How do you create a good title? So much has been written about this. Good ones stay with you for ever. I love Raymond Carver’s famous short story title, which is also the title of one of his collections, “What we talk about when we talk about love.” Gordon Lish, his editor, retitled it “I Am Going to Sit Down.” but thankfully, it was never published in that version.
There’s a fun thing I saw recently somewhere online, which suggested writing bad versions of famous titles of novels and short stories. For example, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ could be ‘The Fruits of Anger’. Worse, another Steinbeck novel. ‘Of Mice and Men’ could be translated into ‘Of Rodents and Males.”What about ‘Offspring and Their Romantic Partners’? Or ‘Fondness in the Season of the Plague’. Silly, but useful to study the originals and see how they work. Is it the weight of the words, or what they encompass about the book. Is it the rhythm or the length of the title?
Some of the most used titles for short stories are ‘The Gift’, ‘Dust’, ‘Flight’.”Lost and Found’, ‘Memories’, ‘Skin.’ We have had several entries with these titles at Bath Short Story Award. One year we had two stories on the short list titled ‘Flight’. They were good stories, but different titles could have reflected something else in the piece and may have made them even stronger.
Maybe the words in the picture on this post could inspire a short story. Or a title?
So before you send in your entry, check your title. Does it enhance your story? Could you extend or contract it? Is it a cliche or overused? Have fun making title revisions. And remember, we close in two weeks on 1st May.
BSSA team member, Jude, April 2017.
Bath Short Story Award 2017 ends on May 1st, but you’ve still time to write and enter your up to 2200 word story.
Unless you are able to practice lucid dreaming, you can’t control your dreams and they’re good story material as a result, often taking unusual angles on well-worn themes or offering you something wonderfully surreal. Steven King apparently dreamed the whole plot of ‘Misery’ – remember the plot about the author captured by a female psychopath?
In dreams, events unfold in ways you might not have imagined. Interestingly, they often fall into three acts, like a fairy tale.
Have you remembered a dream recently? If so, write it down and see if it has three scenes, a beginning middle and end. What is the crisis point in this dream? What is the resolution? If you can only remember a fragment of a dream, treat it like a prompt. Take a word, a dream character or an atmosphere from your dream memory and get writing.
Want to try out more ways of turning dreams into fiction after this year’s Bath Short Story Award is over on May 1st? Come to the first ever Festival entirely devoted to Flash Fiction in Bath on 24/25th June in Bath. Jude, one of our BSSA team members is the director of the festival. She’s running an early morning Dream Breakfast on the Sunday morning of the festival. Coffee and croissants provided. Here, you’ll be able to try out other ways of creating a short-short story from your dream or dream fragment.
All the major players in the Flash Fiction world ,UK will be at the festival running workshops to get you to try out different ways of approaching short short fiction. And we’ve just learned that a distinguished International Guest – renowned short story, flash fiction writer and teacher, Pamela Painter from the USA is coming to teach and read. There are also, talks, a book launch an evening of readings, a festival-long contest and more. Do come! flashfictionfestival.com
In most short story contests, filter judges say they see a lot of stories on similar subjects – relationship break downs feature strongly in their many different forms. Affairs, death of a hated partner by nefarious means, abuse. I don’t think we’ve seen many road -trip stories at Bath Short Story Award. These feature strongly in films of course. Thelma and Louise is a famous example. You can’t fit too many road-trip events into a short story of 2200 words or less, but you could include a vehicle as a setting and see where that takes you. Colin Barrett, a short story writer our judge Euan Thorneycroft likes very much, writes a great description of the inside of a car at the beginning of Calm With Horses, a wonderful story from his prize winning debut collection Young Skins (Vintage Books, 2014). This car doesn’t feature as a major player in the story, but it does show much about some of the characters.
“The car was orginally Dympna’s Uncle Hector’s, a battered cranberry Corolla Dympna labelled the shit box, its interior upholstered in tan vinyl that stank of motor oil, cigarette ash and dog. Recessed into the dash was a dead radio, its cassette tape slot jammed with calcified gobs of blue-tack, butt-ends and pre-euro-era Irish coins. The dash smelled of fused electricals. Above Arm’s head, a row of memorial cards, their laminate covers wilted by age and light, were tucked into a sun visor and a red-beaded rosary chain was tangled around the inverted T of the rear-view mirror.”
So why not write about a car of your acquaintance past or present. Create a fiction around it. Remember its smells and its quirks. That car could take your story on a road trip you never expected.
Jude. March, 2017.
List of those not buying cards and/or red roses on February 14th:
- Richard the Second (not the one of car park fame) – too busy being murdered in Pontrefact Castle (1399)
- Captain James Cook – also too busy being murdered, but by natives in Hawaii (1799)
- Alexander Fleming – too busy publishing a mouldy old report (1929)
- Al Capone – too busy arranging the massacre of members of a rival gang (also 1929)
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn – too busy being charged with treason, being expelled from Russia and revoking his citizenship (1974)
- Husband Klaus – not too busy, but of the mindset that Valentine’s Day is part of a great Hallmark conspiracy to make him look bad
Those sending cards may well have included the eponymous saint. During his captivity in the 3rd Century A.D., Valentine is alleged to have fallen in love with a young girl to whom, on the night before his execution on February 14th, he sent a card signed, ‘ From your Valentine’. Or Latin words to that effect. Or not?
Legend, the mating habits of birds and Medieval notions of courtly love became so entwined by the 14th Century, that Chaucer in his ‘Parlement of Foules’ wrote
‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make’
( Translation: ‘ For this was on St Valentine’s Day when every bird comes there choose his mate.’)
and, in doing so, sowed the seeds for cellophane bouquets six hundred years later. The first ‘cards’, a love letter and a poem, were written in the 15th Century – one in English, one in French – and are kept in the British Library archives (though not on view). But they are there. Facts. History.
So whatever your associations with February 14th – whether the folklore, historical or contemporary elements most appeal – could you use them as the starting point for a story? And not necessarily about love. Up to 2,200 words by May 1st – get writing! .
BSSA team member and intrepid traveller, Anna Schlesinger tells us about using travel journals to inspire her writing.
During over forty years of travelling around the world, my first trips taking place to Russia and East Germany, followed by Poland and Czechslovakia when they were ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, I have always kept a travel journal. More recently I have explored China and Cambodia, Malawi and Mali and the countries of South America including Chile and Easter Island. I’m planning a trip to the Congo next year.
When I’m home I print out selected photographs as I like to have both pictures and journal side by side to recapture ‘moments’, perhaps thrilling and sometimes frightening.
A travel journal is not a diary. I use it like a companion, storing moments worth remembering: road signs that warn of cassowaries ahead, fishermen standing in their boats dragging nets while one foot steers a pole in the water, a shanty clinging to the side of a volcano or the green eyes of a begging child. I am not denigrating the tourist industry that offers traditional dancing and singing, or festivals that bombard the senses with colour and noise to remind us we are far from home – but there is a more personal side that lies in unexpected moments. In shards of patterned pottery along unexcavated parts of the Silk Route, the flash of a Red Bishop in dark canopies at sundown, lianas curling through spiritual ruins like snakes gaining control, or the footprint of a lion beside a tent in the early morning.
A short story is a journey of the imagination and my journal can be its trigger. It can jog my mind into remembering smells and sounds until I am off on a flight of fancy with people I’ve not met before; characters who have escapades and experiences I’ve not been part of – for their journey is my short story.
Anna Schlesinger, February 2017.