Some Thoughts About When You Write A Short Story

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Even a couple of months back, when someone would come up to me – tell me they read my work, congratulate and launch into the story of their own struggles with writing – it would irk me just a little bit. Writing was after all my comfort zone. The safe spot, as most of my cats would put it. But over time, I realized, there are more than enough stories for all of us to tell. There is more than enough ways to tell same tale too. In fact, it would actually be a crime on my part if I did not encourage these writing enthusiasts. After all isn’t it a criminal offense to deprive the world of a perfectly good story?

If you are writing a short story one of the key things to remember is to not have too many characters. When I write my short stories they turn into snatches of chapters from my characters’ lives. And that is what you should aim at. You cannot shrink the idea you have for your 400+ page novel, shrunk into a short story. Unless you’re writing the plot synopsis…(which is whole different thing and I will post about that sometime later. Especially if I decide to post advice for writers on my blog in a separate section in the future.) Pick either one, two or three characters that will create an impact for your story. You really don’t need a cast of characters for your short story. You are not writing a film script.

The next thing you should remember is that you can start just about anywhere you want in the story.  Just as long as you are clear about the beginning, middle and the end. Some writers say it helps them to map out everything about their stories. I know this method helps when you’re planning to write a series. And good stories cannot be written in a day.  They are kind of like making the perfect pot of tea. They need to be brewed properly, poured in the nicest looking teacups, with just the right amount of sugar and milk. People do have different choices and you really cannot go down the “one taste fits all rule”. Choose you audience, know your audience, and tell them the story they would like to hear. Which brings me back to the point: and you need to capture your audience’s attention from the very first line.

The first line of the story – any story, really – is called the hook. If you can find the perfect hook, you will be sure to find a lot of interested readers. Now, if you feel that where you story really began does not have strong enough hook, start from the middle. Then work your way backwards and forwards. Or start towards the end, work your way back and bring in the finale.

When you write in this manner it is a non-linear timeline or a fragmented timeline. Lots of authors have been able to use it creatively in their books. Just be clear with your use of flashbacks and flash-forwards. I have personally found that it helps to use page breakers or whitespaces. They denote that some time has passed before the next paragraph begins. Or the next paragraph is from a time before…your first sentence in this paragraph should clue the reader in. Do not leave them guessing: it frustrates and confuses them, and chances are they will give up on your story. The easiest way would actually be using date and time, and place stamps, I guess? You can always start with that.

Any story is mainly driven by two things: plot and character. When I write short stories they usually become character driven because I like seeing what two people would talk about when thrown in unusual circumstances. (My short story The Strangest Thing revolves around a dialogue exchange between a young girl and a cat, for instance. It has a linear time frame, and you learn at the end what the girl and the cat had been disagreeing on. So you could say it was character driven. While my other short story Something Wicked This Way Comes was my first attempt at writing a mystery, used a non-linear timeline and was very much plot-driven.) You need to decide what you are more comfortable with and begin experimenting with that. Remember: there is no one rule fits all, when it comes to story writing.

Despite the story being character driven or plot driven make sure your characters have an objective. Give them a goal: a physical one or a psychological one. Something they really want. Something they cannot have. It keeps the story interesting and definitely helps with the pacing.

And the final thing is the end of the stories can always be clear or be left to the reader’s imagination. Also no, just because when we were little we grew up on ‘and they lived happily ever after,’ doesn’t mean you have to take that route. Don’t if you don’t want to.

If you are confused about the ending of the story yourself, here’s what you do: you could always write the story with two different endings and see which one gets better reviews, and stick with that with your final version. Although as a reader I would personally prefer closure on the characters you introduce in your short story, as a writer I understand the need for the ambiguous endings.

I hope you have a lot of fun writing your first short story, or your hundredth short story. Because nothing will feel more like a task than an act of creativity if you don’t have fun when you write! Like I said, there are more than enough stories for everyone to tell – and I cannot wait to read yours. I hope this post helped you. And if it did, please leave a comment for me down below. Thank you!

This post originally appeared on Aniesha’s Musings.


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