Clear and concise—it’s the two-headed monster of short fiction. We command ourselves to write profound stories while taking up a modest portion of copy space, and edit and edit until we want to punt our laptops off the top of Old Main.
I’m not qualified to write about what works, but I can write about what I’m experimenting with. In an attempt to make my own writing clear and concise, I have my protagonist, a Navy SEAL, experience his own moment of self-revelation that is the catalyst for a broader set of decisions he will make.
I try to set this moment of clarity through a series of poignant moments within the story. My protagonist must face combat scenarios which draw him into the dark corners of war. These moments have consequences which reach a crest, and those consequences provide a new normal.
It all sounds simple enough, but the struggle comes with finding the dexterity to make what’s familiar new or the unfamiliar clear. For example, something I look at in the story is combat trauma. This scenario is not a new revelation, so the challenge is for me to make it profound in a way in which readers can connect.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the struggles that some vets have with PTSD and the concerning number of veteran suicides. The media covers the problem a lot, so there are two basic angles they take. The usual one is writing about the struggles and unraveling of veterans who commit suicide—which is always a gut-wrenching read. The other is writing human interest stories about veterans with PTSD who have gone on to lead successful lives.
The coverage generally relegates itself to the subject’s post-military life. With that in mind, my story explores another angle that’s rarely covered: a veteran special operations soldier’s decision to not re-enlist and exit the military even though he still has all the qualifications to continue the fight.
You see, my protagonist may have all the qualifications to keep in the fight, but it’s the mental trauma that gives him a sense of clarity. He could go on serving, but he realizes that it’s not simply about physical qualifications. In the end, it’s about how much combat a soldier can take before he must walk away.
I try to demonstrate in the story that there is courage and no shame in walking away. In fact, it’s his saving grace—knowing when he’s reached his threshold and wading into the uncertainty of civilian life.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that my character is battered, not broken. No doubt he’s suffered physically and mentally from the long years of combat deployments, but he finds a moment which reminds him that he’s still capable of finding his way home and making a life for himself.
So that’s my experiment: giving my character a moment of clarity, hoping that his own revelation will be an implicit message to the audience.
Author’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of articles that will chart the progress I’m making on writing a short story. The story will be part of a larger Geneva College project in which students from Dr. Williams’s ENG 344 Publishing compile their short stories into a published collection for the campus. Check us out on Facebook under “Geneva Inklings.”
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.