29STORIES Update #2: Strategery & Structurefeatured

29STORIES Check-In #2: Strategery & Structure {the ponytail diaries}

Pulled back a little this week – 0 actual words written, because I’ve spent more time focusing on generating some ideas and planning some outlines and structure.

The cool thing about short stories (and the thing I’m really not that good at) is you have so many more options with narrative structure and style than longer works. In a novel, you pretty much have to stick to traditional prose with dialogue. You have options between first and third person, present and past tense, but — in general, and this is certainly changing — a novel is going to look like “description – dialogue – inner monologue/thoughts (if in first person) – dialogue – description” and so on.

But in a short story, it’s much easier to tell an entire story without any dialogue. You can frame the story using email exchanges or texts only. In B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, he’s got one story that’s basically a monologue, where a guy spends a couple pages explaining to you that he always wears red t-shirts, and then every day, he checks the Craigslist “Missed Connections” section and searches for “red shirt” to see if anyone posted about him. Then later in the book, another story is literally a Missed Connections post this girl writes about spending an entire day with a guy wearing a red t-shirt, without learning his name or number.

It’s hard for me to change my mindset and explore different ways of telling “complete” stories like that. My “plots” tend to be “novel-size.” They’re big, they’re complex, they involve lots of character development and take a long time (and a lot of words) to tell.

Obviously that won’t work for this project, so I’m trying to figure out how I can fit my plots into “short story” frameworks and part of that means thinking about alternate narrative structures.

So far, I’ve thinking:

Four different “day in the life” stories about four San Francisco roommates. The idea would be to describe Roommate A’s Monday, Roommate B’s Tuesday, and so on. All distinct characters and storylines that are somewhat interrelated. Each story would reveal a little more not just about the “main character,” but also about the relationships between all four roommates.

Snapshots of four consecutive summers, where a character returns home from college each year and one significant thing happens each year.

Just using various social media posts and possibly texts.

Possibly playing with a story that only uses dialogue, and maybe a speech tag here and there. But not a screenplay. Not sure about this one.

Do you ever consider structure first, and then finding a plot and characters to fit it?

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