Lessons from a writer: Writing a short story
Short stories aren’t novels. The word count is the defining term here, not just because it tells you how long the story is but because the word count should be a big, fat warning label. DO NOT USE MULTIPLE POVS HERE. PLEASE USE A SINGLE PLOT. DON’T LIE ON THE RAILROAD TRACKS. You know, rules. Things people, especially writers, love to break. Short stories don’t have enough room to use backstory and plot twists and an entirely new world made from your dreams. While you can do this, it’s not for the best. As much as some would like to challenge me on this, ask yourself this question: Would this be better if it were longer?
What goes into writing a good short story? What do you think shouldn’t go in a short story?
The first thing that comes to mind when writing a short story is to make sure that is a unique and interesting idea. It doesn’t really have to take place in an exotic location or be situated in a fantastical world. Focusing on the right thing and emotion, in an otherwise ordinary day with ordinary characters, can bring out an interesting story. Everybody and everything has a story if you can find it. The story should have a complete arch or plot timeline with a notable beginning and end. It is not like a chapter in a novel. There should be enough backstory to make sure the reader has enough information to know what is going on, where the characters are coming from, and where they are going.
Because a short story needs to get the point across fairly quickly, there can’t be enormous amounts of background information. Some novels have so much backstory in some chapters to make up an entire short story. The short story needs to get to the point quicker. For the same reason, using too much description might dilute the impact of the story. I always try to get as much story as possible, balancing with appropriate amount of description. –Richard Happerger
I think that a good short story should have the same as any feature length novel – a beginning, middle and an end with realistic characters whether they be good or bad. As for what shouldn’t go into a short story, I don’t think I can answer that as long as the content is good and short I don’t see a problem. –Ami Brewis
I think for a good short story, you have to have a good grasp on your main character right away. You can push your atmosphere and setting all you want, but if that character is two-dimensional, you’ll never catch the reader’s attention because, honestly, who wants to read about someone who has no personality or quirks that you can’t relate to on any level?
Things that shouldn’t go into a short story? That’s a hard question because it all depends on the story, I guess. If you were to have a romance short and you go on and on about her day job and don’t get to the good stuff, your reader will be disappointed . . . horror short you don’t really want to know about what the victim had for breakfast unless it’s spilling from them as they die a gruesome death . . . you know, stuff like that, I guess. –Terra Beilman
Personally, I think a good twist or something unconventional, but of course, not forced ones. I like to write and read complex stories so extra plot line or a hidden plot line (although for a short story capped at 5K, I would probably opt for a single character, single plot line, but I never even attempted that). I’m a strict follow-the-rules book writer so I don’t know what shouldn’t go in a short story. –Moonlake Ku
Want to know more about this week’s panel?
Terra Beilman is an ex-vet tech and a current stay at home mom, but she has always been a writer. She spends most of her days reading romance, writing romance, or thinking about writing romance. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s running after her two boys, hanging out with her AAT friends on Facebook, and making her homemade crazy flavored jams and salsas.
My name is Ami, I have Aspergers syndrome, and I would love to have a book out in the future 🙂
I still consider myself a novice writer. I’m still unpublished and write short stories to practice certain types of scenes. I have a novel project on hold until I feel I know enough to do a good job. Publishing would be nice, but it is not my driving force.
I am Moonlake Ku, a Chinese, beginning writer planning to make a slow switch to becoming a FT writer specializing in the niche of Chinese fantasy.