J is for Journey

Journey. No, not the band. I wasn’t particularly aware of this word in relation to short stories until I was offered a critique of a story I’d entered for a competition and was told that my story lacked it. My main character’s journey was unsatisfactory apparently and I had broken the first rule of the short story. There are rules? Nobody told me about the rules. Maybe the first rule of Short Story Club is that nobody talks about the rules of Short Story Club.

It was only when I joined Twitter and started reading blogs that I realised there are lots of rules. Journey was mentioned a lot, as was story arc and character arc, not forgetting the story arc within your story arc. Apparently I need a conflict and a climax and a resolution. All loose ends need to be tied up. There is a formula.

I panicked a little bit, particularly about the bit with the loose ends. My writing isn’t always this neat, life isn’t always this neat. Isn’t that the point of writing about it? To show how complex and messy it all is? Sometimes there isn’t a resolution, you see the psychological consequences of certain actions and events but often you’re left hanging, not knowing. There’s obviously a beginning and an end but hardly ever a nice, tidy finish.

A few years down the line, with some published stories under my belt, I realise that actually I probably am following my own kind of formula, it might not be as neat and tidy as everybody else’s but it gets there in the end. I’ve met enough writers to know we all have our own little ways of writing. Some make plans, they have every chapter worked out and know exactly what’s going to happen. Others start with an idea and just keep writing until it all becomes clear.

The point is, nobody can tell you all of this. I’m not sure what I feel about creative writing courses as I don’t think you can teach anyone to write, although I suppose they can give you hints and help to get you in the right frame of mind to write, as well as confirming to yourself why you want to write in the first place.

The main thing is to read lots and then write lots and that way you’ll find your voice. And look what I did? I only went and did an arc in this very blog post. I totally rule at this Short Story Club gig.


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12 responses to “J is for Journey

  1. Another brilliant post 🙂 First time I saw a creative writing course advertised my only brain cell asked itself if that meant non creative writing courses existed too.

  2. The beauty of the journey is that it doesn’t have to be obvious. Most of my favorite short stories have very subtle and often internal journeys that the characters have made.

  3. mel

    This is really an enlightening post, thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m still figuring out short stories, and this A-Z challenge of reading and writing has been very useful!

  4. I’m loving the A to Z, am I on a Journey too? Maybe in La La land.
    ‘Everyone’s on a Journey’ that’s up there with mission statements and company visions.
    Good post, stick to doing what you do well.
    maggie winter

  5. I think these writing “rules” are helpful, but for talented writers, they’re innate. A good writer has a feel for a good story, and story arcs, and character journeys–even if s/he doesn’t know all the correct terms. It’s like a natural musician who can tell a correctly-played major scale, even if they don’t know what a major scale is. It just sounds right.

    I think there is value to reading about arcs, patterns, and journeys. Studying these things forces you to think about them. Perhaps make you consider techniques you haven’t thought of before. Also, not everyone is gifted with an innate sense of story. Some need to be taught.

    That’s my very brief 2c. I wrote an article about talent some weeks ago where I developed this thought a bit more. I’ll be glad to post the link if anyone’s interest. 🙂

    • Sorry, just getting to this, Colin, I’d like to read that. Writing is something I’ve always done and I assumed I didn’t need to learn anything, you just write, don’t you? But from talking to other writers and reading more I realise there are always things to learn, everyone can perfect their technique.

  6. Hmm, I’m not sure I’ve heard of a story needing a ‘journey’ before. Something needs to change, yes. Perhaps that is just a different way of saying it?

    Reading books about writing and learning the ‘rules’ is a good idea, but I found it easier to write and find my own voice first, then I could take the rules that made sense to me, and twist the others.

    Rinelle Grey

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