Anatomy Of A Story: In Defense Of Art

June 19, 2010

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Yesterday’s story, In Defense of Art, features a main character who defends her artwork from a critical colleague.  Today, I’ll break down the creative process involved in writing the story.  Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about the entire story, including the ending.  So if you haven’t read the story, you might want to read it first.

As is often the case, the end of the story came to my first.  In the end, the heroine’s revolver twice lands on empty chambers before finally hitting a live one, allowing her to kill the antagonist.  Why the first two failures?  To build suspense, of course – and to allow the attacker to show himself as even more of a jerk.

After composing the final scene mentally, I ran into a block that lasted for a few days.  What could be important enough to force the main character to respond with deadly force?  An attempted sexual assault was a possibility, but I’ve been thinking an awful lot about The Cell Window lately, and just didn’t want to go in that direction again.  (Don’t have a copy of The Cell Window yet?  You can buy the audio book or print version – which contains many other stories – at the Hyrax Publications Store.)

I considered having the main character be a zoo keeper who stumbled across someone killing ducks by throwing rocks at them (which, unfortunately, happened in this area a few years ago), but I didn’t think it was very realistic that a zoo keeper would be packing heat.  Eventually, I settled on the main character being an artist who operates her own gallery.

I immediately began painting the painter in a positive light.  I softened her image by having her paintings be peaceful nature scenes, and gave her pink bunny slippers to wear.  The antagonist, on the other side, was an impressionist, and his fashion accessory was a maul.  I could have made this a sledge hammer (there’s not a great deal of difference between the two), but maul is a compact word, and also has a second meaning.  As a verb, maul means “to injure by a rough beating, shoving, or the like” according to  This makes the weapon sounds more foreboding.

Now that I had the main plot of the story figured out, I needed to pick names for the characters.  Quite often, I’ll use the names of friends, especially for positive characters.  I have a new co-worker named Kailey, and she slid into the role of the artist.  The last name of Bell was picked because I like bells – they make nice noises.  A positive word for a positive character.

But what about the name of the antagonist.  Where did I come up with Sylvester?  Well, I have Warner Brothers to thank.  Yes, he is named after Sylvester the Cat, the perpetual tormenter of Tweety Bird.  Barnes is simply the twisted version of a public figure’s name.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Martin Kelly
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 16:08:43

    I like the break down. Not so different from writing a novel … hint, hint.
    Oh wait, that means that writing a novel is not so different from writing short stories … so … I should try writing short stories.


  2. kosmo
    Jun 22, 2010 @ 11:06:59

    Well, the process of putting the plot together is pretty similar. The biggest difference, to me, is the use of words. Long ago, I used these examples of a scene:

    Short story: Kirsten walked across the room and turned on the lamp.

    Novel: Kirsten’s scarlet stilettos drummed out a melodic series of clicks as she strode purposefully across the marble floor. When she arrived at the mahogany table in the corner, she flipped the switch on the ancient lamp. The compact fluorescent bulb fluttered for a short moment before realizing its full potential and bathing the room in light.

    In the novel, you can spend a lot of time on descriptions. With the short story, you really need to hustle the plot along. Neither is better or worse – just different.


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