Writing my second short story: What I learned and what I would do differently now

This week I completed my second short story, a 7,000 word piece called “The Lightning” that I posted to Tumblr, along with some original artwork and photography that loosely correspond to the narrative. It’s the second story I’ve published to the site – I prefer Tumblr for its relative anonymity  and informality, as well as its artistic community – and I plan to add at least 3 more over the next several months. Once I get to 5, I’ll think about self-publishing an actual book of them.

The story itself is a reporter’s chronicle of his investigation of a local tall tale, about a man who is repeatedly struck by lightning. I didn’t go into the story with much of a plan – only an idea of “lightning in a bottle” that was cycling through my head like a cliche during a walk back in September.

Stylistically, I drew upon three major sources:

  1. Will Self’s Umbrella – a multi-consciousness, stream-of-consciousness novel that seamlessly moves between World War 1 and later eras, all the way to 2010.
  2. The Serial podcast, a massive hit series narrating a reporter’s revisiting of a 1999 crime
  3. The Counting Crows album “Across a Wire,” which reimagines the band’s early songs with lyrical snippets from other songs, b both their own and others’.

I’m still very much a novice short story writer. My first one was written back in the summer, called “The Loop.” I’m still getting a feel for narrative and characterization – in this one I took the first-person perspective, despite Jonathan Franzen’s recommendations against it, to try and get inside the investigator’s head. I also presented different layers of narrative. The parts in quotes are meant to be newsy/reporter-y, while the unquoted parts are more free-form, going between poetry and free association.  The piece started as a someone walking around in the woods thinking about the Union Jack (I began right before the Scottish independence referendum) and ended up with that as just a passing detail.

There are some details about my hometown in here. The Lebanon Enterprise is a real newspaper, just as Proctor Knott Avenue is a real street. The whiskey distilleries, lakes, and forests are all real characteristics of the area in and around Lebanon.

I published it once and then took it down to do some rewrites. With this story, I rediscovered what I had once learned but forgotten (perhaps since I did so with a different medium, the academic paper): trying to substantially revise an old work that you haven’t gone back to in a while is painful. I probably let 1.5 weeks slip between the first draft and doing substantial edits, which ended being harder than facing down a blank page had been. I’m not going to put off the edit cycle again.

I used iA Writer for Mac to write the whole thing in Markdown. I took the photos with an iPhone 6 Plus. The artwork was done with acrylic paint on a sketchpad.

For the next short story, I’m going to read something more straightforward – maybe some Stephen King and Hemingway – and then tailor my style accordingly. I’ve already got a title: “The Chancellor.”

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