Are you new to the world of short story writing? Not sure what constitutes a good story? This article will guide you on how to write a short story, what format to follow and which mistakes to avoid.
Some writers tend to argue that short stories aren’t as powerful or stimulating as longer works of fiction; however, this is far from the truth. Short stories deliver their central message just as effectively as any other form of writing. In fact, this form of writing allows writers to create more content in a short period of time. In other words, if you’re someone who wants to write about something that interests you without investing in a novel, you’re in luck.
Short stories are in demand these days. Nowadays, most people don’t have the time to read a 400-page book. These small pieces of writing allow its readers to take a break from reality without carrying the weight of having to complete a long work of fiction. Novels are undoubtedly still the first love of most avid readers, but for those who are light readers or just want a quick read, short stories allow them to do precisely that. That being said, short stories will never go out of style.
Delivering a story in fewer words requires great skill. Thus, at times, not even the most seasoned writers know precisely how to write a short story. Nonetheless, it is a skill that can be learned and mastered with time. The key to learning how to write an excellent short story is consistent practice. It doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult unless you’re starting with a pessimistic mindset. All it requires is for you to have an idea, an idea that you believe is worth sharing with the world. Trust your instinct and be creative.
With this guide, you are just a few steps away from becoming a successful short story writer. Read along to discover all the tips and tricks you need to know about writing a singularly powerful and inspiring short story.
Where to start?
The very first step toward writing a compelling short story is knowing exactly what a short story is. If you are unable to differentiate a short story from other forms of writing, you are setting yourself up for failure. Therefore, it is suggested that you spend an ample amount of time learning about the characteristics of a short story. The best way to do this is by reading already existing short stories.
Make a list of some of the best short story writers and read their work thoroughly. Look for commonalities in their writing styles, detect characteristics that differentiate these pieces of writings from their counterparts, make notes, and start brainstorming ideas.
What is a short story?
A short story can be defined as a self-contained work of prose fiction that can be read in one sitting. The purpose of these forms of stories is to capture a specific moment, evoke a certain mood, or impart a moral. All the elements in the story, including the pacing, character, plot, and structure, together work towards this goal.
To help you develop a better understanding of what consists of a short story, we have made a list of characteristics that will help a short story more effectively. Follow the list below to become a successful short story writer:
There is no maximum or minimum length of a short story. However, an average short story is usually somewhere between 1000 and 7500 words. Some people may stretch this word limit up to 15,000 words. Nevertheless, they are still smaller than novels and only make around 10-25 pages. Any short story that is smaller than 1000 words is known as “flash fiction” or a “short short story.” Similarly, anything less than 300 words is known as “microfiction.”
It is important to note that short stories usually focus on a single subject. This subject can be as simple as teaching children why lying isn’t a good habit to something as thrilling as a ghost tale. While some writers may choose to use dual plots, the hallmark of an excellent short story is that it consists of a single, easily contained plot.
Furthermore, a short story begins with a “medias res,” which translates to “into the middle of things.” Thus, short stories don’t require you to build up an account to introduce the setting or the characters; they can begin and end abruptly with little or no prior information. This is primarily because due to the limited length of the story, there is no need or little room for extensive developments or descriptions as we would usually witness in novels.
Due to the short length of the story, this form of writing typically consists of fewer characters in comparison to a novel. Even a single character would be enough to tell a compelling story. However, you don’t necessarily have to restrict yourself to one or two characters. There are many creative ways of involving characters in your story without making them seem unnecessary. This skill can be acquired through reading and practice collectively.
Types of short stories
There are seven distinct forms of short stories, all with varying characteristics. Each of those seven types is discussed below to further strengthen your grasp of short story writing.
An Anecdote can be defined as a brief account of something interesting and usually humorous that aims to support a certain point. They are comparable with parables which are short narratives focused on giving the readers a moral lesson. Thus, Anecdotes are written with the purpose of giving a lesson to their readers.
This short story is of around 100 words. It is used to test a writer’s skill in prose writing and to find out whether the author is capable of getting his or her point across to the readers in a few words.
A feghoot is a short story that is funny or humorous by nature, and it can usually be distinguished by the fact that it ends in a pun.
Any short story that consists of anthropomorphic creatures, usually animals, is called a fable. These creatures are used to convey a moral point to the reader. It is important to note that while a parable serves the same purpose, it does not make use of animals to convey the moral of the story.
Stories that are shorter than 1000 words are known as flash fiction. While there are many examples of flash fiction stories, the most famous one is the “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” written by Ernest Hemingway.
A sketch is a form of a story that does not consist of a plot. The purpose of the story is to illuminate a particular character, plot, or setting of the story.
A vignette is a short scene that may be a part of a larger story. In this case, the short story captures a specific moment or the detail about an element in the story. This could be an idea, an object, or a character.
5 things every short story should have
Knowing the essential elements of a short story is vital in helping you create an effective piece of writing. This part of the article is focused on listing down five factors that every good story should consist of. You can use this list as a checklist to find out if your short story is compelling enough or does it require some adjustments.
A clearly defined feeling or mood
Your story can relate to a specific genre, such as humor, romance, or horror. It can connect to an idea or emotions, which may include grief, loss, or joy. You can also use a combination of the three or either two as long as your point is clear and your story is cohesive.
Clear and descriptive language
It is important that the plot characters and setting of your story is clear. You should be able to set up the concept of your story quickly and smoothly without adding any unessential details.
A small list of characters
Select the main character who will be at the center of your story. Along with the main character, you can add supporting roles that must serve a significant purpose. Any character without a clear purpose will be an unnecessary part of your short story and hence, not needed.
A strong point of view
It is best to know from the beginning what you want to write about or what it is that you want your story to say. Similarly, ask yourself: what do you want your readers to think or feel when reading your story? It is vital that your story clearly reflects a viewpoint.
In the case of a short story, you don’t necessarily have to stick to the traditional storytelling techniques. Therefore, you are free to play around with ideas and certain conventions. Don’t shy away from taking a break from the rules and being creative.
How to come up with a creative story idea?
Coming up with a clever story idea can sometimes be difficult, and if you’re struggling with this part of the storytelling process, you’re definitely not the only one. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to decide what exactly you want to write about. You may be struggling to come up with a fresh idea at all, or your list of ideas is so long that you are unable to decide which one to choose. Either way, this part of writing a short story is difficult but certainly not impossible.
Ideas for your short stories are all around you. Start with cleansing your mental palate, get rid of any distractions, and then start brainstorming potential ideas for your story. It is important to not rush this part; take your time, be imaginative and definitely think outside the box. To further assist you in generating story ideas, we have compiled a list of a few strategies that can come to your aid in time of need.
Recognize the culprit
When trying to cleanse your mental palate, it is essential that you find out the reason why your thoughts are so jumbled up. Are you currently worried about something? Is there an unresolved issue that is taking up space in your mind? Are you tired? While you may think these little things don’t matter, they make a whole lot of difference. Writing a story requires you to have undivided attention, and with other issues crowding your mind, it is hard to come up with an idea worth writing about.
Write down your ideas
Write down every idea you come up with; you don’t have to worry about it being cliche or not being creative enough. Once your brain starts giving out the first few unimaginative ideas, it will work on coming up with much more creative suggestions. After writing down these ideas, you can build on them and continue to develop your proposal for the story.
Create characters from people around you
If you are struggling to develop personality traits for your characters, the best way to deal with this is to make use of real-life examples. You can either choose to create characters from your friends and family or even your work colleagues. This will also make it easier for you to write about your characters and build the story around them.
Start jotting down points
Work on creating a rough sketch of what you want to write about. As mentioned previously, it is essential that your short story has a clear viewpoint. It should have a moral or a lesson that it must be built around. Hence, work on creating a moral that stands out, and that is different from the ordinary viewpoints we usually find in short stories. Put your imagination to the test.
How to write a short story?
The previous parts of the article should have helped you understand what is a short story, what consists of a short story and its different types.This information is an essential part of helping someone understand the characteristics of this format of storytelling. Once you have a clear understanding of these characteristics, the next part is to learn how to write a short story and this will be discussed below.
Read other short stories
As mentioned previously, reading short stories is an essential part of getting you ready to write your own story. The true meaning of a short story along with its components can only be understood if you read a great amount of literature available on it. To start with, it is best if you read the classics. It will help you familiarize yourself with this genre in the best possible way. Analyze all the best experts of short story writing to develop your own writing style. Keep the elements and quality of these stories in your mind, make points and make use of them when developing your own story. There is no better way to start the learning process.
If you’re confused about which story writer you start with, let it be no other than Bret Lott, the current day master of short story writing. His stories will give you a good idea about the style and structure of this form of writing.
Remember, at first your writing style may not be as good as those who have been in this industry for long; however, writing is all about practice. Hence, don’t become disheartened after your first try. Continue to practice, keep up with your research and you will in time become a well seasoned writer.
Aim for the readers heart
All of the best short stories have a plot that evokes strong emotions. It is essential and a primary requirement of a short story that it summons a particular mood or feeling within your reader. What helps in this case is knowing about the audience you’re aiming for, finding out what will work best for them. For example, in the case of kids, you might want to evoke the feeling of horror, the same however might not work for adults. If your main audience is women, you can talk about topics such as woman suffrage or women empowerment. In any case, know what your audience will want to read. A few basic examples of potential moving topics also include:
- Heroic Sacrifice
Narrow down your scope
It goes without saying that the most apparent and drastic difference between a novel and a short story is the word difference. In the case of a novel, you can write your heart out on anywhere around 500 pages. However, the same is not true for short stories. Writing short stories requires strategic thought. You must know which part of the story to emphasize on, which part does not require long descriptions or build-up and which character should remain in the spotlight throughout.
With a word limit ranging from 1000 words to 15000 words, you cannot accommodate all of your ideas. Hence, it is best to strategically shortlist the ones that you believe will help your story and leave out ones that seem unnecessary. Remember, you are here to tell a compelling story with an almost abrupt start, creative middle and a staggering end.
The world limit naturally restricts your ability to develop your characters, settings and at times even your plot. Don’t fight these restrictions, instead learn to divide the word limit according to the part you believe requires the most attention.Learning how to do that is also a skill in itself that will take you some time to perfect.
Your title should stand out
Your title reflects your entire work. It can make or break a deal for you. Therefore, it is suggested that you spend a good amount of time coming up with a title that is catchy, that will stand out among many other competing stories and that also demonstrates who you are as a writer. Make your title snappy and unforgettable so that it stays in the minds of the readers and compels them to read the story.
Suggest a back story
A short story does not give you the luxury of elaborating on any of the characters or settings. Don’t waste words on describing a winter morning or the sunset. Just add some sensory details to make the story interesting and the reader engaged.Leave out all unnecessary descriptions.
Write a startling ending
To make your short story a success,it is recommended that you close the curtains with a satisfying thud. Don’t make it seem forced or unnecessary, the ending should flow just as well as any other part of the story. Don’t elaborate your endings, at times leave the readers curious or give your story an open ended conclusion. This will keep your readers wondering about your story. It is always good to keep the reader intrigued.
Some other tips on how to write a short story include:
- Leave out things you have the slightest of doubt about
- Become a ferocious self-editor and cut out all unnecessary details
- Try using the classic story structure
Storytelling is a skill that requires ample time and effort to master. The tips mentioned in the article aim to help you build a thorough understanding of all the elements that make up a short story. In case or any doubt, go through these tips again until you are sure that you have succeeded in building an in-depth understanding of the genre. Perfecting the skill may take some time, but you will get there eventually.