The secret to any good short story is having that \u2018a-ha!\u2019 moment; the moment where everything comes together for the reader, where all the threads are tied up, and where they stop and say \u2018damn, how did they do that?\u2019\r\n\r\nWe\u2019ve all had those moments as readers, but replicating that from the reverse side of the story, as a writer, is not easy. It was 19th Century American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne who first said:\r\nEasy reading is damn hard writing."\r\nIt\u2019s true. It is hard writing, and a lot of thought goes into it. But Hawthorne forgets to mention that there are ways to make it easier.\r\n\r\nIn literary writing, that \u2018a-ha!\u2019 moment comes from discovering a deep, hidden meaning within the text.\r\n\r\nThe reader realises that Miss Brill\u2019s fox scarf is a metaphor for her loneliness ('Miss Brill' by Katherine Mansfield), or that there is something sinister going on in this small town ('The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson).\r\n\r\nSo how do you draw out that \u2018hidden meaning\u2019 within your short story; how do you write an \u2018a-ha!\u2019 moment without slaving over your story for hours?\r\n\r\nFind your story's hidden message through objects and imagery... Image Credit: Lif... via Flickr Creative Commons\r\nThe Story Object\r\nThis is my favourite way to start writing a story from scratch. The story object works first as a writing prompt, and then as the driving metaphor of your story.\r\n\r\nThe writer chooses any object. Physical objects work best because the point is to actualise something conceptual, which grounds the higher meaning of your story in something very realistic.\r\n\r\nThe object is simply a tool to explore your characters and themes, and could be anything from a pair of eyes (like The Great Gatsby) to a setting or place like the house in Cloudstreet.\r\nFor example:\r\nIn my story \u2018Mrs. Metkin\u2019s Lemons\u2019 featured in Kindling Volume I, I started with a lemon tree as my story object. From there I started to imagine scenes of the lemon tree in a suburban backyard and an elderly woman who picked the fruit. Suddenly I had a setting and characters.\r\n\r\nNext, I used the lemon tree as a metaphor throughout my short story. The tree began to represent the sour marriage between the old couple, and I played with imagery to weave the lemon tree into the story until it was almost its own character.\r\n\r\nBy starting with an object and forming a metaphor around it, the writer can slowly build the story up with layer upon layer of subtext until the reader naturally discovers the metaphor and the hidden meaning, resulting in that \u2018a-ha!\u2019 moment.\r\nPace Yourself\r\nOnce you\u2019ve got your story object and your metaphor sorted, it\u2019s natural that you want to rush out the writing and spill the beans to the reader.\r\n\r\nThe best part about reading a story and having that moment of sudden realisation is that it comes about slowly, it creeps up on the reader and in a matter of lines they\u2019re shutting the book and saying, \u2018Oooh!\u2019 because it\u2019s just too good.\r\n\r\nWhen writing, pace the story out so that the metaphor you are building is revealed slowly. Take your time creating the characters, using dialogue, setting the scene. You're writing a story after all, and a story needs much more behind it than a good metaphor or meaning.\r\n\r\nPrompt your story and ground your plot by using an object... Image Credit: S. Etole via Flickr Creative Commons\r\nQuick Tips\r\nShort story writing is a craft, and like all writing, a lot of it is just down to practice and workshopping to find out what works. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King describes the story as a fossil, and the writer as an archaeologist:\r\nStories are found things, like fossils in the ground... Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it's enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same."\r\nHere are some things to remember when excavating your short story:\r\nLet your story breathe\r\nThere is no limit to the amount of words you can use to explore your story and the meaning of your object. If you reach 1500 words and you feel like you need more time to properly unveil the characters and plot, take it to 3000 or 5000 (or higher!)\r\n\r\nThe story will take as long as it takes. It\u2019s easier to stretch out your draft and then work on cutting back in your edits, than to write too little and need to flesh out later on.\r\nWhat is obvious to you, is subtle to the reader\r\nDon\u2019t rely on a few words to carry the meaning of your story across. Readers need to find the patterns within the story, and if the patterns aren\u2019t consistently there then they might miss your metaphor!\r\nThe object doesn\u2019t need to be the centre\r\nJust because you have begun with the object doesn\u2019t mean you need to limit yourself to it. Explore contrasting objects and imagery, pit two objects against each other and see how they create new (dis)connections.\r\n\r\nYou can start with an object and move on to a totally different story and metaphor. You are the writer, you can do whatever you want!