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Jan's Master Class--SLICE OF LIFE

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 1:50 pm
by glorybee
“Slice of life” refers to a short story (or a narrative poem) that contains a very short sequence of events. The term is actually a metaphor; imagine a very sharp knife actually cutting a tiny and very thin slice from the whole of a person’s experiences. That little section, in a writer’s hands, would be a slice of life story.

The Writing Challenge is tailor-made for slice of life stories. How many of us have bemoaned the fact that we didn’t have enough words to fully develop our entries? One solution is to write a slice of life. In such a story, you don’t have to worry about extensive plot development, and there’s little or no exposition. You can forget all of my nifty lessons on conflict—there’s not much of that either (however, see point #4 below).

So…if there’s no plot to speak of, no exposition, little conflict, no resolution—what’s in a slice of life? Well, there’s a character, obviously…maybe two, but no more than that. So if you write a slice of life, you’ll definitely want to work on characterization. Ask yourself—what happened in this particular moment that I can use to show my reader what my character is like?

A slice of life story is also a fine place to work on atmosphere, but don’t spend the whole story describing the draperies. It’s a slice of life, after all.

How much time should a slice of life cover? Well, there’s no hard-and-fast rule. It could be mere seconds, or up to several minutes or hours, or even a day. Much more than that, however, and it’s not a slice any more—it’s the whole pizza.

As far as what goes into a slice of life story…that’s as varied as life itself. It could be something as simple as your main character watching a bird land at his windowsill. The defining criteria:

1. Have a reason for choosing that moment. It should shine a light, somehow, on your character’s soul.

2. Make it compelling reading. If you do choose to write about your character watching a bird, it should be a really interesting bird (or the actions of the fellow watching it should be).

3. If your slice of life is a dialogue between two characters—elevate it beyond ordinary conversation somehow. I’ve read lots of pieces that consist entirely of conversations between two characters, lasting only a few minutes in real time…but they simply haven’t pulled me in. They’re ordinary. I have hundreds of conversations every day, but few (if any) of them would make compelling reading.

4. Hint at some conflict. You might hint at the origins of a conflict, or at the resolution of an implied conflict—in my opinion, the best stories have at least a smidgeon of conflict. I’ve said it before—conflict pulls your reader into the story.

An example of a slice of life in literature is Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners. Nothing much happens here: A traveler knocks on a door a few times, his horse stomps its feet, some ghosts watch from a window, the traveler rides away. But it’s a masterpiece of mood, and it’s well worth reading.

Sheri Gordon’s challenge entry Her Tree is another lovely slice of life. Again, there’s not much action: An old lady listens to the sounds of a tree being felled. Then she hears different sounds. And that’s it—except there’s so much more than that! Read it—you won’t be sorry.

Finally, my story Little One, Relax covers the events in one day of a foster mother and her child. All ordinary events—getting dressed, eating lunch, playing outside—but they reveal my protagonist’s character.

Homework: Discuss something I’ve written in this lesson.

OR link to a slice of life story. If you link, please tell us about your story? Why did you write it? What do you like about it?

I’m nearly at the end of my alphabetical list of terms. A few of you have given me some suggestions on what to do next, and I’m still mulling those over. But I’d welcome additional suggestions, please.

Next week: Stream of Consciousness

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 2:51 pm
by Allison
Oh, I love "slice of life" stories. I think one of the best things is that you can do them in any mood. You can even take the same event and go at it from different moods.

I have quite a few "slice of life" stories. I think a favorite of mine is The Long and Short of It, where I take the reader on a shopping trip for a short person. I chose this because I feel I have a somewhat unique "view" (a low one... ;)) of shopping. Many people think it's easy to shop for smaller sizes, and tell me about how fun/easy it must be to find clothes. I disagree! And this story shows why.

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 3:12 pm
by violin4jesus
I know I've been skipping class the last few weeks (due to a crazy schedule with barely any time to slow down) but I have read through all the lessons!
Since I haven't had time to write anything new, I noticed that this lesson allows for previous that gives me an opportunity to jump in....

This piece not only plays on words (goodness, including the words from this lesson) but also covers a lot of character development, conflict, and resolution in a very short scene - is that what you're talking about? I was trying to think out of the box (yikes, another play on words) with a bit of my own quirky humor....for some reason I'm really good with playing on words - I think it's from my father's constant need to make puns, lol! By necessity the scene had to be short, due to all the inner dialogue I had to pack into it with only 750 words.

Also, my first entry might qualify - although it covers more than one scene, does it fit the criteria for slice of life? It was my first attempt at a Challenge piece and I hadn't really read much of anyone else's work at that point....took me a few weeks to get settled into the Faithwriters' style and routine. :roll:

Thank you for continuing to share your wisdom with us! Hope you're feeling better. :)

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 4:37 pm
by LauraAnne
Here is the link to my "slice of life"" story "Where Is the Water Fountain, Mommy?".

It is a true story of my daughter during a thunderstorm. ... p?id=78924


Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 5:58 pm
by hwnj
Can a slice of life story contain a flashback? If so, how much of the story can the flashback consume before it is no longer a slice of life?
Could it still be a slice of life story if it is set in Heaven or Hell?
And animals can certainly have interesting slices of life. :-)

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 10:22 pm
by GShuler
I have a couple of entries that I have always considered to be slice of life. The first takes place in the few moments it takes to watch a butterfly in a garden. I was trying to show how the butterfly's struggle mirrored our own lives and how we could be better humans by learning a lesson from the butterfly. It is at ... p?id=75345

The second has been used several times before, but it fits. It is a suspence piece that covers just a few minutes of anger and unrelenting desire for revenge. It's at ... p?id=74976

Question: I wrote a story once that took place entirely in the time between two breaths. The story is about a man who is angry at what he blames God for doing to cause the death of his wife. God shows him in a vision how his wife had been in God's care throughout her difficult time. He shows the man how his wife would have turned out bitter and unforgiving had she lived but was now in Heaven and at peace. The story starts with a bitter man taking a breath of air. It ends with the totally reformed and repentant man taking his next breath.

Here is the question: would all that info in one story still be a slice of life since it took only seconds to unfold? I wrote the story when I was young and it, like most of what I write, ended up in the trash so I can't link to it.

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:30 pm
by OKGuardianAngel
I think I've always thought of what you're discussing as "word pictures"... at least to me it's just painting a picture with words. It shows a scene and is limited to just whatever is happening in that scene. I like writing those. :)

Here's one that I wrote after watching a family member deal with a difficult breakup: Someday

And I'm thankful to report that the ending has happened. She's moved on to a much better relationship. :)

Here's another one that I think might fit the topic: When you get to the end of your rope

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 1:30 am
by Chely
hwnj wrote:Can a slice of life story contain a flashback? If so, how much of the story can the flashback consume before it is no longer a slice of life?
Could it still be a slice of life story if it is set in Heaven or Hell?
And animals can certainly have interesting slices of life. :-)
I love you, Holly. I thought of every one of these questions as I scanned my profile...

I second the motion for answers to these questions! lol

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 8:59 am
by Verna
A fictional story that I wrote (imagine that!) about two very different sisters celebrating Christmas after their father's death could fit as a "slice of life." ... p?id=25790

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:04 am
by glorybee
Alison, I remember "The Long and Short of It" very well--it certainly gives a unique perspective to shopping that I wouldn't have thought of!

It doesn't really strike me as "slice of life" though, mostly because of its tone--it's really more of a first person, nonfiction narrative. While slice of life stories can be in first person, they really should feel like fiction.

Nevertheless, it sure made me smile to read it again this morning!

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:10 am
by glorybee
Leah, your first story definitely has that teeny, slice of life feel--until the father enters the story toward the end. I really don't think that a slice of life story can stand too many characters or scene changes. Same thing for the second story--once you change scenes, you've got another slice.

For slice of life, think itsy bitsy and intimate, and you're there.

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:16 am
by glorybee
Laura Anne, your little story is very precious! Haven't we all had moments like that with our little ones?

The only thing that would make it more "slice of life-ish" is if we were more in the head of little Lizzie...being shown the thunder and lightning from her point of view, and having her learn the lesson more internally than just from her mother's words.

Very sweet story!

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:25 am
by glorybee
hwnj wrote:Can a slice of life story contain a flashback? If so, how much of the story can the flashback consume before it is no longer a slice of life?
Could it still be a slice of life story if it is set in Heaven or Hell?
And animals can certainly have interesting slices of life. :-)
Holly, you're killing me!

Let me for the flashback, I'm going to say probably no...a slice of life story should really contain just that one little slice. However, in the hands of a gifted writer, I suppose that a flashback could fit into a slice of life.

As for the setting in heaven or hell--that would make it a slice of afterlife, wouldn't it? I'm going to say no, because one characteristic of slice of life stories is their realism. Not that heaven and hell aren't real, but since we can't write about them without speculation, I'm going to have to put them into a different category than "slice of life". know well how I feel about animal stories! I'm gong to give them a "no", too...for the same reason as above. A sentient, thinking animal telling his or her story, however brief, just lacks that "realism" factor that's necessary for a slice of life story.

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:55 am
by glorybee
Gerald, your first link, like Allison's, is more of a first person narrative than a slice of life story, which should by definition feel like fiction. But "Tick Tock" is definitely a slice of life: it's tiny, it's very intimate, and it reveals the character of its protagonist. Perfect.

Your story that took place in the span of two breaths would really fit the bill, I think. Maybe some day you'll re-create it?

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:58 am
by glorybee
Misti, I love both of those examples, and especially the first one. It's just got that moodiness that I associate with slice of life stories. Thanks so much for the links!