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Basics 101: How to Write a Short Story

December 27, 2010

With the overload of information and advice still ringing in my ears from a recently attended writers festival and seminar, I thought it might be useful to share a basic “How To…” from my notes.

Short stories are … short – so ensure that a reader feels that their time was not wasted by: Short Fiction

  • Starting the story as close to the end as you can. This will assist you in the timing of the story.. and hopefully keeping the word count down by cutting out unnecessary back story.
  • Ensuring your story has a point and not a collection of actions. Most readers are looking to be entertained, informed or enriched by a short story. Gift them a message or an experience rather than waste their time with ‘boring bits.’
  • Including at last one character they can strongly identify with – either negatively or positively.
  • Ensuring each sentence either advances the action or reveal character motivation or traits essential to the story.
  • Ensuring that each character included needs something – even if it was to deliver the paper.
  • Vary the lengths of sentences and paragraphs, but generally, keep them short or at least in line with the tempo you wish the story to travel along.
  • Metaphors are a great tool – but keep the related to everyday life – or you will lose your readers on an esoteric trip. Analogies and Metaphors are a better tool used in longer stories, novellas and novels where your word count doesn’t need to be cut to the bone.
  • Write to express not impress. If your average reader needs to keep a dictionary beside them to look up a word in every sentence, you will quickly lose them.
  • Avoid needlessly complex terms or explanations. These are better utilized in longer pieces ( if at all) One of the charms of short stories is the mystery of back stories.
  • Know your basic audience and avoid lengthy jargon and acronyms which may alienate them. In saying this – a sprinkling of these are useful to  flesh out a character quickly (i.e military or corporate terms within a conversation can immediately “dress” a character)

I know I have a tendency to complicate things and pile unwanted or unneeded things around me in projects and in life – and have identified that this is also true for the times I approach writing a short story. With many skills, its often best to do a clearing and just start again… from the basics. I have found that this often produces a clearer and more pure creation, unmuddied or sullied by baggage.

Although this is just a very short list of things to be mindful of when writing your basic short story, are there any other basic pointers you believe are important to include here?

Image by texasgurl via Flickr

As part of or farewell to this stage of Write Anythings “life”, we are reprinting some of the most popular or favourite posts. This post first appeared on Sep 2, 2009.

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Annie Evett is thankful that there are only 2 days left till school ends for the year…Follow Annie here on Twitter and catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here


One Comment
  1. January 5, 2011 7:46 am

    And another great post by Annie.🙂 I recently wrote a story that had to be under 1,000 words and the need to stay lean made me realize how many unnecessary words creep into my short fiction sometimes. It was a good exercise.

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