Friday, March 21, 2014

Thinking About a Short Story Game

I don't have a game for you this week.  (Well, maybe some little ones down at the bottom of the post.)  But I'm thinking about a new one:

David commented a few weeks ago that he had been dubious of the game, but was thinking about creating one for writing short stories.

The games I've been coming up with so far have been a little too elaborate for that.  As a matter of fact, even though I created the Situation Game with the hope of writing long novelettes, the stories have been coming out novella length. Or even as short novels.

Which kind of sucks because the original reason I created the game was to get through the writing fast while the story was still hot in my head.

In the meantime, I've been trying to write more flash fiction lately.  A group of us on KBoards want to do an anthology this summer of stories no more than 1000 words.  Usually that isn't a problem for me, but this month I've been coming up with lots of ideas for stories which look like they'll be best at 1500 words or 2000 words. 

But I also want to start submitting to traditional magazines again, so a few extra short-but-not-too-short stories would not be bad to have around.

So a writing game for short fiction would not be a bad idea.

Back to Lester Dent

I mentioned Lester Dent's pulp fiction formula when I gave you a little preview on plotting and talked about the Maverick model of plot.

Dent's formula was designed specifically for short fiction -- 6000 word pulp stories, in particular.  This was divided into four 1500 word acts. (Here is a page with Dent's Actual Formula as written by him.)

So the first step in a short story game might be to take his formula and create wheels of choices for it.  Just for grins, see what kind of stories you'd come up with. 

The problem, of course, is that such stories aren't so popular today, and maybe you aren't interested in writing those classic hard-boiled pulp stories anyway.  Today these stories are appealing on a different level than they were, and they have a different emphasis to please the audience.

So you'd have to adapt it.  But it is a starting place.

Not So Structured Games

Fr me, the best "game" for a short story has always been a writing prompt.  Take a dictionary and flip it open to a random page, and stab your finger at a random word. Write it down. Then chose a second word the same way.

There.  You have a story prompt.

(At least we did back in the day of paper dictionaries.  Not sure how to do this with electronic dictionaries.)

Some of my favorite stories were written because I was sitting in Taco Bell, with time on my hands, and I just looked around and said "Write a story about THAT."   The Enchanted Tree started that way. So did the more recent story Flat Crossing.  (There was a tree outside the one time, and my current Taco Bell is right next to the railroad tracks.)

Very short stories are often "one idea" stories anyway.  You set them up, explore them, bring it to a head and then reveal them. 

One of the things I've wanted to do in terms of this kind of "story game" is to take a Table of Contents from an old novel on Project Gutenberg, and then write a short story or vignette from each of the chapter titles.  And then maybe publishing the collection.

The one problem with doing something like this is that stories created this way tend to vary a lot in tone, genre and style.  So they might not make a good collection, but it could definitely be a fun exercise that would produce some interesting stories.

One solution to this would be to combine something like the Lester Dent approach with  interesting writing prompts.  Maybe come up with some rules on the kinds of stories you want to write before thinking about the prompt.

The problem with THAT is that you could shut down the thing that makes it the most fun.  Of course, one alternate exercise: Take one prompt -- a dictionary exercise, or an object, or one weird old chapter title -- and write several different stories from the same prompt.  A romance, a ghost story, a hard-boiled pulp fiction story.

That's all for this week.  Posting will be irregular for a little bit, as I figure out what I'm going to do with the plotting series.  (I have changed my mind about completely dropping what I was doing. I will at least finish up that last post -- which was really the first half of a post.)

I've got a few other things up my sleeve for you guys too.

See you in the funny papers.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

To me, short fiction is *so* much harder than long fiction. I enjoy reading them, but really don't have the knack for writing them. Especially for mysteries.

I think the Table of Contents from an old book would make for some really cool story prompts.

The Daring Novelist said...

It definitely takes practice to write short fiction. And a full, clue-based mystery is really hard. Mostly mystery short fiction is some kind of crime or twist story.

I'm thinking more and more about that TOC idea -- maybe throwing in some random elements from one of my story wheels - like the Wheel of Crimes.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. Thanks for posting!

I also am leaning towards writing a bunch of flash or short fiction, mostly because I just spent years writing my first novel.

In the arts (I do painting, too, by the way) there's a common story about a talent-developing exercise. A sculpting teacher assigned a different task to two different classes. One class received instructions to spend an entire semester perfection on vase; the other class did a new vase every single day. At the end of the semester the class that did new vases every performed each vase at a superior level to the class that was still finishing up its first.

There's something to be said about rapid creativity.

The Daring Novelist said...


I also think variety is important. Back in Life Drawing classes, we used to start a session with 2-minute gesture drawings before we went on to longer drawings. It was a great warm up, but it also meant we had a bunch of fast and fun _works_.