Short Story Writing Workshop – Day 1

I’m at it again! Today starts my self-generated Short Story Writing Workshop, for the next 4 days, and I hope at the end of it I’ve got a finished short story. As with my Spring Forward Writing Workshop in May, I’ve designed the workshop for myself, and each day I’ll post that day’s agenda and a progress report.

Short Story Writing Workshop

August 13 – 16, 2010


A good story, well written

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  ~Sylvia Plath

How do we give a story shape and meaning so that it re-creates in the reader something of the power and passion of its creation in us? We need the judgment that comes from a mixture of emotional commitment and detached vision. We also need patience, stamina and technical skill. It is the combination of these which closes the gap between the two realities, and like most skills, they are not given to us in any sudden or spectacular way. We earn them over years of effort. I do not agree with those who say it is the function of the short-story writer to illuminate and interpret. The writer has no function except to write, and stories usually come without any conscious intention. But in effect the short story does illuminate, does interpret. Like the beam of a torch on a darkened wall, it selects a small area and defines it with such clarity that the reader experiences the simultaneous thrills of recognition and discovery. –Joy Crowley, The Writer, September 1980, quoted in The Writer, September, 2010

There is purpose in every aspect of a short story. Nothing is there just for fun, nothing is dropped in willy-nilly. No matter how easy it appears or how fun it reads, there is a reason behind every scene, every detail of setting, character, and plot. The short story has unique form and purpose. At its heart resides singularity, and beneath its polished surface lies the calculation of the creative mind.

When pen touches paper, fingertips touch keyboard, intent and purpose are there, otherwise, why are you writing?

The purpose of this Workshop is to delve a little deeper into the art of writing the short story, particularly the genre short story because the creation of a genre short story requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. It also requires strong characterization, compelling dialogue, and the mesmerizing energy of plot.

In Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway states: “… a short story can waste no words. It can deal with only one or a very few consciousnesses. It may recount only one central action and one major change or effect in the life of the central character or characters. It can afford no digression that does not directly affect the action. A short story strives for a single emotional impact and imparts a single understanding, though both impact and understanding may be complex. The virtue of a short story is its density. If it is tight, sharp, economic, well knit, and charged, then it is a good short story because it has exploited a central attribute of the form–that it is short.”

The Workshop will focus each day on a specific aspect of writing, and with the aim of honing craft techniques. The goal is to eliminate writing weaknesses, improve writing skills, and develop a better understanding of the short story form.

A good story, well written, is a not only a joy to read, but there is joy in the making as well.


Writing, I think, is not apart from living.  Writing is a kind of double living.  The writer experiences everything twice.  Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.  ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957

7:00 am Breakfast

8:00 am Inspirational Reading – Plot, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Workshop 1 – PLOT & STRUCTURE                          8:30 am – 12:00 pm

Assigned Reading – Chapter 2, Conflict, Crisis, and Resolution, Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway

Short Story: The God-Clown Is Near, Jay Lake (Genre: Steampunk)

Short Story:  Exit Facilitator, Peter Caunt (Speculative Fiction)

  • After reading the story, summarize the plot in one sentence.
  • What is the central conflict, the crisis (climax), and the resolution?
  • What complication(s) of the central conflict lead to the crisis?
  • What is the turning point in the crisis that leads to the resolution?
  • How is the situation at the end of the story a reversal of that at the beginning?
  • Is the action dramatized?

12:00 pm       Lunch

Writing Your Short Story                                          1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Consider the short story you’re writing and answer the 6 questions above. If you’re not able to answer all 6, take the time to develop your short story further.