Welcome to guest blogger
There’s no doubt that the short story has been gaining in popularity recently. For a while it seemed that short fiction was no longer in vogue, yet with e-books and self-publishing becoming so successful it has seemed to have caused something of a revival.
Short stories are great for when you want a fiction fix but don’t want to commit to a whole novel. Slipping into a story for ten or twenty minutes can be just what you need, like using a reclining massage chair at the mall for a free sample, it’s just enough to do the job.
When writing novels, it’s easy for one to neglect the art of the short story. But it’s important not to forget how to do it.
Many artists will tell you that whatever their chosen style, medium or subject matter might be, drawing from life, either still life or the human form, is a vital practice. It sharpens their eye, forcing them to really see and take in the details of how things look. Because if you paint abstract paintings, no one will notice if you’ve painted something ‘wrong’, but if you draw a human leg, or a branch of a tree out of proportion, it’s immediately noticeable. This skill to draw accurately from life is said by many artists to help in all areas of art, even with something seemingly unrelated, such as typography.
Short story writing is kind of the equivalent for writers.
Writing a novel is one thing, but telling a story within a limit of 5000 words, or even 1000, or less, requires a different approach. Creating a novel is by no means easy of course, but you’ve got more room to manoeuvre in. You’ve got more space to flesh out your characters and your plot can be more detailed and complex.
With a short story you have to know what you want to say and say it as succinctly, whilst at the same time as captivatingly, as possible. You’ve got to be more ruthless about what you leave out because you’ve got very limited room for unnecessary words.
Knowing how to be concise in a short story will improve your novel writing too. In the same way that life drawing can sharpen the abilities of any artist, short fiction will help sharpen your writing skills.
A Lower Word Count Doesn’t Mean Less Work
When working on a novel the writer has more of a sense of time. You know that you can’t write one overnight and that you’ll need to do at least a couple of drafts and lots of editing before it’ll be ready. So you set out on your writing journey, knowing it’s going to be a long one.
For writers who are unfamiliar with writing short fiction, it might be tempting to think that because you don’t have to write so many words, you don’t have to work so hard at it. This isn’t entirely true. Whilst it may take less time to write one, and then less time to edit and redraft, you still must do these things, just as you would with a novel. The length of your fiction should make no difference to the quality of attention you give to it.
Characters, Dialogue and Description – Condensed
The characters in your short story must immediately capture the reader’s attention. Whilst in a novel you have the room to really develop them into three-dimensional people by taking your reader through their experiences and feelings, in short fiction you must decide on the vital elements of your protagonist and convey them effectively from the very beginning.
In a toss-up between whether reader’s want to know who your character is on the inside, and what they look like on the outside, the inner workings of your character will usually be more interesting.
Don’t waste words on long descriptions of your characters hair color or what style of shoes she’s wearing, unless it’s significant. If her shoes are significant, make the description snappy:
Her metal-heeled stilettos clicked down the corridor.
is better than…
She was wearing black stilettos with a silver metal heel and they made a clicking sound as she walked down the corridor.
The same goes for dialogue. It’s got to be to-the-point. Make sure that when your characters say something, it’s important to the story. If your characters are talking about something which isn’t important, but the fact that they’re talking about it is, you can summarize:
Mom and Dad talked for a long time about the mounting bills. Each came up with ideas on how we could make more money, but I got the impression they were all just half-baked plans.
The above would be better to use than a long dialogue scene where the Mom and Dad talk about mundane matters.
Read, read, read
One of the best ways to learn how to write short fiction is to read it. There are so many online fiction magazines out there, and many of them are free to read. Every Day Fiction is a good one to start off with – they publish a story, of a 1000 words or less, every day and if you sign up they email them straight to your inbox. It’s also a good place to submit your own work too.