Writing a Short Story — A Single Reversal and a Tragic Ending

Things are goin’ good, till they end bad. That seems to be the essence of a lot of Greek tragedies, but the focus and time is spent on the bad part rather than the good. Let’s make a little one of our own.

I think it can be hard to start a story out in a “good” place, where everyone is happy and everything is going well. The story really starts when that is not the case. But, the task I have set necessitates that we start in a good place. So . . . how do we do that?

As long as our style is good our readers will give us a little time. This fluctuates a lot, some people will read half of a bad book, some people will stop half-way through the first paragraph if they don’t like it. My tolerance keeps decreasing as I get older. At one point I would read entire books that I didn’t really like, but now I only check from one to four paragraphs. If those aren’t good, I move on. So I want to get my story started pretty fast, else I wouldn’t read it myself.

Intention, strong intention, I think that will be the key to keeping attention while things are going well. I am willing to watch someone with a highly motivated objective, so let’s do that. What should the intention be? Something powerful, like revenge. Revenge for what? For making a man look bad in front of his kid. That sounds good, but I have completely failed. I wanted to start with something good. Let’s try again.

Maybe . . . a man is celebrating that his daughter won a soccer game. Great, that is a good place. I think that maybe it won’t really be that captivating though, let’s see.

“Great game,” said her dad.

“Yeah! It was,” she said.

“All those days of practicing. This is what it’s all for, that game-winning kick. You are the best out there. Yeah!” Her dad turns and raises his hands in the air, like he was the player on the field and won the game. It was hard to tell if, maybe, he was too excited sometimes.

Honestly, I am kind of bored. I haven’t even really given it a chance yet, but it doesn’t matter. It hasn’t captured my attention. I don’t know where it’s going and I just basically have two happy people so far with a basically normal relationship. I need to add conflict, or something, but I feel like it should have already happened. This is usually why shows that start out fairly happy and mundane often include a crazy teaser, “Breaking Bad” is a great example. We need to try something else.

What about someone that is doing well in a hard situation? That adds some conflict and excitement, but it is also good. Strong smart people, let’s see how it goes.

“You suck,” someone called from the crowd.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned, it was her dad. He didn’t hug her, he didn’t even say anything, but it felt better that he was there. She could feel the eyes of the crowd on her, of the parents and other players.

This is better, a little more interesting, but for some reason I am still kind of bored with it. I think that it is one of two things; either I don’t know where it is going or that I just don’t like the theme, maybe it’s both. Let’s try to plot it out a little more and see if that helps.

A high school senior is the star of her soccer team. She has led them to the state championship, overcoming several injuries. In the final moments of the game she misses a difficult shot and they lose. When a boy is teasing her the next week in school for “choking” she kicks him and breaks his leg. His parents press charges and her scholarship is revoked. Her parents don’t say it, but it is tense around them, they are disappointed and don’t know what to do. Between losing the game, the fighting, the legal trouble, and not going to college, her friends seem less interested in her. She goes to a party to find new friends because, why the hell not? The party is busted up by the police and she is reported as being there. This basically guarantees that she will be found guilty for the assault. A guy she met at the party invites her to the beach for day drinking. On their ride to another party later that night they crash.

Well, that is a lot better. I was stuck because I didn’t know where I was going. Now that I know where I am going, because I laid out all of the major incidents, I think I could write this just fine, but it doesn’t excite, enliven, or fascinate me in any way. It is quite the tragic story, a modern day Greek tragedy, and I know that there are some things like this that are popular, but I don’t like them. It is good to know both what you like and what you don’t like. A single reversal with a tragic ending is probably not my thing. I will explore something different next time. You are welcome to join me at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com