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Ten Tips For Short Story Writing

Short stories can be great fun to write, but sometimes tough to get the knack of. For anyone who wants to try their luck at this form, I’ve come up with a list of useful tips to help you get started.

Black and White Typewriter Keys by AmeliaKayPhotography1. Keep the focus.

One reason that short stories fail is the writer tries to cram too much into it. A short story is a separate form of writing, not just a mini novel. Ideally you want a strong central theme or idea and the entire story should revolve around that. Don’t go off on tangents or try to add subplots and other extra details, every word should bring you to the goal of the piece.

2. Be aware of the word count.

Having an idea of how long you want the story to be will help you plan. If you’re submitting it for a completion the organisers will often set a specific limit that cannot be exceeded. The word count will determine what you can accomplish with the story and might influence the style of writing. A short story around 1500 words might follow the “punchline” format, with a slow build-up through the narrative and ending in a sudden twist. A longer piece has the time for more development and can allow the author to write more complex tales.

Hands in the Air by notsotough3. Don’t add too many characters.

It can be difficult to get the reader to engage with a protagonist in a short space of time, adding more just means you have to spread the effort across more bodies, and in a limited word count.

4. Keep up the pace.

A lull can stagger a novel; it can kill a short story. Don’t let up on the action, and make sure that every line brings new excitement. A reader might only be looking at your story for a quick bite of entertainment, and if you start to drag things out and slow the pace, the reader might get bored. However, not all stories can be action packed, and it’s fine to have a build-up, but remember to keep the tension rising.

5. Don’t be afraid to rewrite.

Is an idea not working? Is the P.O.V. wrong for your piece? Change it! Rewriting an entire short story may only take a couple of hours. You might even choose to write a few different versions, telling the tale in different ways and deciding after which one is best.

Hook by baldenbe6. Hook the reader.

You don’t have time for the reader to build a deep investment in the piece so you want them hooked into the story from the start. Open with a snappy sentence that draws the reader in, something that raises questions and makes them want to know more.

7. Develop the narrative voice.

Creating the right tone for a short story will help to engage the reader. It can be a way of quickly establishing a relationship with your protagonist and getting various details across without having to explain them in a limited word count. In such a short space your story needs something special to have an impact on the reader, and a strong narrative voice that pervades the story will give them something to remember.

Swords by Stefano Marchi8. Add conflict.

A useful idea in any piece of writing, introducing a conflict will create tension and help to draw the reader into the story. Having a clear conflict and resolution in a short story can give it structure and a sense of completeness. But remember that ‘resolution’ doesn’t necessarily mean end, I’ve seen many short stories make good use of a cyclical theme.

9. Make good use of dialogue.

Well written dialogue moves the story forward much faster than paragraphs of explanation. It keeps the pace up, and by layering the words with subtext you can get a lot of information across in just a couple of lines. Don’t just think about what the characters say, but how they’re saying it too.

10. Work hard on the ending.

The ending of a short story is what will stick with readers and it deserves your attention. However you choose to end the piece, make sure it’s well thought out and fits with the tone and style of the story. You may not have time to craft an epic climax as in a novel, but that’s no reason the ending can’t be amazing.

Short stories are a great way for writers to cut their teeth and try out new skills in a short time. Without the commitment of a novel-length work writers are free to experiment with new ideas and styles of writing. They also serve as a fast learning curve, teaching writers to hone their skills by focusing on the writing in shorter works. Next time you have a couple of spare hours, give short story writing a try, and hopefully these tips will be useful.

This article was originally published on November 2, 2014.

Title image by PopElegantiarum.

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7 Comments

  1. Eric C. says:

    Great Article. I also found CREATING SHORT FICTION by Damon Knight to be particularly useful for SF/F short story writers.

  2. […] Apropos of Wednesday’s post, here is a list of ten tips for writing short stories. […]

  3. Alex Rich says:

    Excellent and helpful article. It opened my mind to a new perspective regarding the benefits of writing short stories. And my hunch is my procrastination challenges are already beginning to melt because of your article.

    All the best to you…

  4. […] RT @WritersCentreAU: 10 tips for short story writing. http://t.co/h5DjwBNZkA  […]

  5. This was a great article. I’m primarily a fanfiction writer who plans on becoming a real-life author sometime in the future, and I often get so many story ideas that I know I’d never be able to turn into novel-length works of fiction. I often write short stories, or “oneshots” as we fanfiction authors call them, in order to bring those ideas to life, but I’ve never known how to properly execute one. I’m going to try this out when I write my next oneshot.

  6. Alexander says:

    very good, i learned alot LoL

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