Creating a short story #1

Welcome Readers!

This is the first installment, of ten, toward writing a short story with the feedback and opinions of my friends and colleagues. I ask for your help for two reasons. First, this story was inspired by a particularly vivid dream one summer night, about the ghost of a lovely pioneer woman and her distraught widower. I woke before the dream reached its end, and have struggled with where to take the story. Second, I submitted the idea of posting portions of the story to my blog for peers to help me finish it to the EAPSU conference in Shippensburg this fall. The conference, titled “Creativity in times of crisis,” explores the creative writing process and the difficulties writers may face. This project cannot be completed without you!

Since I dreamed the events and characters, the details are both unclear and incomplete. Each week (on Wednesdays) I will post several paragraphs of the story to this blog. I ask that each of you read the portion, then post your own comments to offer suggestions, perhaps redirections, identify confusion, and make predictions. I will make revisions based on those posts and develop the story as I go. After ten weeks, I hope to have a finished story to share at the conference.

Feel free to ask any questions along the way!


Part One:

Somewhere in the western regions of North America, there lies a small cabin, of three or four rooms, surrounded by grassy fields more the color of toasted bread than green. The biggest window is situated on the eastern wall in what can only be called a kitchen and faces a nearby lake and looks out at the pier that seems to run alongside its shore. A neighbor lives on his boat at the end of that pier, which bobs gently with the calm waves, and he often sits on the end of the pier and fishes. Mary, the (housekeeper or sister? Which one determines some backstory) of the man who owns this cabin, sees the neighbor every day while he fishes, and she washes the dishes. She always notices the man doesn’t seem to own a shirt. He will walk up to the kitchen window late in the afternoon to talk with her. He’s always friendly, sometimes offering a portion of his catch, but always in exchange for knowledge of what she did with her day. This neighbor (needs a name?) is not unpleasant to look at, with wavy golden hair and muddy colored eyes, and invariably shirtless. He’s not trying to be enticing (which is the effect on Mary anyway), but rather hasn’t found a good enough reason to get fully dressed on a daily basis.

After one of these regular conversations one evening, Mary continues to go about her chores and cooking dinner until she decides she needs a break. She looks out the big window at how the light disappears on the fields, the darkness slowly moving closer to the house. The farmer, Matt, usually returns about now before it is too dark to see well. However, she’s still alone and waiting patiently. Mary glances at the table to make sure she didn’t forget anything. Satisfied that the meal is there – roasted chicken and potatoes and buttered beans with biscuits – she turns back to the window to find another face next to her own reflection. Mary has long, dark and wiry curly hair and looks every minute of her thirty-? years. The other face, also of a woman, has wavy straw-colored hair and appears to be much younger, only in her twenties. Quickly, Mary whirls around to look for the stranger behind her. Finding no other person, she turns again to the reflection. This other is still looking at Mary, who walks toward the window to see if the lady is outside. Before taking two steps, the woman seems to smile. This stops Mary’s motion. The woman’s smile grows colder, into a kind of smirk (or one that seems worried?) and then the entire image fades away.

Mary moves the rest of the way to the window, sure someone must be outside, but it’s too dark now to see for sure. She rubs her eyes and says to the empty room, “I must be too tired,” as if that excuses and wipes away the experience. Still, she knows what she saw. She sits at the table and begins to fill her plate, sure Matt will walk through the door any minute now and she can forget all about it.


I have a question – how much dialogue, if any, between Mary and the neighbor at this point?

I’ll introduce Matt next time…

7 Replies to “Creating a short story #1”

  1. Love it! Can’t wait to read about their next encounter. I think very little dialogue so far… keeps it mysterious and a bit suspenseful. For some reason while reading I thought his name could be Saul.

  2. You have my interest so far. The bones of tale are here, as you continue the setting should be described in more sharp, vivid details. Details that ground the reader with a sensory attachment to both the setting and the characters. The sensory details of sights, smells, sounds and character thoughts/emotions should be crafted in a way that the reader finds themselves in the room too. With that said, I think this could become quite a page turner!

    I attended an author luncheon recently. The author described how he writes a book, in this way. He said that he views the book in his mind almost as though he was watching a movie. After this quiet time alone visualizing, he types out what he experienced. Note, he said “experienced”, not just what he simply saw in his mind. It is important to remember that while reading the reader should be able to immerse themselves in the story; become part of it. This is where a writer must be able to practice creative meditation to realize the details. This practice will firmly plant the reader in the environment of the tale.

    You were wondering about the character Mary, should she be a sister or a housekeeper? Maybe a housekeeper would be best, since she didn’t immediately recognize the face of the person in the vision. A sister would have known the ghost right away.
    Build upon Mary’s character a little, why is she there, how long has she been there, why is she having these feelings of attraction for the man without the shirt. Don’t intensify this attraction, only plant the seed of it.

    Fun blog! πŸ™‚

    1. Barb,
      The author talk tip really helped for today’s work, I hope you can picture being there with them. I went with your housekeeper suggestion, but for more than the reasons you gave. I also realized I needed to be clearer about it taking place in the past, even though I have present-tense verbs. It’s happening to Mary and Matthew right now, and I think it helps place the reader in the moment, too.

  3. Great start! I like the setting and characters, but most especially, the suspense. I feel like the encounter with the ghost comes too early, so I think, yes, there should be more dialogue with the neighbor. Maybe he can even hint to the ghost’s identity? I think Mary could be a sister, maybe new to the house, just arrived or something, which would explain why she does not know anything about the ghost. A housekeeper would usually eat before Matt came home, but it seems like Mary is waiting for him. Did she arrive after Matt lost his wife? Is she the ghost? Maybe she never met the wife, so would not know what she looked like?

    My only other suggestion is to give readers some hint to the time period. I know from your blog intro that it is pioneer days, but it’s not clear in the story (to me anyway). Depending on the time period, you may also need to explain why Mary (who is on the wrong side of 30) isn’t married. Also, I agree with Barb’s suggestion that you add more sensory details.

    Can’t wait to read more!

    1. Abby,
      Your feedback is fabulous! Most of your questions are part of my plan, and I had originally thought if his sister lived in the east, had stayed home when Matthew moved west, she’d never have met his wife. Only when she died did Mary come out to help. There are no photographs, at least out, for Mary to make comparisons. I think I’ll go back and add some conversation with Saul to establish her old-maid status, and a stranger allows me to leave more gaps in the puzzle, but this is more Matthew’s story than hers.
      I hope today’s installment has the sensory details it needs πŸ™‚

  4. This makes sense to me now, in that the “sister” had lived out East and has just recently moved West to help her poor widower brother tend to the farm. Times were hard for him, I’m sure. Glad you liked the author luncheon talk info. It was provided by Robert Forte, author of The Woman in the Yellow Dress.
    Also good to know that this is more a tale about Matthew. Should help as we continue on with commentary.

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