A short story is a compact wonderful thing. It is supposed to make the reader feel a strange sense of wonder. There are a bunch of amazing short stories out there, but there will also be a space for yours, if you can make your reader truly feel that strange sense of wonder.
For a short story to be successful there has to be a profound change. Our lives are stories of changes. We are born. We die. We change senses. We change our minds. We change our clothes. We change levels. Something has to change in the story you are writing. The more major and unpredictable the change is, the better the sense of wonder.
Short story should have word economy. It should be able to convey as much meaning as possible. And this must be neatly done –else, it becomes a burden to the reader.
A good short story should flow and show. If you spend so much time describing to your readers, you will leave them with roadblocks and no story. When you show, your readers experience and absorb your story.
There is a certain form of erasure of groups that do not belong to the mainstreams in Nigeria and other parts of the world. There is no one-way to being human. Humanity is complex. Showing complexity and difference in your work matters. Write the marginal in with dignity. But don’t be preachy about it.
As a writer, assume no default identity. Rise above preconceived notions and unbridled traditional beliefs. There are no fixed restrictions as to what should be or not be. Always be on the verge of saying something new. Work against stereotypes.
Don’t italicize or explain Nigerian words for the West. You are not trying to beg people to like your culture. Your indigenous words aren’t exotic. Exhaust materials peculiar to your culture— folktales, songs, riddles, proverbs and so on. Enrich your works with these things. Your experience is worthy of representation.
Context is the ecosystem of your story. Context matters, it comprises things like background, circumstances & settings . It adds believability to your piece. Always check with context of your story.
Intent and Language
Your intent is the ocean wave that carries your words. It is the guiding spirit of the story. It is the energy behind each word, the feeling. If your intent is to create a love story let it be clearly felt by the reader. Be intentional.
Favour Language simplicity. Don’t rely on heavy or complicated language to tell your story. Rely on yourself as an artist. Build a confident voice (and you do this by continuous writing practices and of course, reading).
Characters are different people. The way they talk should mirror their differences. Your characters shouldn’t speak like you. Study the cadence of people.
For example, assertive people talk with curt and short sentences or long rants.
Less self-assured or nervous people beat around the bush or ramble.
Never enter into a writing project without absorbing sounds of various kinds of people.
Humanize your story with names, profound names. Let diversity and colour richly show in the names you give to your characters. Often times, writers make the mistake to think if we give our characters indigenous names, readers will not remember them. The irony is that such names make them more memorable Remember Ralia, the sugar girl? Ali and Simbi? Who can ever forget Ifemelu or Okonkwo or Jagua Nana?
Titling the Short Story
Your title may cast an informing light on the story but should not give it away. You could get a title from when a major change occurs in the story.
If the essence of your story cannot be contained in its first and second paragraphs then let it be contained in the title.
To read is to think and to think clearly is to write wonderfully. It opens and renews the mind. Reading gives you more words, more ideas and consciousnesses.
When you read, you add heft to your voice. You know what is true to you. You know what is not.
Read widely. Don’t look down on any genre.
Have an acute consciousness. Read and absorb your environment. Be aware.
On Caring for Your Creative Health
- Be kind to your mind.
- Don’t let rejection letters get to you.
- Remove market pressure from your worktable.
- Don’t do it for prizes or for validation. Do it for you.
- Write at your pace.
- Control your work.
- Be in charge of the process.
- Be in charge of how much of yourself you put into your work.
- Network with friends.
- Have a support system that will insulate you from dark moods.
- Be deliberate about the environments you expose your mind to.
- Some environments will never be good for you as an artist.
- Don’t disappear into the world you are trying to create on paper.
- Create time to stretch out.
- Remove yourself from your manuscript once in a while, and seek out psychical spaces that are new to you.
- Travelling is very essential to the craft. Travel out of your experience and embody other consciousnesses.
- Don’t conform. Find your own formula. Don’t let how any writer writes to be your absolute way.
- You may experience the imposter syndrome sometimes. You may feel you are not worthy of the attention you receive. You do, and you deserve even more.