I personally have never written a short story. I have read only a handful of them, mostly sticking to longer bits of fiction. However, I wanted to understand short stories and what makes them so engaging for both writer’s and readers so I opted to attend ‘Nailing the Spike: Creating a Compelling Short Story’ panel at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference Friday panel.
According to the panel, a short story is successful because it differs from a standard novel as a sprint vs a marathon. A sprint is a quick race to the finish and that’s what a short novel is. As soon as you start the novel you are quickly at the end with information in the middle to tie the two together, whereas a novel stretches out like a marathon and can go on for days and days, or in this case pages and pages.
A short story is defined as fictional narrative between 2,000-10,000 words. Unlike a novel, it deals with a single episode whereas a novel can deal with multiple avenues that can pull a reader in multiple directions. Short stories differ from other versions of writing such as novels, as I’ve stated, and novellas in this manner.
The concept for a short story can come from anything such as your personal experiences, things you see on a daily commute or something that was told to you. It can resonate from anywhere and when put to paper can explore the who, what, when, where and why of your eventual story.
You want to make sure you have a setting that can be familiar to those reading as a short story does not have extended chapters to grab the reader so you have to make sure you get the reader attention immediately. How’s the weather? How’s the social atmosphere? These are things you may want to incorporate in your short story.
Just as important as setting is your characters. One of the biggest hitches of any story, short or otherwise, is if the characters are believable. Readers want characters that make sense, unless you are writing fantasy where you can have a little edge with going off the track. If your story is in a different genre then you should make sure that whoever the protagonist is they can relate to the reader.
Now that your character is relatable, who is telling the story. POV is one of the most difficult choices that any author can make and in a short story that difficulty remains. Which ever POV you choose, make sure you follow through with it until the end.
You also want to make sure you have a good conflict. Since a short story is essentially a beginning, middle and end in a shorter value than a novel, you want to make sure you show the conflict, whatever it may be. The conflict can be internal (psychological) or external (character v character). As essential as that is, do not forget the plot, especially the introduction because it shows where the story begins. It sets everything up. This is followed by the conflict, rising action, climax and finally, the resolution.
For readers who read short stories, they want you to tell them who the person is, what is happening and where is it happening. You need to give the reader a reason to care about your character and the story you are trying to tell. Give the reader a surprise or two, they will appreciate it and leave something behind so that they are willing and able to read your next short story work.
Have you written a short story? What is your favorite short story? Let me know in the comments below.