Do the techniques of writing novels also apply to short stories?
Angie posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
First of all, I love the “perfect scene” article. It really opened my eyes. My question is: does the MRU and Scene-Sequel method apply to writing short stories as well? It seems like most of the publications that publish short stories are literary journals. Given that, would you encourage short story writers to use the MRU and Scene-Sequel methods? Thank you so much!
Randy sez: The article Angie is referring to is “Writing the Perfect Scene” here on my web site. In that article, I focus on the structure of scenes (using Dwight Swain’s theory of Scenes and Sequels) and then on the paragraph-by-paragraph structure of the story at its lowest level (what Dwight Swain calls MRUs — short for “Motivation Reaction Units”).
Do these methods apply to writing short stories? Yes, they do. The fundamental unit of fiction writing is the scene. A scene can stand alone as a literary unit. A typical novel will have 50 to 100 scenes or even more in a long novel. A short story might have only a handful of scenes. A short-short might have only one scene.
I think you simply can’t go wrong by applying the “perfect scene” tools to the scenes in a short story. If you’re writing for a literary journal, you’ll also want to pay close attention to the character arc in your story and to the theme and style. But you still need to tell a good story, and that means writing strong scenes.
Readers read fiction in order to have a Powerful Emotional Experience.
One of the very best ways to provide that experience is to use either a Scene or Sequel structure. (These are Dwight Swain’s terms. I prefer to call them either “proactive scenes” or “reactive scenes.”)
One of the other very best ways to provide a Powerful Emotional Experience are to use Swain’s Motivation Reaction Units, which guarantee that you are showing your story in a way that your reader can identify with the focal character — get inside the skin of that character and experience the story vicariously.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.