Thursday, October 7, 2010

JRW Conference: Day One: Short Story Workshop

This afternoon, I attended my first day at the James River Writers (JRW) Conference. It's held in Richmond at the Library of Virginia. The first day consisted of a two hour workshop. I was in the short story one.

I enjoyed this workshop. Clifford Garstang was the speaker, and he has a short story collection titled In an Uncharted Territory, published in 2009.

First we introduced ourselves. Most in the group seemed relatively unpublished, except for a few short stories here and there. Mr. Garstang spoke about the differences in flash fiction, short story, novella, and novel. It's pretty much the same stuff I already knew.

He defined a short story as a "close up, a moment in time." Typically, short stories have conflict, some desire that someone wants and another person/thing stands in the way. Short stories should still have some of the same things as novels, including plot, character, setting, theme or "aboutness," and language. Mr. Garstang is very character-oriented, especially since he write literary fiction. He told us he often finds ideas from a character and lets the story take him where it will.

I found it fascinating that he writes and writes about the characters and then looks to see if there is a short story in what he is written. I suppose since I write speculative fiction that is why I'm more plot-oriented. Typically in my own writing, I think of the plot or conflict and then come up with the characters to fill the story and move the plot onward.

He believes you should write, get the story out there, and then find what you can cut and is irrelavant. Personally, I don't like all that editing. *laughs*

Mr. Garstang said that with short stories, you need a "near verisimilitude" or just the essential details. I couldn't agree more, although I've been known to put things in short stories that aren't necessary.

Also, in writing, you can't assume anything. Each time you write, you have to create a whole new world, even if it is the same as our own. I found this idea fascinating.

I, also, learned something new about flash fiction. In flash, you should introduce the conflict but not resolve it. Thinking back on my flash fiction, I think I've been doing well in that concept, but I'll definitely have to keep it in mind when I keep writing it for Flash Fiction Fridays.

The thing I took the most out of this conference was learning about linked short stories. You start with a couple characters and create a world, and then you find knew people in this world and new conflicts to write about. I never really thought about it, but it's what I did with my story "Magna's Plea" and "Autumn Kicker" and what I plan to do with "The Monster Within." I'm taking either characters or people from the world and creating short stories about them. It's fun, and you get to use people from it. I suppose I'm doing the same thing with the characters from Moonlight Murders, since they started in my short story "The Case of the Tom Cat." It's just wonderful to think about and how you can expand upon things.

The biggest rule I learned about short stories. THERE ARE NO RULES.

Yep. That's right. There are no rules. Exactly. You just have to find what works for you. If it works, then it works.

Now, if it doesn't, there lies the problem.

I'd say day one was a success.

I can't wait to learn stuff tomorrow!


Jessica said...

I like the idea of creating characters and then looking to see if a story's there. I've never thought about doing it that way.

Hope you're having fun at the conference!

Tessa Quin said...

I didn't know about the "not solving" part of flash fiction! I'm also more plot-oriented, but it was relatively easy for me to develop the character in my latest (first, actually) short story (only 1500 words for an assignment - but it was fun!). It's different from creating characters for novels - you have to leave out so much!

Thanks for sharing.