In medias res, “in the midst [or middle] of things.” This technique is absolutely essential to the short short story writer’s craft. By eliminating as much of the setting, rising action, inciting event and complication, we take our reader directly to the conflict, and add back in only the essential details of the setting and rising action, etc. at the perfect moments. Let’s use Kafka’s “A Little Fable” as an example. Notice how the setting and rising action are woven directly into the presenting conflict. We are not given a long, winding landscape opening or character descriptor. We jump right into the main conflicts.
Setting: Maze Rising Action: Search for escape, Search for cheese (did you imagine cheese in the trap, too?)
- Conflict: Mouse v. Maze, Mouse v. Cat, Mouse v. Trap (is there cheese in there?), Mouse v. Self (arguably the most important conflict)
- Climax: Mouse facing cat
- Falling Action: Cat instructing mouse to simply change direction (search for escape)
- Resolution: Cat eating mouse
- Denouement: What was your individual denouement? Perhaps it had something to do with Mouse v. Self? Perhaps it asked the important question: How do we navigate the challenges and dangers of our lives when caught in such all encompassing mazes? Or perhaps you experienced a fate v. free will resonance?
Reading Assignments | An Eckleburg Selection
“Emails from the Staybridge Suites Anaheim” by Suzanne Marie Hopcroft
“A Diverse Flora of Native and Introduced Species, Beautifully Adapted to Their Microenvironment” by Don Hucks
Writing Assignment | Death on an Island
1. Watch the above scene from “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding.
2. Map the scene’s arc as given: conflict, protagonist, antagonist, setting, climax, falling action, resolution, denouement. Consider how not only short short stories but also scenes within novels can include full arcs as both given on the page and suggested for the reader’s imagination.
3. Now, write your own death scene in your own setting. Remember, your death can be literal or figurative. Your protagonist might be run over by a truck, a bus or a clown car. OR your protagonist might experience the death of innocence, career, relationship, such as in the Eckleburg selections. Be creative. Feel free to incorporate humor. Humorous deaths introduce irony and can be complicated and difficult and this makes for an intricate reading experience.
Rae Bryant’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her stories and essays have appeared or will soon be appearing in print and online at The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, Diagram, StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s, New World Writing, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other publications and have been nominated for the Pen/Hemingway, Pen Emerging Writers, &NOW Award and Pushcart Prize. She has won awards in fiction from Whidbey Writers and The Johns Hopkins University as well as fellowships from the VCCA and Hopkins to write, study and teach in Florence, Italy. She earned a Masters in Writing from Hopkins where she continues to teach creative writing and is editor in chief of The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. Rae is a member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, AWP, NBCC, CLMP and Johns Hopkins Alumni Association and is represented by Jennifer Carlson of Dunow, Carlson and Lerner.