Fiction

Part 1: Crafting Your Story
Part 1: Crafting Your Story

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The most compelling stories don’t just happen; they are carefully constructed.

Story-telling is a tradition as old as humankind; long before books existed, stories were passed on orally by village elders, poets and musicians. While they were intended to entertain, most traditional stories also shared cultural values or religious lessons, reinforcing important societal norms and giving listeners both young and old their sense of place within society.

In today’s world, most people read stories or fiction for pleasure so you have an uphill battle to fight – your story has to compete with the constant distractions of hourly news updates and endless streams of social media as well as books and magazines.

For the purpose of a short fiction entry in the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015, your story must be 350-500 words based on the theme ‘heroism’ if you are aged 13-17 years and 750-1000 words based on the theme ‘courage’ if you are aged 18-21 years. Remember, your essay is a piece of fiction so you need to use your imagination and be completely original!

Essential elements for a story are the storyline (also called a plot), the main character (called a protagonist), and a conclusion.

The Storyline

First of all, ask yourself what your story is about; establishing the storyline is the most important thing you can do before you begin to write. Who do you want to write about? Why would people want to read it?

For a short story, a good storyline or plot must be clear and concise or you won’t be able to complete your story within the word limit. Try to sum up your storyline in one sentence, for example: a boy sets out to find hidden treasure and discovers something more valuable – friendship.

Next, a good story must demonstrate cause and effect (consequence). For example: Nash was tired of being cooped up at home; in his favourite storybooks, something wonderful always happened so when he discovered the old, weathered treasure map he instantly knew that a great adventure was waiting for him.

If your story has an exciting or emotional climax, or an unexpected twist, you can use cause and effect to create momentum or escalation: After hours of searching through twisting pathways, Nash was hungry and thirsty but he was determined to continue. However as daylight slowly faded, he began to have doubts about this whole venture and wondered if he should just turn around and go home…if he could even find his way home. “Just five more minutes,” he promised himself, and just then he noticed lights glimmering ahead, illuminating a scene he could never have imagined.

The Character

As you are writing a piece of fiction, your main character need not be a person; you can choose an animal or even an object – the best examples can be seen in classic fairy tales such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier.

You may be wondering, why do I need a main character? The answer is simple: because you are telling a story! Without a main character your essay would become merely a report, review or a descriptive essay.

The character also helps readers connect with your story. Try to create a character who is believable or one that readers can relate to. It’s not necessary for the character to be a hero – even a villain makes a good character! Essentially, an emotional connection is all you need as readers need to like, support, or even despise the character to stay engaged with the story.

The Conclusion

There are many different ways to end your story. Sometimes, it makes sense to end at the beginning, bringing the reader full-circle; other times, your conclusion may be climactic and reveal something completely unexpected. Your choice of a conclusion depends on your storyline and what works best to enhance your story and leave your readers thinking ‘Wow! That was a great story.’

Ideas to Make Your Story Compelling

  • Craft an opening line that intrigues the reader; this invites them to read further.
  • Make it personal. Readers can relate to the character if they understand his/her feelings, desires and motivations.
  • Use your descriptive skills to bring the story to life; this brings readers into the world you have created.
  • Remain focussed on your storyline and only keep elements that enhance your story.
  • For your initial draft, don’t spend too much time worrying about the word limit and just let the story flow; you can edit the story down later.

 

Submit your essay to the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015! Open to all Malaysians from 13-21 years. There are two age categories: 13-17 years with stories themed ‘Heroism’ between 350-500 words and 18-21 years with stories themed ‘Courage’ between 750-1,000 words. Multiple entries are allowed; submit essays via the official online contest submission form found on www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com. For more information about the Perdana Leadership Foundation, visit www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com, or www.facebook.com/PerdanaLeadershipFoundation.

Part 2: Building Your Character
Part 2: Building Your Character

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You’ve got a storyline, now you need someone – your main character - to see it through. Here’s how to develop a character that is compelling and believable.

Every story needs a main character or protagonist; more importantly, the main character must have something within themselves that readers can relate to. Think about the books you’ve read or even the movies you’ve seen – who are your favourite characters and why?

For your short fiction entry in the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015, remember to develop your character around the theme ‘heroism’ if you are aged 13-17 years, and use the theme ‘courage’ if you are aged 18-21 years.

For inspiration, you can look to different forms of fiction, from classic literature to modern novels, as there are common themes that help to create interesting and compelling characters. These include:

A Tragic Past

From Oliver Twist to Bruce Wayne/Batman and Harry Potter, we empathise with characters that have experienced pain and suffering. In many ways, their difficult and often heroic journey to find a better future is inspiring and compels us to read on.

A Big Secret

All superheroes have an alter ego to protect their secret identity; often this is done to protect the ones they love hence they need to keep this secret at all costs. This creates challenging and sometimes dramatic situations that keep readers on the edge of their proverbial seats. The secret becomes even more intriguing if the character himself is unaware of it, though everyone around him is engaged in keeping the secret safe!

A Goal

Every character needs a goal, a reason for existence. It could be their goal to win a competition, impress a girl/boy, find the hidden treasure, slay the fire-breathing dragon or pilot their own spaceship – no matter what the goal, it is something that gives them purpose and direction, and their attempts to achieve it carries the entire story with them. In the end, it’s not really important whether they succeed or fail, only that they tried.

Conflict

A character with strong morals or principles can suffer internal conflict when personal desires and responsibilities are not aligned. For example, a community leader may want to save his family in a time of crisis but he also has a responsibility towards the people in his care. Conflict can also develop between two characters which each have different needs and desires.

Contradictions

Like real people, characters may display contradictions in their personality. In Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Jack Sparrow appears to be a complete scoundrel and a coward, yet he displays courage in facing the kraken and redeems himself by saving others. This contradiction is very human and believable – after all, no one person is ever completely good or bad.

Using these common themes, try to imagine your character as a real person with their own feelings, desires and thoughts. If you are basing your character on someone you know, inject some conflict or contradiction for a sense of drama. Essentially, a good character is one which compels readers to get to the end of your story, because they want to find out what happens to him!

Bring Your Character to Life

  • Try describing your character to a friend; if you are stuck for words or can’t adequately describe what this person is like, you need to work on developing the character further. However, as you have to work with a limited word count, stick to characteristics that are essential to the story. For example, if your story is about a cowardly character, then you need to establish his cowardice.
  • Visualise your character: the way he speaks and dresses; how he relates to other people/characters; personal tastes or preferences; perhaps even a distinguishing feature like a squint, a squeaky voice or a peculiar item that is very precious to him.
  • Show instead of tell – you get to tell readers what is happening and allow them a better understanding of the character at the same time. For example, instead of stating “he showed true leadership”, you can say “he inspired the villagers to work together”.

 

Submit your essay to the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015! Open to all Malaysians from 13-21 years. There are two age categories: 13-17 years with stories themed ‘Heroism’ between 350-500 words and 18-21 years with stories themed ‘Courage’ between 750-1,000 words. Multiple entries are allowed; submit essays via the official online contest submission form found on www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com. For more information about the Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015, visit www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com, or www.facebook.com/PerdanaLeadershipFoundation.

Part 3: The Finer Points of Style
Part 3: The Finer Points of Style

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Short stories come in many different styles; practice will help you develop your own and teach you to use words wisely.

Every writer has their own ‘voice’ – a personal style that develops over time. For established authors, this style is familiar to their readers but it will take time and practise to find one that is unique to you.

If you’ve never tried writing short stories before, an easy way to get started is by looking at something familiar and letting your imagination run free. For example, you could look at members of your neighbourhood rukun tetangga and imagine what it would be like to stop a crime. Or think of your favourite book or movie and consider how the story could develop differently if a different character became the lead character instead.

Your short fiction entry in the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015 must be 350-500 words based on the theme ‘heroism’ if you are aged 13-17 years and 750-1000 words based on the theme ‘courage’ if you are aged 18-21 years.

As you have a very limited number of words to work with, keep your sentences short and make every word count. For example, “She collapsed into bed, exhausted” conveys a very clear picture while “She felt really tired and wanted to go to bed” lacks strength and uses twice as many words!

Here are some other examples that show how you can use fewer words without compromising on meaning:

  • “He was so frightened that his hands were shaking and he wanted to run away but he decided to stay put” uses 21 words. Instead, you could try “Despite his faltering nerves and shaking fingers, he stood firm” which only uses 10 words.
  • “She didn’t like visiting her grandmother because the old house was dark and scary” uses 14 words while “Her grandmother’s house frightened her” uses only 5 words.
  • “Waking up in the middle of the night, she couldn’t remember where she was until she heard the strange sound that had woken her” uses 24 words but could be written as “A strange sound woke her; for a moment, she didn’t know where she was" which only uses 14 words.

If you often find yourself stuck, don’t despair – you can look for inspiration online or read classics like the short stories of Hans Christian Andersen, such as The Fir Tree and The Little Match Girl; Snow White and Rose Red and The Water of Life by the Grimm brothers, or Aesop’s fables such as The Lion and The Mouse and The Miser and His Gold. While these stories may not fit within the required word limit, these works are wonderful examples of how simple words can be used to build wonderful and imaginative short stories.

At the end of the day, that’s what you want to accomplish with your story – to draw your reader into the story you’ve created.

A Few Things to Remember

  • In addition to a strong beginning and end, you need an intriguing title too.
  • Be clear and get to the point. Remember to edit your work for clarity; very often, using fewer words makes your writing stronger.
  • Say what you mean! With a short story, there’s no room for complicated metaphors. If you feel you have to explain its meaning, it’s best to re-write it in plain, simple language.

 

Submit your essay to the Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015! Open to all Malaysians from 13-21 years. There are two age categories: 13-17 years with stories themed ‘Heroism’ between 350-500 words and 18-21 years with stories themed ‘Courage’ between 750-1,000 words. Multiple entries are allowed; submit essays via the official online contest submission form found on www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com. For more information about the Perdana Leadership Foundation Writing & Photo Contest 2015, visit www.MaybankPerdanaContest.com, or www.facebook.com/PerdanaLeadershipFoundation.

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