I only had a maximum of 5, 000 words to tell a whole story. Yikes! How was I going to do that? I much prefer a comfortable 60 to 80K to develop my characters and let them work through their challenges. But I'd signed on to write the story, so I decided I'd better stop worrying about the limited number of words and get on with it.
I went through some of my favorite short story writers and reread James Thurber, Kingsley Amis and William Faulkner. All very different writers, aren't they? Yet their stories grabbed me when I read them the first time years ago and kept me reading when I returned to them this time.
So why were these old stories still interesting to read?
The answer popped up the minute I asked that question. The Characters. In Thurber's "The Catbird Seat" it was Mr. Martin, the mild-mannered, cunning man with murder on his mind. I never could shake the character of Jim Dixon in "Lucky Jim" or fail to shudder every time I thought of Emily Grierson, shuttered inside that dark house in "A Rose for Emily."
Each of the characters in these stories are memorable. First they have a unique voice. Their word choice is theirs. The way they put these words together in dialog or thought is their way of expressing themselves, and the cadence of their language belongs to each of them and can't be confused with any other characters in the story.
Then they're plunged into a situation--AKA a tight spot--and the reader must find out what they will do to get out of it. Will Mr. Martin kill Ulgine Barrows? Will Jim Dixon overcome his first and very bad impression he made at his school? Will Emily keep Homer . . . forever? As we read how each of these characters act and react, we have a plot to keep us engaged in the action, action that's all about the character.
With all of this information whirring in my writer's brain I set out to write Premeditated Cat. So far it has been reviewed well, so while I can't hold myself up to Thurber, Amis or Faulkner, I can thank them for their wonderfully written stories and their inspiration. And since I had such a great time writing the first short story I submitted a second one. It will be published this year in Two and Twenty Dark Tales, and I'm really excited.