This past weekend I read Joe Bunting’s new release, Let’s Write a Short Story. You can read about it here: http://letswriteashortstory.com. In the book, Joe challenges those interested in writing short stories to read them and learn from them, to see what the author did that worked. If you have any interest in writing a short story, you should grab his book.
The book has some instruction that applies to the everyday reader, too, though. What follows is an attempt to use the message from Joe’s book to create a short story worksheet. I offer an application below to test the worksheet out. I chose to dissect Andrew Blackman’s “Nights on Fair Isle” which you can find at Solqu Shorts for free. Please remember this is only my interpretation and yours may be very different.
I’d highly recommend you read Andrew’s story before reading any further because my application of the worksheet may contain story spoiling details. Andrew is a contributor here, so if you enjoy his story you should consider leaving a note or giving it a rating
Here is my use of that worksheet on Andrew’s beautiful story:
Short Story Worksheet: Nights on Fair Isle by Andrew Blackman published at Solqu Shorts.
1. Who is the main character?
Aurelia – a young woman who’s just moved to London from a foreign country.
2. What is that character’s desire or decision? What do they want? What do they do to get it?
She wants a better life, but she misses her home, her family. She uses the spell cast by the shipping forecast to remember her mother, her family, and the stories her mother used to tell.
The story she remembers, the one her mother told her, makes us think she is called to something more than what she can have at home, but she misses home.
3. Who or what comes in conflict with the main character? How does that person, place, or thing work to frustrate the main character’s desire or decision?
The sharp sting of alcohol carried in by her real surroundings. Reality frustrates her dreams, her memories.
4. How does the main character change? How is he/she transformed by his/her desire or decision and the associated conflict?
She could refuse to abandon her memory, stop clinging to it, and she almost does, but at the end of the story we find her reciting the shipping forecast under the covers, blocking out reality.
5. Does the character succeed or fail?
She succeeds in submitting to the spell of the shipping forecast, but we get the feeling it is only temporary.
She refuses to completely submit to the story her mother used to tell her which has a happy ending.
6. How does the author open the story?
The author opens the story with an excerpt from the shipping forecast and the words “falling slowly.” It’s a very unique way to open a story.
7. How does the author introduce the main character?
The main character is introduced as liking the phrase “falling slowly.” She remains associated with it, and the shipping forecast, throughout the story.
8. What is the story’s mood?
I feel a longing when I read this story.
9. How does the story end?
Like it began, with an excerpt from the shipping forecast. The shipping forecast provides a nice bookend effect.
10. What tense is the story told in?
The story invokes past, present, and future tenses.
The Writer’s Tools: Cite an example of the author’s use of Action, Dialogue, Description, Inner Monologue, and Exposition/Narrative.
“An icy draught from the window jolts Aurelia, and she sits up slightly on her elbows and looks out at the sky, the clouds a strange milky orange that still strikes her as unreal.”
“She asked other people in the house: they laughed at her. ‘This is a godless place,’ they said. ‘There are no nightly prayers.’”
“The images of candles and incense have gone, replaced by ships bobbing on darkened seas, bearded captains listening by lamplight to the nightly incantations, perhaps jotting down in an old logbook: ‘Fair Isle, 985, falling slowly.’”
4. Inner Monologue.
“It reminds her of the stories of the sea that her mother used to tell her, sweet lullabies whispered into the darkness so softly that they chased away the shadows and the fears. Some nights, listening to the shipping forecast, she seems to smell her mother’s lavender perfume but, before she can quite be sure of what it is, a draught of icy London air from the ill-fitted window snuffs it out.”
“She thinks of the sea again, the vast, dark sea with lone boats listening to the shipping forecast, and it buoys her for another few minutes, each of them precious. So much of her time she sells to others for a pittance; this time is hers alone. She imagines one of those lone boats coming for her, sailing across the ocean, up the English Channel, into the mouth of the Thames and somehow finding her in the morass of London, plucking her up and taking her away.”
5. Exposition / Narrative.
“She first heard the shipping forecast by accident.”
“For a long time she believed it was a nightly prayer.”