By Leonard Nash
(My March 2013 contribution to the From the Masters series on Bridle Path Press)
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
You’ve written a short story, reread it once or twice, trimmed some words here and there, run a spellcheck, and you’re feeling confident. So you share this new masterpiece with your writing workshop, and a week later, the participants tear it apart. Or maybe your story is rejected by one literary magazine after another. There are no magic answers, but allow me to offer a few suggestions, by no means a complete list, and in no particular order. Much of it might sound familiar. That’s OK. Sometimes we need reminding.
1: When I approach a short story (or a novel), I want the author to grab me by the lapels, pull me in close, get in my face, and tell me (better yet, show me) a story. As early as the first word, suggest urgency, trouble, momentum, movement, conflict, fragility—some threat to the status quo. Suggest that something is out of kilter.
Here’s the first line of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “Tom!”
One word, and already that boy’s in trouble.
2: By your thirtieth birthday, you’ve lived some 10,950 days, plus a handful of “leap days.” How many do you remember? Explore the days in your central character’s life that changed everything, or at least, something. If your character won’t remember this day, why will we remember your story?