Writer Laurie Steed answers five quick questions for AWM about the key elements of a short story and his tips on pitching to publications (research, research, research). Keep an eye out for Laurie’s forthcoming novel You Belong Here.
Laurie Steed is the author of the forthcoming novel You Belong Here, and winner of the 2013 Patricia Hackett Prize for fiction. His work has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Age, Meanjin, Westerly, Island, The Sleepers Almanac and elsewhere. He teaches writing, assesses short fiction for Writers Victoria, and mentors emerging writers. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.
What are some important elements of a short story?
There are generally six agreed upon elements to any good short story: setting, plot, character, conflict, point of view and theme. A good place to start, but, as with all arbitrary classifications, it’s important to explore these a little further. Setting, for example, takes in not only the visual environment of the story, but the tone of the piece, the number of characters, and the shape of the story. Plot has its own five essentials, introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement, and so on. The theme is most often a by-product of the other five elements, and should not be focused on too much, particularly during early drafts of a story. I am not a stickler for hard and fast rules in fiction, but it’s difficult to create any meaningful narrative without the aforementioned elements present in even their simplest form.
A lot of your short stories are based around interactions between family members and conversations between people in relationships, where do these themes originate from?
My family’s stories always relied on interaction, were they tales passed down orally by parents and grandparents, or notes scrawled onto the backs of old photographs. It’s possible I explore the fragility of relationships more than most writers, and perhaps that’s a theme best represented by dialogue, both in those words said and more poignantly, those phrases one never gets around to expressing. Families, I feel, are rife with love’s limitations, be they expectation, disappointment, or mistrust, and yet they’re also the seedbed for love, tolerance, and acceptance, depending on the situation.
What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given when you were starting out as a writer?
To write, first and foremost. Technologies change. Innovation occurs. But without the drive to develop your craft, you’re just a hack with an ego. A published hack, maybe…but, still a hack.
What is the next book on your must read list?
WA author and bookseller extraordinaire Brooke Davis’ debut novel Lost and Found is due out from Hachette in July 2014. She probably wishes I would stop talking about it, but I am excited for her, and she greatly deserves the success already flooding her way. Watch this space.
What’s your number one rule when pitching to a publication?
Research those stories or articles published up to two years prior to your pitch, and read any and all available interviews with the editor. Stay focused on creating a win-win relationship. It’s not all about you, and that’s a good thing! Research, revise, and be willing to evolve your story or feature, if that’s what’s required. Seek out those editors who share interests and similar worldviews. A good editorial relationship should stretch both the writer and editor, in the process creating the best possible story, essay, article, extract or book possible within the designated framework.
Georgia Lejeune is currently studying a Masters of Arts in Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Queensland, she previously obtained a Bachelor of Creative Industries majoring in Drama from the Queensland University of Technology. Georgia is a freelance writer/blogger, actor, and circus teacher who likes Jane Austen novels and dislikes ironing, sultanas, and writing in the third person.