NOTES ON CRAFT: THE THING ABOUT FLASHBACKS by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: THE THING ABOUT FLASHBACKS by Olakunle Ologunro

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Notes on Craft: The Thing About Flashbacks

by Olakunle Ologunro

Hey there,

If this is your first time reading this letter, you can flashback to the previous letters in the series here.

This week’s letter is for flashbacks.

When you think about flashbacks, what comes to mind? I’ll be honest, I think of two things. First, I think of the Nollywood typical treatment of flashbacks. Yoruba Nollywood, especially. You can watch a movie where everything is a flashback. Or a flashback that contains three more flashbacks. 

I kid you not.

The second thing that comes to my mind is a sprint in a former direction. A runner turning back to swiftly pick up something. And that’s how I often like to approach my definition of the word, as well as my relationship with the entire concept. A sprint in a former direction, usually to pick up a[n old] detail, or to draw the readers’ attention to something that is important to the story or the character’s personality.

The definition of a flashback is simple, easy to grasp. It is when you, the writer, take the reader out of the present story and go back into an earlier time in a character’s life, or an earlier event in the main course of the story. 

Here’s an example from one of my favourite short stories to read, “Someone Like Sue,” by Rebecca Curtis.

This is what I was thinking:

The fact that Sue didn’t have a job didn’t surprise me. The last I knew, after college, she’d been working at a large department store. But I always thought she’d lose the job, especially because she was so small—she only weighed ninety pounds and she was only five feet tall. Her smallness seemed to point to something about her everyone could see, that she was untrustworthy and could be easily beaten up. Not many people had trusted her in college, and a lot of people had beaten her up.

In this story, this character has just received a phone call from a woman who calls herself Amy but who the character believes to be Sue, her old friend from college. The character is sitting down after the call when her husband comes to her to find out who called. But our character is thinking, and in revealing her thoughts, the author flashes back to her college days to reveal her relationship with Sue, and the kind of people Sue and our character are.

By using flashback, the author achieves a number of things:

  1. She reveals details that help the reader understand Sue and the character, and thus gives the story more depth because the reader now understands the motives of each character.
  2. Interiority. The reader is able to see the character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the situation. 

But her friendship brought me a lot of benefits, like the way we held hands when we entered a party, and how all the guys thought that looked good, and when I thought about the money I’d loaned her that she never paid back, I knew that in a way she thought I owed her the money, because of all those times we’d held hands.

Reading the whole paragraph to the end, the reader is able to see how the character feels about Sue, what she thinks about their relationship and her reaction to Sue’s lie that she is now Amy.

  1. The flashback helps us understand the current conflict even further. We, the reader, now understand why Sue might pretend to be Amy, and why the character struggles between giving her the money or not.
  2. The author has also been able to tell the story in a way that is not 100% linear. She takes the reader to the past and back, and this time, the reader returns with even more details that make the story more interesting and gives a new dimension to the previously expected outcome.

 

Flashbacks can take a number of ways: an object can be used to start a flashback. A word, a gesture, a sound, all of these can bring about a flashback for the character. 

As a writer, the best approach is to use flashback as a tool to complement and strengthen your work. Make it richer, more interesting. But also be wary of too many flashbacks. This will do the complete opposite of what you have in mind. 

Ask yourself questions. How does this flashback change your story? What does it add or take away from it? How has it changed your character? What do they now know?

A very simple way to do this is to apply it to yourself. If, right now, you had to flashback to a specific period in 2020, what would that period be? Why? How will the flashback change your present circumstances, even if for a minute?

Let me answer that. If I had to flashback to a specific period in 2020, it would be the lockdown period. Why? It was the one time where I felt absolutely listless, I could barely read or write. I’ll emerge from this flashback with complete gratitude for where I am right now: able to read and write again, to enjoy the solace that stories bring. 

Now, will you also take the test?

Read: “Someone Like Sue” by Rebecca Curtis.

 

See you soon.

-Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Dancan Wachira from Pexels

 

 

 

 

NOTES ON CRAFT: CREATING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: CREATING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS by Olakunle Ologunro

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Notes on Craft: Creating Memorable Characters

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,

So, to this week’s letter: CRAFTING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS.

I should begin with the obvious questions: a) What are characters? b) What do they do? c) Why should they be memorable? d) How can they be memorable?

I believe that any writer should be able to answer these questions easily. I want you to answer them while I add my own tiny points.

Characters are important to your writing. They are the human and non-human agents that help move your story forward. I say non-human because characters don’t have to be human sometimes. They can be animals, as in Animal Farm by George Orwell. They can be inanimate objects like a bundle of broomsticks, a sheaf of papers, a table and a chair. What they do is that they propel the story forward. Things happen to them, they make things happen, and thus drive the story further and further towards a resolution.

Let’s focus on human characters. How do you make them memorable? How do you write them in such a way that they jump off the pages of the book to become real, alive? How do you make the reader love them so much that they can picture them easily? How do you make the readers bond with them the way readers of Half of a Yellow Sun did with Kainene Ozobia? 

The first and easiest answer is to think of the characters as real people. As humans. If you as a writer deny your character the opportunity to be human, it becomes difficult (and impossible, frankly) for the readers to see them as humans.

In creating something, you have to look at the previously existing models. That way, you are able to draw inspiration and see what you are doing right and wrong. I think it should be the same for your characters too. What existing models do you have? People. 

Look at people. Study them. Observe and take note of the things they do and how they do them. How do they speak? What kind of gestures do they make? What is it about them that strikes you? Their dressing? Their poise? Their carriage? Their anger? Their laughter? Their silence? Now ask yourself, how can I bring this into fiction?

To create memorable characters, a simple hack is that you should have an idea of what the character looks like. That is, their physical attributes and features. This is a bracket that answers questions of age, height, facial structure, hair, etc.

Another thing to put into consideration is their personality. Are they boisterous, quiet, prone to fits of anger? Why? This question then leads to the question of their psychology.

What kind of upbringing do they have? How educated are they? What do they struggle with? What motivates them?

Yes, memorable characters must have motivation. A reason for doing the things that they do. Do they love someone that is unattainable? How are they taking this? Do they feel slighted by someone? How are they reacting to this? Why do they work at that job that doesn’t pay well? Why do they continue to attend that church?

Give your characters conflict. It can be internal, for example, a decision to choose between what seems right and what is right, as in “True Happiness” by Efua Traore. The conflict can also be external. Between them and another person, between them and their environment, the elements.

Put a barrier between your character and the very thing they want the most. How they struggle to achieve this desire is a story all on its own. Make the character a person you can live with, a person you cannot live with, a person you cannot live without.  

At the core of your character creation should be the awareness that all humans are flawed. That is one way to begin the work of crafting memorable characters.

See you soon.

-Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Any Lane from Pexels

 

 

 

NOTES ON CRAFT: HELPFUL TIPS ON WRITING DIALOGUE by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: HELPFUL TIPS ON WRITING DIALOGUE by Olakunle Ologunro

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Notes on Craft: Helpful Tips on Writing Dialogue

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,

It’s me again. I apologise for how long this has taken. Life happened. To be honest though, that’s the nature of life: to always happen. What matters is how we manage it, and frankly, I think I’m doing a poor job at it. But we move anyway, trying and failing until we arrive at perfection.

This letter is about one aspect of writing we must try and fail at, until we arrive at perfection. That aspect is dialogue. Dialogue plays an essential role in any form of writing you do, either fiction or nonfiction. A story cannot simply rely on narration alone. The stories will have characters, and it’s only natural for these characters to have conversations about what they are going through, the beauties of life, and perhaps something as mundane as what they had for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even if these characters have speech impediments and cannot verbally express their desires, they can communicate through sign language or other means, and this helps move the story forward.

Dialogue can be used to reveal things the readers (and even the characters) do not know. 

Dialogue can also show character. Through the way they speak, their choice of words, one can deduce their educational status, their philosophy of life, their dispositions. If they stammer, dialogue should be able to reveal it. If they are nervous, afraid, or flirty, dialogue should be able to reveal it.

Dialogue can also show age. A teenager can be portrayed to use ‘like’ in sentences. For example: “And I was like, oh my Gosh, you did not just say that. Like, can you imagine.”

Dialogue can be used (and should be used) to express emotions: anger, joy, disgust, surrender, etc. If the dialogue is effective, you do not have to rely on dialogue tags like: “You are mad!” Anuli shouted angrily. Because the actions preceding and the dialogue would have shown that to the readers. In fact, you should avoid using any other dialogue tag other than ‘said.’

So, what do you look out for when writing dialogue? What tips are helpful?

For starters, here’s what I do:

  1. I try to know who the characters are. Knowing them means I can understand the kind of things they would say, and how they would say it.
  2. I read the dialogue out loud. This way, I test it to know if it is something a real person would say.
  3. Sometimes, I don’t read it out loud. I turn it over and over, cut out parts that I consider unnecessary. How do I know parts that are unnecessary? Return to 1.
  4. I listen to people. Take not of how they speak, the words they use, the breaks between choosing the next word. And since fiction imitates life, well…

So, how does one get better? Practice. Practice. Read how writers use dialogue, and then practice some more. Here are more helpful tips:

  • Avoid unnecessarily long paragraphs of talk.
  • Ensure that each character has a unique voice or style of speaking.
  • Include details that may or may not have anything to do with speech. For example: 

“Good morning, Mama,” the girl said.

Mama sized her up with her eyes.
“What is good about the morning, Raluchi? Tell me, what is good about the morning when you are yet to pay me what you owe?”

“Squad” by Linda Musita is a story I like for how it uses dialogue. There are two characters in conversation, and Linda Musita depicts them perfectly such that we are able to tell distinctly who is who. What is more? Linda Musita eschews the dialogue tag ‘said’. This goes a long way to show you that there is no “one size fits all” approach to writing dialogue. Master the rules, then bend them the way you want.

See you soon.

-Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

 

 

NOTES ON CRAFT: 15 REASONS WHY YOUR STORY IS BEING REJECTED by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: 15 REASONS WHY YOUR STORY IS BEING REJECTED by Olakunle Ologunro

trash can

Notes on Craft: 15 Reasons Why Your Story is Being Rejected

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,

Here’s a story from my life

In 2016, a few months after I graduated from the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop, I decided to apply for a writing fellowship that was open at the time: the emerging writers’ fellowship by A Public Space magazine. I had no doubts that my piece would be accepted. I had just come from a workshop taught by the Chimamanda Adichie. Who/what could stand in my way?

So, I sent in my story. Three months later, I was slapped with a rejection. I thought, “Are these people okay? Do they not see the literary gold I sent in?” The next year when it opened, I applied again. I had been working on a ‘fantasy’ story I cooked up in my head and showed to a friend who told me it was the best thing since Lesley Arimah’s “Who Will Greet You At Home.” I had never written fantasy, but I was sure of that story’s creativity. I was sure that the readers would see my piece, read the first line and fall to their knees in awe. So, I sent it in. Again, another rejection. I looked at the email — polite, yet firm in its resolve to tell me that my piece was unwanted — and thought, “Nah, you people just don’t like me.”

In 2019, I was cleaning my tiny off-campus apartment when I found the manuscript for the fantasy story (I print out my stories to enable better editing). I thought, “My literary gold. Let me read this again and feel good.” Dear friend, I did not feel good at all. As I read, the only thing I could think of was, “Kunle, what exactly were you high on when you sent this thing? What level of idiotic courage made you think the judges would say yes to this?”

To start with, it was ridden with grammatical blunders: the syntax was in disarray, and in some places, I misspelled some words. What was worse, the characters felt absurd. Forget that it was meant to be fantasy — there was nothing fantastic about the characters. The entire story didn’t add up. And while there might have been a hint of creativity in some places (the hibiscus flowers that glowed in the dark, the character’s mother who stiffened to the point of immobility, the uncle who scrubbed fish scales from his face), it was misapplied creativity, almost like icing a cake with cement mix. I closed the manuscript and said, “No wonder they rejected you.”

Long story, but you get the idea: sometimes, rejection comes because you sent in a piece that has not been thoroughly worked on. You simply did not do your best. 

Critiquing a piece to be accepted is done using objective criteria, and a bit of subjectivity. The objective criteria, finely broken down by David K. Slay who writes for Craft Magazine, is what I’ll share here. To make this easier, pick out a rejected piece of yours and as you read, try to identify areas you think your piece faults. Be honest.

  1. DEPTH:

Does this story have depth? Is it superficial? That is, does it simply scrape the surface of things when it ought to probe deeper? Do the characters have ‘interiority’: are they highly motivated to pursue something central to their development? Do they have agency or are they simply forgettable? Are they stereotypical?

  1. STRUCTURE

Here, you look at the narration of the story. Is it unclear, inconsistent, lacking a definite structure (linear, circular where it ends at the same place it begins, etc)? Is the structure too apparent that it seems to drive the characters rather than have the characters move naturally? Are there inconsistencies in the story being told? Is the story itself illogical, wildly unreasonable?

  1. PACE:

The pace of a story tells you how to read it. I believe it is possible to know a fast-paced story and a story that takes its time. A balance must be achieved. Ask yourself: is this story too fast or too slow? Is the pacing irregular?

  1. BEGINNING/ENDING:

How does it begin? How does it end? I treat the opening of a story as a hook to sink into the reader’s mind, one that wouldn’t let them go until they get to the end. In a short story, you don’t have the liberty of time and space to dawdle or miss a proper first impression with your opening. 

How does it end? Is the ending weak? Is it something you contrived to simply wrap up the story? Does it feel like you tried to summarise? Is the ending memorable enough?

  1. ORIENTATION:

This deals with confusing time and or tenses, or a story where the reader is not grounded in the time and place the story is set.

writing
  1. IMPACT:

How engaging is the story? How remarkable is it? Here, David K. Slay points out things to look out for: Little at stake, lacks tension, impact is unearned, the writer attempts to use surprise endings, melodrama, gratuitous violence, sex, profanity. 

  1. CREATIVITY:

How creative is the story? Is the theme too familiar? Is the plot or story simply unimaginative? Is there an overreliance on adverbs, adjectives, cliches and stereotypes? I wrote in one of my last letters about defamiliarisation where a seemingly familiar story is made new. You should read it here.

  1. LANGUAGE/ PROSE:

Does your story contain irregular or unnecessarily complicated syntax? Does it show a limited vocabulary? Is the rhythm disjointed? In Nigerian-speak, does the story flow?

  1. EXPOSITION:

Does the story tell more than it shows? Is it too explanatory? Does it use a fancy style when it should be lucid? Does the story suggest things it ought to make clear?

  1. VOICE:

How does the story’s voice sound? Does it fit the kind of story being told? For example, I do not expect a story being told by a 5-year-old to read like something a 32-year-old would tell. I do not expect a story told from an illiterate’s point of view to sound boujee, like something a Harvard graduate would pen. How consistent is the voice? Does it carry to the end or constantly fluctuates between coherence and incoherence?

  1. ECONOMY:

How long is the story? Yes, sometimes long can be too long and you need to cut down, especially if some words are superfluous and repeated to no consequence. More importantly, you do not want a story that rambles.

  1. INTENTION:

Are there signs of author contamination? Let me explain: imagine a homophobic writer writing a story with gay people in it. Imagine a misogynistic writer telling a story about women. Characters should be allowed the full range of their humanity, not you, the writer, forcing them to speak or act in ways that are unnatural, more suitable to your interest than to their story. So, check. Does your story consciously or unconsciously promote an agenda?

  1. DIALOGUE:

Do your characters speak like real people? Or, is the dialogue lifeless and unnatural, lacking human touch? Does it contain unnecessary details or convey information the speaker or character would already know? 

  1. POLISH:

How refined is the story? Here, you look at the edits. Does the story look rushed? Is it carelessly presented? You’ll probably find it funny, but some people send in stories without titling them. I once sent a story to a reputable magazine only to discover after that the pdf converter I used had a glitch that blanked one whole page of the entire story. Of course, I got a rejection.

  1. GUIDELINES:

Did you send them what they called for? Imagine sending fantasy to a magazine that needs realist fiction. Did you follow the submission instructions? Right font, formatting rules, titling, and others. 

Now grade yourself. What did you score?

See you soon.

-Kunle

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Resources:

What We Talk About When We Read Submissions

Photo Credits:

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

 

NOTES ON CRAFT: WRITING HABITS by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: WRITING HABITS by Olakunle Ologunro

Notes on Craft: Writing Habits

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,
 

So, I am here again. This time though, feel free to whip me because what I am writing about, Writing Habits, is a principle I don’t even follow myself. Okay, maybe I used to follow it, but life got in the way. But then, should life get in the way of something you love?

From what I know of them, habits are a routine of behaviour that has become a part of you such that it occurs subconsciously. Here’s a story from my childhood. A woman in my area had a child who was fond of sucking her thumb. It was supposed to be a temporary behaviour, the way children pick up things and then discard them. But this child continued. On and on until she made a habit of the thumb sucking. She would sit alone and the next thing, she’d pop the thumb in her mouth. On her way to school, she had the thumb in her mouth. Sometimes, she fell asleep with the thumb in her mouth. Thumb-sucking became a habit for her.

You’re probably thinking, thumb-sucking and writing, what’s the connection? Well, the connection is in the habit, the constant repetition of it until it becomes something you cannot break.

A lot of people who are writers have writing habits. My friend, M, for instance, wakes up at dawn to write. I’m not sure if I can do that. I sleep too often and too much to wake up and be reasonable enough to write something readable.

For you as a writer, I don’t know what habits you have. But a common one often touted is that a writer must write everyday. Well, I found something interesting in the form of a Facebook comment which I’ll paraphrase: You don’t have to write everyday. I don’t know about you, but I find that my life as it is does not give me room to write as much as I want to. Besides, I procrastinate a lot which is quite shameful, but let’s give God the glory. Anyway, the comment continues: The idea that one can write for hours a day does not apply if you’re not a rich American novelist with a wife making your sandwiches. Thinking about your work is writing time. Reading is writing time.

I hope this comforts you. At least for a while.

I said at the beginning that I used to have writing habits. I’ll tell you about them now.

writing
  1. Journaling: You know, keeping a diary and writing in it things that I found interesting. Or scenes from life and other things.
  2. Recording people: I used to own a small book with a brown leather cover. In it, I would write sentences I thought interesting, either something I thought up or one I encountered in a book. I would observe people too: how they spoke, what they wore, their carriage, their mannerisms, etc and record these things. For example, the sister in my church who punctuated her sentences with ‘like’ (I’m like no need because, like, children anniversary will soon come and you know, like, the children they em, like); the woman whose earrings were shaped like semicolons; the man who, when he spoke, always had a reason to run a hand across his head. I recorded bits of conversation too. Like that time when an announcement came up on the radio from a man who said he needed a God-fearing wife and my uncle said, “Person wey no fear God dey find God-fearing wife.” And sometimes, I recorded my environment too. The colour of the sky, the shape of a particular tree, the sound a particular thing made. If carried into the world of fiction, these things make your work true to life, honest. Here’s something from Teju Cole: It might be hard to believe that these things are interesting, but that is what your writing talent consists of: to make the ordinary interesting. In a field of unexceptional events, zoom in on the pungent detail.  
  3. Reading: There is no shortcut around this thing. You cannot be a writer without first being a reader. Read fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc. Read good books and bad books, because only then can you decide what you like and the things you don’t. And please, read interviews too. Interviews are very important, and I honestly find it sad that I don’t read enough of them. In interviews, one is exposed to the author: their opinion about certain things, but more importantly, the principles that guide them and their craft.

Many years ago, I was at JazzHole with M when this man came in. The details are foggy now, but when this man found out about our love for writing, he went out of his way to suggest things for us to make a habit of. I remember he said to read at least one short story per day, at least an article from a reputable magazine, an interview, and to write down things that we’d learned.

I will stop this letter here.

Do you have any writing habits? Do share them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credit:  Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

NOTES ON CRAFT: ESSENTIALS OF A GOOD STORY by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: ESSENTIALS OF A GOOD STORY by Olakunle Ologunro

Black and red typewriter

Notes on Craft: Essentials of a Good Story

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,
 

I’m here again, just like I promised the last time. I hope you are here with me?

This week’s letter is focused on the essentials of a good story: what they are and how you can deploy them in your own stories. Before anything, I should remind you that our perception of stories (written work, generally) is often subjective. For example, if the choice was between The Joys of Motherhood and Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta, I might go for Second Class Citizen while you’d prefer The Joys of Motherhood as the better book. And it’s fine. We will not always like the same work; our taste and preferences differ. But despite these differences, there will be certain qualities shared by the stories we consider excellent and well-written.

Recently, I shared a story with a friend and told him I liked the writing. He said he liked it too, but the story didn’t do for him what he wants good literature to do.

“What would that be?” I asked. 

“Reveal character, teach me about humanity.” 

I think we can start from here: A good story should reveal character, teach about [or shed new light on] humanity.

In one of my creative writing classes at the university, I learnt about defamiliarisation. Here’s a simple definition: making the familiar appear new. This is a truth we all know — every story we want to write has been written before. There is no new story. It might seem far fetched, but it’s the truth. Are you planning to write something about religion? Done. Domestic abuse? Done too. Infidelity? Done. Queerness? Done too. There really is nothing new. Everything is familiar, known. 

How does one then beat this? By making the familiar appear fresh. This leads to what might as well be my next point: A good story makes the familiar appear new, fresh.

Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

To do this, you have to find a fresh approach to the story, an angle that seems unconventional. Chimamanda Adichie’s advice is apt here: “Avoid writing stories that feel too much like Nollywood.” A fresh approach can be through the characterization, the plot, the setting, and the style of language. I have read stories about people grieving lost ones, but I will always remember an excerpt from one of Ayobami Adebayo’s short stories where the walls of the building are the ones narrating the story. That is the kind of story that stays with you. So, before writing, it might be helpful to think of all the ways to tell your story in a way that makes it appear new, that strives to shrug off the overly familiar. I’m not exactly making this a rule; I sometimes just pour stories down onto the page before thinking about it too.

I love Victor Shklovsky’s thought on defamiliarization: “Art makes the familiar strange so that it can be freshly perceived. To do this it presents its material in unexpected, even outlandish ways: the shock of the new.” Again, bear in mind that the ‘shock’ factor is subjective, depends on you or what you have chosen to write. 

Whatever you do, never sacrifice substance for style. 

Have you ever read a story where the style is tight and what not but feel afterwards that something is lacking? Yes, style is good. Play with language and structure and characters; it is something I love to do a lot. But make sure you do not do it at the expense of the actual story you are telling. Always put the story first. Because at the end of the day, it is the story, the substance, that matters. That is another important point: Always put the story first.

In a good story, empathy for your characters is important. This is quite simple: if you don’t feel anything for your characters, how do you expect your readers to feel something for them? In other words, write characters that are human, humane, flawed like the rest of us. How you see your characters determine what you put on the page, and what you put on the page — the character you write — is what the reader will meet and interact with as they read the short story. Even if the character is outrightly bad, be honest in writing them. You owe the character that much.

One piece of writing advice that has remained with me over the years is this: You can do anything; just do it well. What this means is that there are no cut and dried rules per se. And even if there were, if your story is good enough, it can break the rules. What matters is that you tell a story that is honest and true, a story that leaves the reader with something. Or a story that, when it ends, makes them sit quietly for minutes, awed by the experience they just had.

I’ll stop here now. 

Here’s a short story I really like and I think you should read: The Ache Of Longing.

I will be back in two weeks’ time, and we will talk about writer-ly habits. Promise me you’ll be here. 


See you soon,

Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits: Cover Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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