A few years ago I was lucky to be one of the winners in Fish Publishing One Page Story competition. One page being a maximum of 250 words.
It was challenge I very much enjoyed as it got me thinking deeper about structure and working out what crucial detail was needed to tell the story. Also what question to ask myself about the character.
250 words doesn't give you much room for manoeuvre but that isn't always a bad thing. The story I ended up writing was called 'Postcard From New York.' I was pleased with the way it turned out and not just because it was a competition winner. I was pleased with it as a piece of work.
The first draft came in at 423 words. At first cutting unneeded words was quite easy but grew more difficult with each draft. It forced me to think and think and be ruthless with my editing. One of the most interesting things about the process was that the first couple of lines in the finished story where there in the first draft only further down in paragraph 3.
Finding those first couple of lines amongst the mass of words helped me focus on what was needed in the rest of the story. It helped me find a structure.
Below is the story. Below that is a breakdown of the structure.
’ published Fish Anthology 2005 New York
Woke up this morning to something you never get in this city.
Not a car horn, siren, or murmur of voices reaching up to the 14th floor.
The street below was empty or so I thought. In the flats opposite the hotel folk were also looking down from windows to the street below.
Then I saw what they saw.
A road block of police cars and then a figure like an extra out of a B Movie moving slowly up the street. He or she was dressed in what looked like a deep sea diving suit. He or she walked slowly, very slowly.
I followed his, or hers every slow step until they stopped and I saw it. Directly across from my hotel was a briefcase, an everyday briefcase, sitting upright, and so alone looking, on the sidewalk.
And I was on the 14th floor with a lift I had already found out never arrived when you wanted it.
The deep sea diver with what looked like a metal rod ever so slowly edged open the case (I don’t know how that suit would have protected him) and out flew…paper. Paper that drifted higher and higher down the street, to God knows where else.
Minutes later the car horns, sirens, murmur of voices returned and folk streamed, almost bored looking, out of flats and hotels like water released from a dam.
And I walked down the fourteen flights of stairs and joined them.
Love to the boys.
STRUCTURE. Begin/Middle/End or in the case of example story Close up/Wide Lens/ Close Up.
QUESTION: What is the main character’s biggest hope and fear in the situation they find themselves in? Very often as is the case with example story two sides of the same coin. .
‘Woke up this morning to something you never get in this city.
Objective: Start with action/get reader asking question--why the silence?
Close up: Starts. ‘Woke up…’ Ends. ‘….reaching up to the 14th floor.’
As if all you can see is the character’s eyes, wondering what is going on.
State of mind--Curiosity.
Wide lens: Starts. ‘The street below was empty…’ Ends. …released from a dam.’
You gradually see more and more outside the room as the character sees it. Gradual introduction of crucial detail. Tension built with the increase in detail. The character is trapped. State of mind-- Fear.
Move to Close up. Starts. And I walked… Ends. ‘Love to the boys.’
We move back to the character. State of mind--relief.
With ‘Love to the boys’ you find out what character had to lose. His greatest hope that he sees his sons again/greatest fear that he would not.