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How to Write Short – A Simple Method for Writing More

One of the most common questions new writers ask is, “How can I write better?” Inventories, synopses, and overviews are all very well, but they don’t offer much in the way of engaging the reader. Many writers want to know how to write a short story, essay, or poem and how to make it better. While getting a better sense of technique and finding inspiration are necessary for any artist, they shouldn’t be the sole focus of your efforts. Instead, you should be aiming to create something that is both memorable and unique. In this article, we will discuss some of the general principles behind creating engaging short fiction.

Use Archetypes

Writing is all about making connections. One of the best ways to do this is to use archetypes. An archetype is a stock character or narrative construct that shows up in lots of stories and carries with it certain expectations. The classic examples of archetypes are Sherlock Holmes and the villain of the piece. Sherlock Holmes is a stock character in fiction, appearing in dozens of stories and publications. The stories feature him using his extraordinary intellect and logical reasoning to solve crimes and outwit his opponents. The villain is a stock character as well, appearing in countless stories across all media. His traits are typically heroic, as he often fights to save the world or to avenge his family. The interesting thing about these two fictional characters is that they appear in almost every story, and their presence is almost always felt through some kind of foreshadowing or allusion. For example, in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” one of Sherlock Holmes’ first cases after returning from the United States where he learned new methods of inquiry, the great detective is asked to investigate a strange series of events at a Bohemian Club. The author, Arthur Conan Doyle, presents the reader with a mystery and allusions to the Sherlock Holmes stories in the process of unfolding the plot. The same can be said for the villain as well. In this story, the Bohemian Club is a kind of gentlemen’s club for artists and academics in London. In “The Valley of Fear,” another story from the Sherlock Holmes canon, the great detective is hired to find meaning in the sinister words of the sinister Charles Augustus Milverton. The entire story can be read as a direct reference to the crimes of the recently-arrested and incarcerated Jack the Ripper. The reference to Ripper is made clear in the very first paragraph, when Holmes says he is “somewhat puzzled” as to why the police have not taken the matter more seriously, but then he goes on to explain that Milverton is a “specialist in criminal investigation” and an “adept in the use of words as weapons.” The great detective’s work in this story is to find the right word in the right place at the right time. In this case, Milverton is using words to destroy the character of Sir George Hastings, a well-loved police commissioner who was viciously attacked by a criminal known only as ‘Jack the Ripper’. That this is a reference to one of the most infamous serial killers in history is a testament to the power of words in fiction and how easily they can be used to create an illusion of reality. In the end, Holmes solves the case by proving that the Ripper was indeed a member of the Bohemian Club and that he was after Sir George specifically because he was opposed to the commissioner’s politics. Milverton, in fact, goes on to state that “there is no greater prize than to see a man driven out of his depth” and that “it is often the small details that reveal the truth.” Through this unique combination of allusions to other stories and clever wordplay, Doyle is able to subtly hint at the fact that this is essentially a retelling of the Jack the Ripper story in a new setting and with new characters, but that the underlying facts of the case have not changed. The genius of Conan Doyle’s writing is that it is obvious what the author is doing, but the reader is compelled to go along for the ride because of the sheer power of the writing and the ingenious way it is structured. The same can be said for Sherlock Holmes. Without taking away anything from Arthur Conan Doyle’s original creation, here is a character who is the very definition of a genius at noticing patterns and making connections. For this reason, he is often credited with reinventing the detective story.

Archetypes can be used in nearly every genre, including speculative fiction. For example, in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” a post-apocalyptic tale set several years after a plague has reduced the world’s population to a few thousand, a group of humans and apes have to put their differences aside and work together to survive. Like many other speculative fiction stories, “Apes” makes extensive use of archetypes. The main character is the last surviving male chimp—named Richard Wimmerman—who is a combination of a savior and a messiah. He is revered by his tribe for his strength and ferocity but has become somewhat of a nuisance to himself. When the story opens, Wimmerman has taken it upon himself to lead the apes in a revolt against the human survivors who have enslaved them. He wants to restore civilization and order to the world, which he sees as a threat to all life, not just that of the apes. This is a classic confrontation between good and evil, with one side advocating peace and the other side advocating violence. Like the two adversaries in this story, you have the noble savage versus the civilized man. This is a classic battle between the ‘primitive’ and the ‘modern’ races, with the humans on the side of the ‘civilization’ and the apes, as expected, on the side of the ‘wilderness.’ The interesting thing about this particular story is that it was written before the end of World War II. The apes, including Wimmerman, are clearly a symbol of the Germans, while the humans are clearly associated with the Allies. (Though the Nazis did not lose the war, their efforts certainly did not achieve the positive results they were aiming for.)

Whether or not you think of yourself as a writer of speculative fiction, you should be using archetypes in your own writing. An archetypic character can help you create a consistent, detailed world for your readers to live in, while also providing you with endless possibilities for stories and settings. The trick is to find the right archetype for the role you are playing in your story. If you are a villain, perhaps you should choose a villainous archetype, like the Joker or the Wolfman. Perhaps you are playing a more heroic role and want to portray someone with a stronger moral code, like Sherlock Holmes. Whatever your role is, choosing an archetype will help you achieve a more authentic experience for your readers because it will help them identify with your character and the story you are telling. Plus, it will make it easier to locate quotes and allusions when you are writing. If you want your readers to truly experience something unique and special, the best thing you can do for them is to give them an authentic portrayal of a character they can relate to. That way, their only desire is to read as much as they can to find out what happens next.

Avoiding Plots That Aren’t Going to Pay Off

Any good story worth its salt has to have a conflict that is central to the narrative. This conflict can take on many forms, from a simple fight scene to several hours of continuous conflict. The more interesting the conflict, the more interesting the narrative. It is only through conflict that characters can develop and change and the plot can progress. For instance, in the film “Shakespeare in Love,” the lead character, William Shakespeare, is in love with a woman, who does not return his affection. So, he writes and directs plays in an attempt to win her heart. The conflict in this case is mainly between Shakespeare and the other characters—including his rival, Christopher Marlowe—who do not want him to pursue this woman. The story revolves around this central theme and the many conflicts that arise from it. While the narrative is interesting and the characters are well-developed, it does not necessarily have to do with romance. This is something that can be fun to explore but is not the only way to interpret the story. The same is true for “Moonlight,” the classic film that won multiple Oscars, including Best Picture. While it is a very romantic story about a young girl discovering her feelings for a transgender boy, it is also about economic and racial inequality. Because of these themes, many viewers have connected with it on a personal level. It’s a powerful film, both romantically and artistically, but it also has something to say about society at large—especially with regard to the treatment of the LGBTQ community and people of color.