Short Story Writing – Setting the scene

I used to like writing short stories, somewhere between two and five thousand words, but, in the end, it was too much hard work.

No chance of getting into stride with a location description, no real chance of giving a background to a character, it was simply a case of diving straight in.

But …

I’ve been thinking about writing a short story, starting it with a short succinct sentence that will set the tone.

Something like:  “Jack was staring down the barrel of a gun”

What them?

Should he start analyzing what sort of gun it was, did it have a light trigger, was the person holding it shaking, a man or a woman, or a child?

Location, in a house, a disused factory, a shop, a petrol station, the side of the road.

So, where was Jack?

Something like:  “He had gone down to the corner shop to get a pack of cigarettes.”

For himself or someone else?  Is it day, is it night, or somewhere in between?

Something like:  “He had to hustle because he knew the shopkeeper, Alphonse, liked to close at 11:00 pm sharp, and came through the door, the sound of the bell ringing loudly and the door bashed into it.”

So, Jack’s state of mind, he is in a hurry, careless coming through the door, not expecting anything out of the ordinary.

How would you react when you saw a gun, pointed at Alphonse until the sound of the door warning bell attracted the gunman’s attention?

Is it a gunman?

Something like:  “It took a second, perhaps three, to sum up the situation:  a young girl, about 16 or 17, scared, looking sideways at a man on the ground, Alphonse, and then Jack.  A Luger, German, a relic of WW2, perhaps her father’s souvenir, now pointing at him.”

The punch line:  Cigarettes can kill in more ways than one.

The revelation:  The corner store also supplied the local drug addicts.

 

The revised start is now:

 

Jack was staring down the barrel of a gun.

He had gone down to the corner shop to get a pack of cigarettes.

He had to hustle because he knew the shopkeeper, Alphonse, liked to close at 11:00 pm sharp.  His momentum propelled him through the door, causing the customer warning bell to ring loudly as the door bashed into it, and before the sound had died away, he knew he was in trouble.

It took a second, perhaps three, to sum up the situation:  a young girl, about 16 or 17, scared, looking sideways at a man on the ground, Alphonse, and then Jack.  He recognized the gun, a Luger, German, relic of WW2, perhaps her father’s souvenir, now pointing at him then Alphonse, the back to him.

Another second or two to consider if he could disarm her.  No, the distance was too great.

“Come in, close the door, and move towards the counter.”

Everything but her hand steady as a rock.  Only tell-tale sign of stress, the bead of perspiration on her brow.  It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the shop.

Jack shivered and then did as he was told.  She was in the unpredictable category.

“What’s wrong with your friend?”  Jack tried the friendly approach.

“He’s an addict, looking for a score.  At the end of his tether, my guess, and came to the wrong place.”

Wrong place, Jack thought.  Wrong place for what?

“Simmo said you sell shit.  You wanna live, ante up.”  She was glaring at Alphonse. 

The language was not her own, she had been to a better class of school, a good girl going through a bad boy phase.

She didn’t look like a user.  The boy on the ground, he did.  Going through the beginnings of withdrawal. 

 

Next time, we will look at point of view.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2018

4 thoughts on “Short Story Writing – Setting the scene

  1. I liked your breakdown of apprehension before serving up the story. I take it you prefer to flesh out characters and describe them in detail?
    I love shorts stories, but I find it refreshing writing something longer where I can let loose a little with more in depth story telling.

    I liked the story, had the right elements in it. Will you be writing more?

    Like

  2. I try to give the characters something beyond a superficial description, but a short story gives you little room to move. There is more coming for this story, yes.
    I work on short stories when mulling over the story lines for the longer novels. Currently I’m working on a sequel to one of my books, and it is being reworked as I had a new idea to toss into the mix, and I’m now working on how to work it into the current story without too many changes.

    Like

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