By Lisa Lopez Snyder
Earlier this week I got stuck in the mud. Over the holidays I started a story, and step by step I put my protagonist, “David,” in a pickle (purely intended, of course, and all as a result of the actions he took earlier). Faced with the consequences, he then had to make a completely new decision, and I was ready to wrap up the story. But I was leaving him without any options because I couldn’t decide what would happen next. He could certainly do something unexpected, but because he is a little boy, I couldn’t have him do something suddenly adult. What to do?
Have you ever been in this situation? Have you ever taken your main character on a wild ride, thoroughly enjoying it yourself, and then come to a curve in the road, only to ask, “Dang, what’s on the road beyond?”
I turned to a nifty little book I read about a year ago to help me figure out some possibilities. It’s called, Writing Great Short Stories, by Margaret Lucke, and I highly recommend it. Lucke breaks down all the aspects of writing the short story into easily digested bits with clear examples, tips and exercises. Lucke reminds us that “not every short story has a plot,” which describes my story exactly.
Lucke says while you may have a plot-less story, you still have to have a “story goal,” that is, your story must “evoke an emotion or mood, explore a theme, share an experience, or describe a person”-- all in an effort to “help the reader comprehend some aspect of the human condition.” In fact, each of the pieces of your story does not have to be “linked by chronology or cause and effect, but by similar emotional or psychological resonance or other things they have in common.”
She cites as an example Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, where the author tells the Vietnam soldiers’ stories by cataloguing the various items the narrator’s fellow soldiers brought on their missions, including not only objects such as matches, morphine, M-16 rifles, and M&Ms, but the intangible items, including guilt and fear.
That said, I’ve already got some possibilities for David. I’ve been inside his head for the last month, and I know how he interprets the adult world. I’ll stay true to David’s perceptions and just let the reader explore them, all the while leaving the reader (fingers crossed), with the sick feeling of what could have--and just nearly--happened.