Notes, from The Twilight Zone

These are exactly as presented, notes. Feel free to chime in about any of my points, or about any decent short story tutorial you enjoy.

Regular readers know I bought the entire series of The Twilight Zone. This is an attempt to learn something about writing short stories. I’ve watched two disks out of about twenty-five.

In watching the earliest episodes of The Twilight Zone, I’ve already learned some things. I really enjoy these stories, and the list of old actors are like seeing old friends again. That’s a distraction. I even got out a pen and paper to help me focus.

I’m happy to see that I’m not insane for writing more than one genre. Twilight Zone included science fiction and paranormal stories. I haven’t seen any real fantasy, but there are small elements peppered here and there. It can be done.

The first lesson is that I can’t replicate Serling. (Or Hitchcock from another old favorite.) Using a narrator to bring the audience up to speed is about forty years out of style. I’m not dissing on those who like omnipotent point of view, but I’ve only toyed with it in micro fiction. Serling brings the audience into the story in a few quick paragraphs.

I may be able to replace Serling with a good hook. (Maybe) Some line that draws readers in. “All children, except one, grow up.”

It’s probably best to start with character, but setting may work on occasion. This character must be interesting. If it’s a bad person, the character should be harming someone the audience would root for.

Add the strange spice right about here. What kind of story is this? Paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction. Get it on the page early. Twilight Zone uses a lot of peddlers. Not much use in a modern story, but we have pawn shops, fences, even auctions.

Whatever the strange spice brings, make it light. It can be charming, fun, mildly amusing. The reader might even be envious of something special a character gains.

Change the strange spice to terrifying. Make sure the reader is uncomfortable at this point. Better yet, make it personal.

End with a twist the reader never saw coming. (Good luck.) It may be helpful to write the ending first.

There is no time for a full hero’s journey. Things like training, gathering the team, and mentors have to go. It’s a short story, get to the point.

Important, the science fiction episodes dealt with the culture of the day. Space travel and nuclear war were on everyone’s mind. Today we might have genetics, GMO food, overpopulation, global warming, or depletion of resources in land or sea.

I’m pretty happy with myself as far as my story elements. Lisa, the robot, has GMO skin. Prejudice plays a role in Wild Concept, Panama, and The Cock of the South. Arson has socialized medicine and big insurance as the villain. Yay me!

The seven deadly sins seem to have been as much a motivating factor then as now. Still valid plot issues.

I was slightly surprised to see a robot girl in one episode. They didn’t take time to explain her, like I could in a novel. She was not the main character, Jack Warden was.

Some science fiction elements are timeless; time travel, space exploration, artificial intelligence. I can still use these.

I have no doubt my Muse will be inspired. I’ve already noticed her sandalwood perfume in the air.

I may discover a few thing more as I enjoy these shows. If I do, I’ll share them. It’s hard to come by a good tome about writing a short story. It seems they skip over minor failures and successes, to just deal with the big ones.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Notes, from The Twilight Zone

  1. Wow! Sounds like you’ve learned a lot already!

    I never think much about this sort of stuff. I just write. Maybe that’s why I cant do shorts.

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  2. I endorse the idea of writing (or at least mentally working out) the end before penning the story… most of my work starts like that, though not all. I know where I want to get, and work backwards. Other stories just write themselves. Sort of. I am so looking forward to your short stories! I am a huge fan… and in this day and age where people either do not have the time or do not TAKE the time to read long reads, shorts and flash seems to fill a nice little niche… I appreciate your analysis and shall take much of it on board for my own use, though I do not do sci-fi or fantasy. I do, however, love both genres! Very excited about your newest endeavour!!! Mother Hen xx

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    • I always loved short stories, right along with novels. I’m so happy to see their return. I’ve worked off of complete outlines, and even half outlines. I’ve never gotten the end first.

      It’s funny in a way, about my next project. There is a complete MS out with advance readers, a half written novel, then the idea of a short story book. Next is relative.

      I’m honored that you read some of my science fiction. Thanks for stopping by today, and watch out for those mutant hens. Maybe they’re cockatrice eggs.

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      • Hahaha!!! No… acockatrice only hatches from a “cock egg”… i had one of those last year. It went into hubby’s omelet… My hens are straight up mutants. As for your multitidinous projects, you are going to be a busy man!! But what a wonderful journey…

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  3. I think another element of time that brought such success to TZ, was that we were in the Space Race, but had not yet discovered what was in the unknown world outside of Earth. People’s fear of Martians, Venusians, etc., was actually real at the time. I think a writer today could still capture that if they wrote a period piece set in the 1950s or early 60s. I also believe that besides the lack of Rod Srling, that’s why the 1980s and 2002 versions of Twilight Zones were not as good. That being said, *one* particular episode of one of the 2002 TZ’s was phenomenal, and it also reminds me of one of your short stories you had before Halloween about the Nazis in space (though this episode does not involve space, but time travel). You can view the entire episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cf1caeyd53Y

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  4. hi, craig. your writing sounds very interesting, and by the way, our mutual friend, rachel sent me ) beth

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