Keep it short and Write it around one major event.
Keeping your short story down to a minimum of words is a tough business. Think “elevator pitch” or when you are in a bar and want to tell friends about something that happened to you last week. You have an amazing story to tell but after starting you realise that you have to cut the story short otherwise you’ll be asking too much listening time from your friends. People want to hear the what you have to say but they want you to get to the end quickly so that they can comment or respond to the conversation.
Writing a short story is similar. You have to tell the story but use less words to get a big message across.
Write something that grabs your attention, something that you think is important enough to stop and listen to as a subject. It could be love or theft, it could be bad luck turning into fortune. Your story should excite you. If it doesn’t and you think you can write it as an academic exercise in construction, then it’ll read like a report of an event and not like an enjoyable story.
Your opening lines should be quick.
Use short and concise expressions to get the reader’s attention as you work towards the main event. Introduce characters quickly and let your reader figure out what they look like, don’t waste narrative on describing scenes, use your words to tell the story.
If you want to introduce characters with descriptions, then read some Dashiell Hammet or Anton Chekhov to see how they did it. Yes, the old masters are the best – today, still.
Try a few short stories by a modern best seller writer. Jefferry Deaver is a good read and will keep you up all night with his short stories. After reading his short stories you’ll notice that he’s done his fair share of reading the classics.
If more literary works are your thing then I recommend that you get your hands on a book of short stories called, ” The Art of the Short Story” – 52 great authors compiled by Gioia Gwynn. It’s a big fat book full wonderful stories by such people as Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver and John Cheever amongst many others.
The book is compilation of short stories with each story followed by comments on the writing by the author.
If you think you aren’t into literary writing, try it, you want to be a writer don’t you? Read some of those beautiful works by the above mentioned and you will discover that some of them do appeal to you. Ask yourself questions about why you liked a particular story more than others. If you read a few short stories by the masters across the styles and you think they are all boring – you probably don’t really want to write.
That would be like saying you want to be a painter but you don’t understand why Van Gogh or Picasso is so important or why the different schools of painting should be part of your education. Don’t try and define the art of writing for yourself – find out what it is first by reading many short stories. They will rub-off on you and your mind will begin to draw on those stories to create new ones.
Cut out adjectives and descriptions that are ornamental. Write as if you are under pressure to get the story out before your reader has to rush off and do something else. They don’t have all the time in the world but they do want to hear the story.
If you aim for the right word you will create a story that is short and concise. The right word is the vocabulary that you have stopped to think about, using words that describe the action or a noun that describes the object. Don’t try and qualify what you are saying by adding adjectives and adverbs. Think of adjectives as if they icing on the cake when writing. At the end of the day the real tasty part is in the cake and not the whipped cream on top.
As soon as you begin to write new events and introduce more characters your short story will become an outline for a long story.
When you are writing a short story be disciplined about sticking to the event and the characters involved. Characters are deep representations of real people, they can often offer up new ideas to add to the story. there is no end to them. Sometimes it feels as if you should introduce a new character to make the story work when really what’s happening is that your main character is simply trying to express a different part of their own character.
The more characters, the less likely that it’ll turn out to be a short story. You’ll be outlining a long story instead.
Keep it down to one point of view
Stick with the main character for point of view. Don’t move the focus from one character to another, you don’t have room for that.
Main character point of view, one important event and let the reader fill in the gaps.
Twist or Not to Twist?
The brief experience that a reader enjoys when reading a short story is a little like a bus ride. You sit and stare out of the window at the street and observe the interactions of people and cars. You could see anything happen on your bus journey, it might last ten minutes and it might be fifty minutes. There’s always plenty of time for an event to occur on the way to catch your attention.
If a reader only reads to find out if the ending will thrill them then they are not reading the story but rather hoping for a neat trick in the story. Some people read one or two short stories, always hoping the twist at the end will be so unexpected it will hit them like a bolt and put a grin on their face.
Then after a couple of stories they get bored because most twists follow the same pattern of the unexpected happening. The author diverts the story line suddenly and ends with an alternative outcome.
If you are like me and you get bored if each short story has a neat twist at the end, then you are probably a reader who enjoys the characters and the events of the journey more than the end. Then you’ll enjoy writing about what happened to the character rather than crafting a plot that tricks the reader into believing one thing and then twisting it to give them a shock ending.
Putting a twist into your story is okay, but to believe that each short story should have a twist that shocks the reader or catches them of guard isn’t necessary. It will make your stories appear formulaic and contrived.
Read Dashiell Hammet short stories of the “Continental Op” and you’ll have to follow the story-line to understand the end. He wrote them by the dozen and he loved his art.
The best way to understand this is to read a few modern short stories with twist endings. After two or three you’ll be hoping that the next story doesn’t use a twist method to end because it’ll feel like you’ve just read the same story yet again.