Sliced Lives

The simplest stories can happen with just themes, characters and settings.

A slice-of-life fiction piece is a mundane, realistic, everyday story. It deliberately shies away from well-knit plots and character arcs. Rather than giving characters trajectories where they might evolve, it tells the reader who these characters are when they are not conquering obstacles. It gives characters depth and humanity, and explores themes that otherwise go unnoticed in heavier literature.

In longer texts, slice-of-life often appears where the author deems that characters need to be fleshed out without raising stakes. For instance, in the cartoon series Avatar, the episode ‘Tales of Ba Sing Se’:

Katara and Toph have a girls’ day out; Iroh helps people in town before celebrating the birthday of his dead son; Aang helps a zookeeper build a new zoo; Sokka accidentally ends up in a poetry club; Zuko goes out on a date; and Momo searches Ba Sing Se for Appa. (From Fandom)

In Piku, the vignette where Bachchan’s character takes the cycle and goes riding into Kolkata streets shows his relationship with the themes of cultural connections and freedom. In both these examples, the reader/audience gets to know a few characters better.

Slice-of-life pieces also function independently. They make up for an absent plot with their rich language, relatability, and a relaxed pace. For now, we will do either of these two exercises to demonstrate two techniques to write a slice-of-life story.

  • Think of a mundane, everyday moment which might spark an emotion. For example, facing your blind date in a cafe. Or spotting a shooting star. Then zoom in to the moment and cleave off a timeline from just before it to just after it. For instance, from ordering a coffee to walking up and saying ‘Hi’.

  • Alternatively, think of an everyday character you want to explore in their everyday setting. A gossip-loving aunty talking to your mom over the garden fence or across the apartment corridor. Or a product salesman being ‘product-salesmansy’. Now focus on their immediate arena and atmosphere.

Hemingway’s story does a little of both; it is restricted in both time and space.

Now follow these steps:

  1. Jump right into the story. Do not introduce your characters or give them back-stories. Assume that the characters are already in the arena when the curtain rises. Try detailing them as much as possible.

  2. Use rich language. Pay attention to words that trigger a correct emotion or set up a correct atmosphere. The major trick in this kind of writing is to show, not tell.

  3. Pay attention to the pace. You are writing ~10-30 minutes of real time in ~1500-2000 words. These stories are slow. This allows the author to write vivid details of the character’s world.

  4. Invest in your setting. A slice-of-life fiction may read well in a status-quo setting. Or it may read well in times of rebellion with reversed gender roles. In either case, the larger environment affects the character. A ticking clock and fleeting vehicles might indicate impatience in the cafe-romance story.

  5. If you use dialogue, use it well. Use subtext. Make your characters understate things we normally understate. No exposition. Instead of making the character say that they are tired of waiting in the cafe-romance, have a waiter come up to take the order and build from there.

  6. Be influenced by anime and music, and the power of positive tropes like hope and friendship.

  7. Drench the tale with emotions or be constipated with emotions — in either case, control the flow of emotions through the story. For example, the cafe-romance may have short spurts of disappointment while making the character experience a range of emotions.

  8. Begin well and end better. The end of a slice-of-fiction tale is the most important sentence/paragraph/idea. Though the ending does not follow a set structure, it is oft the most cited.

What to avoid:

  • Do not romanticize.

  • Do not try a stream-of-consciousness.

  • Do not write a rant or monologue.

Some examples:

  • The Lumber Room (Saki), The Old Man at the Bridge (Hemingway), The Garden Party (Mansfield)

  • Burn-E, Geri’s Game

  • Parts of Your Lie in April, Clannad

  • The House on Mango Street (Cisneros), Malgudi Days (some stories)

  • Peanuts, Garfield

Prompts, in case you do not want to write on your original ideas:

  1. An over-the-counter meeting between a teller and an old lady who is struggling with her pension form. The teller is frustrated, and the old lady now complains that the pen does not work. (temporal isolation)

  2. The ghats of Benaras, from where it is said that the waters of Ganges never recede, sees two boatmen pitching to the same set of tourists. (spatial isolation)

  3. She was sitting in the back when her name was announced for the award. She ran all the way to the steps which led to the stage, and then stopped, deciding to walk slowly and assuredly here on. (both)

Author: Ayush

I love writing, and this blog serves as a slow growing collection of all my writing endeavours.

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