Short Stories

Short Stories

Short stories are a completely different beast than novels are. In some ways they are trickier to write given the fact you have a far more limited amount of words to tell your story. So what are some things to keep in mind?

First you want to start as close to the end as you can. Jump right into the action and excitement and explain as you go. Most people start their short stories too soon. You want to start with a first sentence, first paragraph, and a first page that hooks your reader and pulls them into the action right away. Start with tension and the unexpected. Know your characters but leave the backstory out. You as the author need to know far more to write the character than your reader will need to know to follow the story. Each word in a short story is precious, don’t waste any on info dumping. Use dialogue to convey more than just words. And pair dialogue with body gestures to paint a complete picture (think Show, Don’t Tell). And use conflict and tension to keep your reader turning pages. What does your character want? What forces are acting against them? Who is working against your protagonist? And all of this must lead to your ultimate climax where things seem at their worst for your protagonist before the turning point where they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

So how do we write a short story, step by step? Let’s start with what you need. First you need a story idea. Whether this is a full concept, piece of dialogue, or a character, pick an idea to develop into your story. Then you need time to write. You want to write a short story as quickly as possible, in one sitting if you can. Now grab a pen and paper or your favorite electronic device and let’s get started.

First we plot the story. Brainstorm and get the idea of the story all down. Imagine telling the story to a friend. Once you’ve figured out your story, it’s time to get to know your characters. Start with your protagonist and fully develop them. What do they look like, what do they do for a living, what are they afraid of, what is their goal, motivation, and flaw, and what is their past like? Answer these questions and more for any main characters in your story, but be wary of having too many characters in a short story. Aim for three or less.

Next, write the perfect first line. Make it as intriguing as possible. Spend time crafting the first sentence, and then the first paragraph, and then the first page. Hook your reader. But remember, rough drafts are rough for a reason. You do not have to tell the story perfectly the first time. In fact, you won’t. But get the story down and make it shine in edits.

Now develop a scene list. Short stories generally have around seven scenes. Write them down to give yourself a plan for how to get from A to Z.

If you have to do any research for your story, now is the time. Now that you know what your story is, you can research efficiently without altering your plot with plot bunnies and other rampant ideas.

Finally it’s time to write your story. Sit down and write it all in one go or as close to one as you can. Write without editing as you go. Get the story out and get it down. When you are done, let the story sit for a few days. Then go back and edit it with a critical eye. Repeat until your story is as good as you can make it.

And then celebrate because you’ve finished a short story! Definitely something worth celebrating. Reward yourself with a treat and get ready to start the process over again with a new idea. Finishing any story will teach you things about writing and your writing process, so if you are struggling to finish a novel or long-form story, then try practicing with a few short stories. Learn finishing and what it takes. Then go back and apply what you’ve learned to your novel.

Do you have any tips for writing short stories? Anything you struggle with? Comment below and, as always, happy writing.

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