Paul Alan Fahey is the author of the 2016 Rainbow Award winning writing reference, The Short and Long of It: Expand, Adapt, and Publish Your Short Fiction, and the editor of the nonfiction anthology, Equality: What Do You Think About When You Think of Equality? For eight years Paul was editor-in-chief of Mindprints, A Literary Journal, an award- winning forum for writers and artists with disabilities.
At first, my writing was very academic. Mainly for professional development and advancement purposes in the colleges where I taught. You know the kinds of journal articles you keep by your bedside just in case you have insomnia. That kind of stuff.
When I moved to New England in the early ‘90s, as a response to losing my mom to cancer and most of my close friends to the AIDS epidemic, I became enamored of a new genre, flash fiction, then defined loosely as pieces of 250, 500 and 750 words. I wrote a lot of these tiny stories and published quite a bit of them in small lit journals and magazines. So it was no surprise when I moved back to California to teach again in the community college system that I’d create and edit an international literary journal of short fiction, memoir, poetry and art called Mindprints. Unfortunately, once I retired, so did the journal. The final issue appeared in the fall of 2007. So up to retirement, I’d gone from professional article writing in educational journals to creating very short pieces of fiction and nonfiction.
After years of writing in this tiny genre, I found I was in a rut. I wanted to break out of flash. I wanted to write longer stories. All of my writer friends were on their second or third novel. Yikes! And I was behind them. Way behind. Yet the more I tried to break out of flash and stretch the word count, the more I felt like a tightrope walker without a net. Then a kind of miracle happened. I discovered Syd Field. I devoured his texts on screenwriting and began applying his techniques to my writing. And you know what? I discovered they worked. As a result, I created this pre-writing strategy:
Before I write one word of text, I write the story’s logline—called the throughline by most writers. This is the spine of my story summarized in a very few words. Then I think about the theme or moral core of my story—what is the universal truth I want to explore? I also want to know the story’s three-act structure as much as possible—usually the beginning and end, and at least one plot point, or turning point in the story.
Applying this strategy, I’ve gone on to write short stories, personal essays, novellas, a novel, and a writing book that discusses this very issue: how to expand and adapt short pieces into longer publishable work. And here’s the gold: If you know your story’s logline and theme and at a bit of your three-act structure before you begin the first draft, you’ll use them to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your prose in ways you never dreamed of. Trust me. It works.