More and more random opportunities keep coming my way. This is the magic of networking, again, it can be Heaven or Hell.

This time, I was invited to an event on Facebook by a friend only to discover my name was on the flyer for performing spoken word. Now, like most writers, I'm an introvert. Don't confuse this with being shy! I am not shy, I just get quiet in groups. Introverts try to judge the reaction of the people around them to whatever they say and in large groups where I don't know everyone, it's impossible to predict their reactions to many things, so I tend to stay quiet.

However, spoken word means reading a short story aloud. I have no fear of public speaking: I've taught college courses and I once delivered a speech to 6,000 people in Washington D.C. That was back in my poetry days (which I stopped writing in 2004) and is a story for another day. Once thing these have in common was writing before hand, aka, preparation. Spoken word is the same, so I have agreed to do it.

Should you ever get the chance to do this, there is a simple method. First, of course, you must know what type of event it is and what style of story is expected. Second, you must know what length of time you are allotted. Now to begin your story, here is one instance I will tell you there is a trick. Throw out conflict. Imagine a larger story, and focus on writing a scene, just one scene, and add in a small twist at the end. Some good, classic ones are:

  • Your hero (protagonist narrator) turns out the be the villain  
  • Your antagonist turns out to be the hero
  • Your love story turns out to be a criminal confession
  • Your detective turns out to be the missing person

Feel free to come up with your own, just keep it simple. Once you have an idea in your head, write half a page. Edit it for grammar, spelling, and punctuation! Read it aloud and time yourself. Read it naturally, dramatically, as you would to an audience. Say you have 5 minutes to read your piece and you read half a page at just over 1 minute. This means at 2 pages you'll be at nearly 5 minutes. Now finish it, edit it, and re-read it in full. You'll have to trim it more, I guarantee it! Keep trimming until you're at 1 minute less than your allotted time. Nerves will often make you read it more slowly in front of others than when alone.

For me this is a Gothic Creative Arts Faire with an erotic bent. So...I wrote a 707 word short story about necrophilia. A young woman initiates sex with a dead man when her female friend shows up. The friend is a necromancer who revives the dead man, they have a threesome, and it turns out the necromancer is his killer. A simple twist in a short, erotic story. I will read this 12/9 but you can read it here first:

La Belle Mort

The key is to remember your genre. For me it was erotic horror. So I jumped in on a single scene explifying erotica and horror. There's no need to know the character's aspirations, hopes, dreams, or mental issues, keep it simple! The twist is a very small one; the woman who revived the corpse is his killer, and did this for her lover. My main goal here is to horrify yet titillate the audience.

If you ever do this, think of public readings you've attended by an author who reads a selection from their book. You'll notice they always read some pages and end with a chapter ending. Why? Chapter endings are best served with revelations that still have unanswered questions (this keeps you reading). A good example is one that ends with the motive of a killer but not the identity, e.g. a woman was murdered for her newborn child, but the killer's identity is unknown. The idea is to leave the listener satisfied they have gleaned something important, but hook them so they want more.

You may not get the chance to do a spoken word presentation but if you ever do, jump at it! If you have a writer's group have a spoken word short story night. This exercise will teach you how to build tension without conflict, how to create simple reveals and inversions (aka twist endings) and make you a stronger writer overall.

Wish me luck on my reading December 9th, 2011 at the 1901 Gallery in Chicago IL, and good luck on your spoken word venture!