Some writers love writing short stories. They love the attention to detail. They love the master stroke of a twist at the end. Other writers decry the lack of space to develop character and intricate plots. Whichever camp you belong to, short stories can help get your name out in the world as a writer.
The following is taken from my writing in a recent issue of the free Writing Women newsletter.
A simple internet search reveals there are 5 steps to writing a short story. No, it’s 6 simple steps. Oops, 9 proven steps. Apparently, both Neil Gaiman and Kurt Vonnegut had 8 rules, but not the same rules. One website pared that to 5 important rules. Another found 7 immutable rules, and yet another found 24. Scrolling a bit more reveals the 5, 9, or 10 elements of a short story. Stop! We’re here for the Readin’ and Ritin’ not the Rithmetic.
Let’s take it word by word.
- Writing — a good short story, must follow the same general principals of writing. To name a few:
- The reader wants to connect with the protagonist. Characters must have depth and emotion.
- The setting should contain just enough description to allow the reader to build a mental picture, but bear in mind that sometimes the setting is a character.
- Short pieces are good places to display your versatility. Look for powerful verbs and descriptors to convey maximum meaning with few words.
- Short — Make sure every word counts. After writing the story, go through it paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and word by word making sure each element moves the story forward.
- Focus on one aspect of the story: character, action, setting, and atmosphere must be there, but one must dominate.
- Leave the complicated conflicts, inner tensions, and convoluted plots for your next novel.
- Sketch your characters and your descriptions with as few words as possible. Leave out any unnecessary details, but don’t leave things so nebulous the reader is left adrift.
- Stories— The plot must evoke emotion in the characters. The conflict and its resolution are vital elements, but without emotion your story will be flat.
- Keep your story coherent by sticking to one character’s point of view. This does not have to be the protagonist, and often suspense requires the POV character to be secondary and not privy to the protagonist’s thoughts.
- Limit your characters, but not your imagination.
- The piece should flow from beginning to a satisfying end.
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“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
― John Steinbeck