Steps to Write Better Short Stories


Short stories are regarded as one of the hardest things to write, and this has some truth! They have the same key elements as full-length stories.Short stories last for just a few pages. If masterfully written, these brief tales are as powerful as novels. While writing 80,000 words takes more time and requires more continual effort, short stories are effectively packing almost as much information into 10% of the words.

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The most marketable short stories tend to be 3,500 words or less, you’ll need to make every sentence count. If you over-stuff your plot by including too many distractions, your story will feel overloaded and underdeveloped. In a few lines, you must introduce the characters, describe the setting, set up the central conflict, advance the plot, and communicate the theme.

Writing short stories means beginning as close to the climax as possible. A short story conserves characters and scenes, typically by focusing on just one conflict, and drives towards a sudden, unexpected revelation. Go easy on the exposition and talky backstory — your reader doesn’t need to know everything that you know about your characters.

There are as many types of short stories as there are different types of novels. There are long short stories, short short stories, simple short stories, and complex short stories. So here are few steps to help you get started:

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Select A Strong Title

This can be one of the most difficult—but one of the most important—parts of writing your story. Title should reflect the overall meaning of your story. So it will be a good idea to write down your story first then read it few times and find out the words or phrases strike  stand out. These excerpts from your text just might hold the perfect title.

Theme

A theme is something important the story tries to tell us—something that might help us in our own lives. Not every story has a theme, but it’s best if it does.

Don’t get too preachy. Let the theme grow out of the story. You shouldn’t have to say what the moral is. Don’t say it outright. Readers should be able to discern the theme from the story itself. If they can’t, your theme isn’t clear.

Story Structure

The logic of a good story structure is – ‘At the beginning, jump right into the action. At the end, wind up the story quickly.

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Decide about writing the story either in “first person” or in “second person” in “third person.”

First Person. The story is told from the view of “I.” The narrator is either the protagonist (main character) and directly affected by unfolding events, or the narrator is a secondary character telling the story revolving around the protagonist. This is a good choice for beginning writers because it is the easiest to write.

Second Person. The story is told directly to “you”, with the reader as a participant in the action.

Third Person. The story tells what “he”, “she,” or “it” does. The third-person narrator’s perspective can be limited. Even if you write as third person, try to tell the story through the eyes of just one character—most likely the main character. Don’t tell anything that the character wouldn’t know.

Decide about writing either in “present tense” or in “past tense.” Writing in past tense means writing as if the story already happened. That is how most stories are written. Writing in present tense means writing as if the story is happening right now. Stick to one tense or the other!

Characters

Before you start writing, know your characters well. Don’t describe your main character. It’s enough to say one or two things about how a character looks or moves or speaks. Your central character should have depth.

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Main character should be someone with whom readers can feel something in common with, or at least care about. Characters should have at least one flaw or weakness. Perfect characters are not very interesting. People are complicated! People can relate to characters with problems, as that’s realistic. To make your characters seem real, you need to add internal complexity. For example, the character could have anger issues, be afraid of water, be lonely, dislike being around other people, smoke too much, etc. Any or all of these could be developed further.

Setting and Context

Setting moves readers most when it contributes to an organic whole. So close your eyes and picture your characters within desert, jungle, or suburb–whichever setting shaped them. Imagining this helps balance location and characterization. Right from the start, view your characters inhabiting a distinct place. – Laurel Yourke

Setting includes the time, location, context, and atmosphere where the plot takes place.

  • Remember to combine setting with characterization and plot.
  • Include enough detail to let your readers picture the scene but only details that actually add something to the story.
  • Use two or more senses in your descriptions of setting.
  • Rather than feed your readers information about the weather, population statistics, or how far it is to the grocery store, substitute descriptive details so your reader can experience the location the way your characters do.

Set Up the Plot

A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. –Jane Burroway

The basic steps of a plot are: conflict begins, things go right, things go WRONG, final victory (or defeat), and wrap-up. The right-wrong steps can repeat.

Conflict

Conflict is the fundamental element of fiction, fundamental because in literature only trouble is interesting. It takes trouble to turn the great themes of life into a story: birth, love, sex, work, and death. –Janet Burroway

Conflict produces tension that makes the story begin. The conflict can be with another character, or with the way things are, or with something inside the character, like needs or feelings. The conflict should get more and more tense or exciting. The tension should reach a high point or “climax” near the end of the story, then ease off.

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Make sure your conflict has a genuine purpose. Conflict moves your story along. Meaningless conflict will be boring, contrived, and perhaps even annoying to your readers. Concentrate on only one conflict.

A novel can have several conflicts, but a short story should have only one.

Remember You don’t have to write fancy to write well. It almost never hurts to use simple words and simple sentences. That way, your writing is easy to read and understand. Always use the best possible word—the one that is closest to your meaning, sounds best, and creates the clearest image.

Carefully check each word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph. Is it in the right place? Is it the best you can write?  Do you need it at all? If not, take it out!

Just follow this:

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Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action. – Kurt Vonnegut

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