Know your genre. If you want to write short stories, READ as many as you can! Explore a variety of genres and styles and expose yourself to as much diversity as possible. We really do learn by osmosis, so allow yourself to absorb elements like story structure, plot and character development and impactful endings from your experience as a reader. In this way, you will find those approaches that resonate with you and that you wish to explore in your own writing.
Keep it Simple
While you can dig deep into the complexities of great writing, to begin with, keep it super simple. One way of doing this is as follows:
Find your Idea. You may discover ideas from your own life or encounters, or you may explore ‘trigger’ ideas from online lists that are readily available, such as this one.
Write your first draft. Just allow the story to flow without thinking too much about plot and character development. Write from beginning to end and then…
Leave your draft for at least 24 hours to let it settle.
Read as a reader. Read your first draft without making any actual edits yet and allow further ideas or refinements to simmer up.
Revise. Revise. Now you edit! Most authors agree that a vital step in any writing process is that of editing and multiple revisions. Yes, multiple revisions. Particularly when it comes to short stories, less is definitely more. Through the editing process, you have the chance to pare your words down to the truly essential, leaving you with a tight and concise story.
A Few Helpful Tips for Crafting your Story
Choose a slice. Keep your focus narrow. You don’t have the luxury of long back stories and detailed stage-setting. A short story is like a small window into an entire world, so be specific and focused. This means, don’t get tangled in the extravagant details of the ‘afternoon sun glinting off her glorious golden hair’, unless it is vital to your storyline.
Dive right in. Jump straight into the conflict or the challenge that your character is facing. Again, detailed back stories are not necessary here. One useful way of doing this is by identifying the ‘Turning Point’ for the character; a decision or action that occurs that launches the plot into its trajectory. Recall Neo’s choice between the blue pill and the red pill in The Matrix?
Know your characters. This doesn’t mean you have to explain every single characteristic to your readers but having in-depth profile knowledge yourself will add substance to your characters. There are many character development sheets available online, such as this one, but below are some of the common areas to consider for your character:
At the very least, your reader will need insight into the character’s:
Physical appearance: provide a visual understanding of the character.
Emotional state/Thought: give insight into the character’s internal world, their thoughts, memories, fears, hopes.
Speech: the character is not just there to announce plot details – develop their personality and expression through their words.
Action: give the reader insight into the character by their actions and behaviour rather than merely describing them.
Tug at the heartstrings. Stories that are evocative, that engage a reader’s senses and emotions are the most impactful and memorable. If you can make the reader identify with the situation or feel empathy for the character, you’re doing it right.
Catch that title. Explore the title for your story and be creative! You want to grab interest right up front, and remember, the premise of ‘less is more’ also applies here.
Build the conflict. Conflict creates tension and tension creates movement in a storyline. It also keeps a reader glued to the pages to discover the outcome or resolution.
That’s all folks! Provide your reader with a satisfying ending. (That doesn’t necessarily mean ‘happy’ either!). The ending can be rapid as long as it resonates with the reader and is not forced or contrived. The ending usually contains some form of resolution to the conflict or tension, even if partial.
Short stories are certainly an art form and one that you can learn and refine with practice. Be curious and playful and allow yourself to experiment. Who knows, you may just be the next best-selling author!