Short stories. Love ’em or always left wanting more?
The art of writing a short story is a whole skill set in itself, in my opinion. It’s not just a snippet from a novel, or a single-scene padded out with more words. It needs to stand as a whole story, and that takes a twist to your usual writing craft.
I’ll state my position up front: I love ’em! I love to immerse myself in reading and writing them. It’s the challenge of telling everything without needing paragraphs of setting and backstory – yet enough to make your reader grasp the essence of your characters, and to root for them.
I revisited an article recently from http://www.write101.com/shortstory.htm on this topic. I’ve posted some of it below, at least the headlines. I follow so many of these guidelines when I know the story I want to tell is shorter than usual. Yes, I believe you need to know that going in to the project – it’s not the same as starting The Great Novel and falling short on word count LOL.
Let me know what YOU think about Short Stories!
Excerpted from http://www.write101.com/shortstory.htm.
Novice writers are often given this advice on how to structure their short stories:
- Put a man up a tree
- Throw stones at him
- Get him down
When you come to think of it, it’s good advice for any writer. So follow the steps in the plan below to start writing great short stories.
Short Story Plan
Start with a situation – a problem to be resolved for your protagonist ( the man up the tree). Then present the problems that can occur (throw some stones). The final step is to show how you can solve the problem – get the man down from his leafy perch – safely.
Short Story Theme
Every piece of writing must have a message or thread of meaning running through it, and this theme is the skeleton or framework on which you hang your plot, characters, setting etc.
As you write, make sure that every word is related to this theme… Every excess word is a word that dilutes the impact of your story.
Time Span for Your Short Story
An effective short story covers a very short time span. It may be one single event that is momentous in the life of your main character or the story may take place in a single day or even an hour. Try to use the events you depict to illustrate your theme.
Setting for Your Short Story
Because you have such a limited number of words to convey your message, you must choose your settings carefully … there’s no room for free-loaders in a short story!
Appeal to your readers’ five senses to make your settings more real.
Characters in Your Short Story
Around three main characters is all a short story can effectively deal with because too many will distract you from your theme.
Don’t give in to the urge to provide detailed background on your characters … decide on the characteristics that are important for your theme and stick to those. If you fall in love with your character, use him/her as the basis for a novel later on.
Short Story Dialogue
Never underestimate the power of dialogue in conveying character, but it must contribute to the main focus of the story – don’t just use it to pad out your characters. Every word you put into the mouth of your characters must contribute to revealing your theme … if it doesn’t, be ruthless and cut it.
Vivid Imagery for Your Short Story
Vivid imagery also draws the reader in.
Capture the reader’s interest in, and empathy for, your characters. You need to paint such a vivid picture that the reader can imagine himself or herself to be in the scene. An empathetic reader lives the fictional dream.
Plot for Your Short Story
Begin with an arresting first paragraph or lead, enough to grab the readers and make them curious to know what happens next.
Make sure your plot works – there must be a beginning, a middle and an end. But don’t spend too much time on the build-up.
Don’t signal the twist ending too soon – try to keep the reader guessing until the last moment.
If you’re telling a fast-moving story, say crime, then keep your paragraphs and sentences short. It’s a trick that sets the pace and adds to the atmosphere you’re conveying to the reader.