Seven Hints for Writing Short Stories
Society & Culture & Entertainment Writing

Seven Hints for Writing Short Stories

When I begin a book, I often have only three things in mind: how it will end, the setting, and a main character. I then just go at it and watch it develop. When advising about how to write short stories, however, that would be terrible counsel – at least the 'just go at it' part.

 Writing the Short Story: Hint # 1

In a short story each word and phrase is necessarily packed with appropriate and important meaning. There is more latitude in longer pieces. Subtle shades of meaning reign supreme when writing the short story. There is only room for the very best word and sentence structure at each point in the story.

 Writing the Short Story: Hint # 2

Stick to one plot-line – at least at the beginning of your 'career'. This is particularly essential in the short, short story (under 800 or so words). As you gain skill, try more complicated plotting. It is a great exercise because it requires even greater economy of words.

 Writing the Short Story: Hint # 3

Utilize as few characters as necessary. Focus on the story line and on developing one main character – perhaps two if it is an adversarial piece. Describe only the personal traits or characteristics that are relevant to the story.

 Writing the Short Story: Hint # 4

Keep the setting incredibly simple. For example, "At the end of the isolated, overgrown, dirt, lane sat a white clapboard house that had clearly seen better days,' might replace the several pages of description that could meaningfully occupy a longer piece. State it simply and get on with the story (unless some special facet of all that is important to the story.)

 Writing the Short Story: Hint #5

From the first sentence, the story must move logically and believably toward its conclusion. Just because it is short, doesn't give the author license to omit elements that answer questions the reader may (should) have. When writing the short story, I find it essential to make a step-by-step sequence list ahead of time. It becomes the outline or topic guide. Make sure each step is firmly supported at its particular place in the short story. If you are familiar with 'flow charting', you may find that technology helpful.

 Writing the Short Story: Hint #6

Guard the conclusion with your 'life'. It must follow believably from what is presented earlier but the end must not be a foregone conclusion. Readers need to be engaged right up to the final word to receive the full experience you are offering.

 Writing the Short Story: Hint # 7

Read and analyze lots of short stories before you begin writing. Take time to recreate the topic sequence list and think about how the author earlier paved they way for each step and then used each step as a springboard into what follows. Consider why he chose the words he used instead of other possible words. Nothing helps develop a short story writer's skill better than the thoughtful dissection and analysis of great short stories.

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