Him/Her

Two Characters:

  • The lady is a tramp. She’s the kind of person that blushes as soon as a man talks to her but that’s only because her imagination is working overtime. She’s imagining what she’s going to do to him when she gets him alone. And that should, ideally, be as soon as possible. She’ll pick on someone that looks relatively cute, although that’s not so much of a necessity, get him talking for a few minutes and then look for an opportunity. Maybe he’ll go to the bathroom. She’ll follow him in. Perhaps he’ll head for the taxi rank. She’ll jump in just as the door is closing. Or possibly she’ll just pick a shady corner of the room and make the most of what he’s got. Raised by wolves? Morals of a shark? The appetite of a rabbit? Whatever. She knows what she likes and she’s going to keep on getting it for as long as she can. Then maybe she’ll settle down, finish her PhD and make herself some real money.
  • He’s the son of a preacher-man. Tight with his wallet and closed with his mind. He’s the kind of guy that goes to the park to unwind, not that he ever gets wound up in the first place. People say that he exudes a zen-like calm. Inside, he’s a maelstrom of emotion, but he tries not to let it show on his face unless he’s at the top of a mountain alone or deep in the forest with only the critters to keep him company. Then he’ll scream. He’ll suck a big chest-full of air inside, engage his vocal cords and then let it out as fast and as powerfully as he can. He’s a big guy and so he can really make some noise. Then he feels more relaxed. When he’s in the city, he’s quieter, but not so easy in his mind. Being jostled is not his thing and so he picks the road least trodden. Bars are not his thing. He’ll do a restaurant if there are not many people in. But mostly, he does his grocery shopping early in the morning, takes the food home and cooks it alone. He inherited a lot of money from his father, who, in turn, embezzled it from the church before he died.

Where they meet:

  • She’s on her way home after a night of drinking and other activities that she never tells him about, so don’t you whisper a word. It’s early in the morning and she’s coming out of the bakery and bagel-cafe with a bag full of bagels as he’s walking in to buy a bag of the same. She’s still a little drunk, although mostly sober by that point, and so she stumbles as she dodges around him, breaks a heel and is about to fall when he catches both her and the bag of bagels. She starts to curse him and then sees that he is genuinely concerned, as well as being ultra-cute, well dressed and rather hunky. He takes all the blame, apologises profusely, sits her down and, against his better judgement, offers to buy her a coffee. She accepts, then has a fit of colic (severe pain in the abdomen caused by wind or obstruction in the intestines).

Obstacles that keep them apart:

  • For a start: she’s a tramp and he’s a loner and so that’s going to lessen their opportunities to want to interact. But that’s not so bad (at first) because there’s an attraction between them and so, initially, they’ll pretend they can make it work.
  • But a problem will arise further down the line when a guy that she had a one-night-stand with shows up. Then another.
  • She reminds him of his mother.
  • He reminds her of her father.

Narrative Viewpoint:

  • Third person based, between sections on his point of view (pov) and her pov. Close style to get inside both their minds.

Structure:

  • Linear: beginning with the meeting and moving towards some kind of resolution.

Tense:

  • Past simple.

Other:

  • First, think of this: what are you saying about love?
  • A story of around 2,000 words at the end of which the couple have overcome their obstacles
  • The action should unfold naturally from the ‘obstacle’ or build towards it, without involving extraneous plot devices
  • Take time to develop the relationship between the characters through descriptive passages
  • Layer the narrative with passages conveying mood and atmosphere
  • Think of the story as something that grows in several dimensions: it is driven forwards, advanced by the plot but it also thickens – becomes more dense and complex
  • Turning points embody the conflicts inherent in the relationship or else they force a crisis
  • If you feel the story is going nowhere, introduce something that threatens the status quo or the expectations of at least one of your characters
  • Consider how relationships can shift and how characters exchange positions during the course of the narrative
  • Perhaps the actions of some of your characters also have the opposite effect to the one intended.

Editing and revising:

  • Strike out, whenever possible, words qualifying nouns and verbs (adjectives and adverbs)
  • Cut the first and last paragraph (Checkov)
  • “Language. Is the language full of life? Is your own voice coming through, or are you using something second-hand, stiff and over-formal, self-consciously ‘literary’ or clichéd?
  • Economy. Do you use twenty words when one would be enough? Do you keep repeating yourself? Are you tautologous (‘dark night’, ‘famous film star’)? Do you hold up the narrative with long descriptive passages or background information? Does every sentence go on and on and on until you are bursting for breath when you read it out loud?
  • Objectivity. The story is an experiment; as its author you are learning something by writing it. So keep an open mind. Don’t push a neon-lit message at the reader. Let them reach their own conclusions. Open up political issues rather than laying out a blatant manifesto. In any­ thing other than certain types of horror story, avoid totally monstrous villains. Even Hitler was nice to his dog. Stamp out sensitive poets, saintly housewives married to brutish husbands and anyone remotely goody-goody.
  • Characters. Do the people come to life? Do we know enough about them – or too much? Are there too many characters for a short story? Does their dialogue sound natural?
  • Viewpoint, tone and voice. Is the mood of your story sustained? Do you know what effect you want to have on the reader? Are you able to control the tone and the narrative voice, or do they seem uncertain? Is it always clear from whose viewpoint we see the events?
  • Pearls within oysters. Sometimes there will be one character or incident within your story that rises above the rest. Is this the real story? Should this aspect be developed? You may even decide to lose the rest of the story.
  • Form. Have you tried to squeeze too much within your story? Did you really want to write a novel?
  • A world of your own. Is it believable? This is not always a question of whether something would really happen. Sometimes even real events or real dialogue fail to ring true in a story. It’s more a matter of creating a ‘realistic’ or fantasy world that is internally consistent and characters whose behaviour is psychologically plausible. Be especially careful with coincidence and with ‘twist’ endings.
  • Pace and structure. Do you get straight down to the story or spend ages building up to it? Do you draw the reader in? Are there some passages that need cutting and others developing? Which are the dramatic high points or the turning points in the story? Is the ending too sudden? Does it develop logically or is it just tacked on?”

Him & Her – Opening Line

To love is the most natural thing. Those who cannot love have lost themselves.

(I wrote the above as a guide for myself to writing a short story. I never got around to writing it, but I think this stands well as a guide to my thought process when setting up.)

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