how to write a short story

“I have Fink’s how-to book in front of me and I am going to do it, I hope to do it before the sun goes down, but if it takes me till tomorrow then I will stay with it, since, as Fink warns, writing a successful story takes time. He tells us he has toiled countless thousands of hours making his very popular stories, without once being struck by “divine light, by visitation of the muse, by irradiation from within, by lines delivered from God on High, or by any other of the thousand and one kind of crappy ways another author will tell you is how he does it.” Fink has got where he is, he says, by “hard work,” by “focusing the mind,” and by “utilization of a discipline forged in steel.”

” Begin, says Fink, at the beginning.

“I have a warm toddy nearby, plus the dictionary, a thesaurus, a booklet called Don’t Dangle Your Participles in Public, a yellow scratch pad for capturing the hot idea.

Begin, Fink insists, by writing what you know.

“I know, I think, as much as the next guy. What I know for sure is this: I am twenty-three, intermittently, which is to say, seasonably, employed by Rafael Estates (cleaning the pools and grounds, duh), a job my parents got for me when they met Mr. Rafael down in Wahoo. I have, I am proud to say, a cohabitational relationship with a somewhat weird but beautiful girl named Sasa as of two months ago. I hold a high school diploma and nine credits from the Hortenhuaser School of Broadcasting, I am something of an authority on French cuisine, on vinery (the primitivos of southern Italy being a specialty), and I placed 32nd among 1,700 in last year’s local marathon, which means I’m fit and know about running. I know heaps about Rwanda, the genocide of a few years back, 800,000 Tutsis and good Hutus dead in one hundred days, thank you, Madame Allbright, but that would take a book. Things I know zip about and won’t get into in this story include sex, or sex prior to my cohabitation with Sasa, economics and such, history and such, politics and such, current events, biology and physics and such, all the sciences, let’s say, including the occult, philosophy, architecture, animal husbandry and the rural arts generally, astronomy, religion, together with the thousand and one other things that no one else knows much about either. I won’t be going into any of those, so you can sit back and relax.

Keep your paragraphs short, Fink says.


(from: How to Write a Successful Short Story, by Leon Rooke, in the collection The Last ShotThomas Allen, 2009)  


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