
- What does Kylie have to lose?
- What does Kylie have to gain?
- Whose support does Kylie need?
- Why does Kylie do what she does?
(from fashionox.com. I think I wrote a story about the one behind the one on the left, the only bridesmaid you can’t see.)
5. I only answered one of these questions because I tried to do it with my left hand (my new friend ElJean, an excellent writer, taught me this exercise). The left hand is supposed to be your more honest hand. It took so long to scrawl down the answer that I was overcome with energy and momentum to tell Kylie’s story legibly.
6. I changed pages and wrote down in sequence a series of statements about Kylie, about the other characters in the story, about what Kylie does and what the story does.
7. I put that aside because I had to go eat or something. I was excited. I put flashcards into my notebook at that page as though I was later going to make scenes on the flashcards (something I learned last week and subsequently blogged about three days ago).
8. I went out for a drink with a friend and came home with a beer and a story in my head. I hadn’t thought an ounce about Kylie but I had let the story sit for a day and think itself up. I opened my computer and a Word document from yesterday pre-emptively titled “Bridesmaid” (it sits next to the Word document from the previous day pre-emptively and confidently titled “Vancouver Writers Festival Short Story Contest” – okay, it’s titled VAnWRContest).
9. I wrote the goddamned story! All of it! It’s about 1,600 words and I think it’s beautiful and exciting and moving and has touched upon something all people or all bridesmaids have felt.
10. The tenth step hasn’t happened yet. It will be to read it. I plan to wait a few days. If anything of this list holds up, it’s that stories/ideas get stronger when you let them sit, but they also appear more stupid. I hope to return to the story with a look of disdain on my face but also a really good story somewhere in my left hand.