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The Short-short Story: 500 Words or Less

Here’s some tips in writing short piece of fiction under 500 words.

Writing a story 500 words are less can be a bit tricky. When every words counts an author must choose their words carefully. Here are 10 steps to follow in creating a story 300 to 500 words.

Plot & Theme: Decide on a simple plot line. Usually, the main character needs or wants something that he or she is having trouble getting. You can work this main idea in countless different ways. An usual twist will give your story additional appeal. There should also be an underlying but unstated message.

Setting: Very short stories need to be limited in time and space, perhaps a few hours in a child’s life that takes place in a classroom, on a school bus, at a friend’s house or in a back yard.

Characters: Your story will usually revolve around one particular character. Keep other characters to a minimum. Description boosts your word count and clutters your story with words that could be put to better use elsewhere.

First Draft: Write a story in narrative form and don’t worry about word length. Once you’ve written it out, you can go back and edit.

The story opening is A and ending is C. The main body of the piece involves getting from A to C on the shortest time possible. Dialogue should sound natural. Use the words in snappy sentences but avoid slang, which becomes dated too quickly. You won’t have space for a lot of description, vivid characterizations or motivations, but colors and other visual details that help the reader see the characters makes the story stronger.

Substitute: Keeping with the basic plot, begin to trim away as much narrative as possible, substituting dialogue and action for exposition. Of all the writing techniques, dialogue and action are the most important in short, short stories, because they keep everything moving forward.

Edit: Many words, especially adverbs and adjectives, are unnecessary. Your main job is to cut, cut, cut,until your are close to the required number of words. Even when you have found a wonderful phrase that says just what you mean, if it has too many words, it doesn’t belong. You have to be ruthless and not fall in love with any particular words or phrases. Cut them as if you can no longer stand them.

Opening: Move the words until you get an opening that immediately pulls the reader in, something from their everyday life that grabs their attention and holds it.

The Middle: Work on the lines that get you from A to C. Move the plot forward without a lot of unnecessary details, and without saying what the idea is.

Closing: You’ll want an ending that leaves the reader satisfied. You’ll need to try many different versions of your words until you get the closing that sounds and feels right. Changing or eliminating even one word can create strong, memorable sentences.

Final Cut: Set the story aside for a while then pick it up and pretend that you are reading it for the first time. Try to see it through the eyes of the reader. Then go through it again to make sure everything holds together. Even stories this short can wander, and there’s no room for that. Read your story one last time, checking again for non essentials. Every word must pull its own weight.

When you follow these steps you will have created a well-written, entertaining and complete story that will appeal to your audience.

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