Hi all! Today I have the honor of welcoming J.C. Martin to My First Book. She’s here on a blog tour to market Stories for Sendai, a charity anthology where the proceeds will go to the victims of Japan’s tsunamis. So please click here for more details.
In the mean time, here’s J.C. on writing short stories.
Big thanks to Misha for hosting a leg of the Stories for Sendai Blog Tour de Force!
As some of you may know, Stories for Sendai is a charity anthology containing twenty uplifting and inspirational short stories. Despite many major publishers being reluctant to publish short story anthologies, claiming that they just don’t sell, they have remained alive thanks to the efforts of smaller publishing houses.
Personally, I adore short stories. They are short enough that I can complete one or two stories on my commute to work. While a novel is one long story from beginning to end, a collection of short stories gives me lots of different stories for the price of one book—now how awesome is that? Plus, most writers I know of started their writing career with short stories before they wrote full-length novels: Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway…Edgar Allan Poe is famous predominantly for his short stories.
Short story writing can be an art form in itself; because of the restriction in length, every word needs to count, to deliver maximum impact. While I have written a number of short stories, with a few in print, I don’t profess to be an expert in the art of writing the short story. However, I am willing to share with you what I know.
By classic definition, a short story is a work of fiction that can be read all in one sitting. The actual definition, by word count, is shady, but anything below 7,500 words is safely in short story territory. Any longer, and it strays into the gray limbo of the novelette…
Unlike novelists, short story writers do not have the luxury of a generous word count to indulge in much back story and world-building. This does not mean that there is no character development in a short story—far from it. Rather, the challenge is to be able to convey this change in as few words as possible.
Most of the following advice can be applied to writing fiction of any length, but I feel they are particularly important in a short story:
Leave out unnecessary details
Have you ever noticed that in a well-written short story, you very rarely read a description of the characters, yet somehow get a vivid image of what they look like in your mind? In a way, a short story is a more interactive read than a novel. We rely on the reader’s imagination to picture the scene. There is no room to wax lyrical about wavy blond hair, striking blue eyes or dimpled, chiseled jaws. Let the reader cast their own actors in the story. By all means, include a feature if it is integral to the plot, but omit all unnecessary descriptions—leave them to your readers’ rich imagination.
Start close to the end
A novel could involve a series of different events, but a short story revolves around just one key event. So start as close to the thick of action as possible to grab readers’ attention, and end it at the earliest logical point.
Have a beginning, a middle and an end
Follow the basic steps of a story: have an inciting incident (call to action), a climax (turning point), and a resolution. A graph of the action as your story progresses should follow a bell curve. Many short stories have an open ending, for readers to draw whatever conclusion they wish. That is fine, as long as there is some attempt at a resolution.
Show, not tell
Short stories, more than any other form of prose, requires a lot of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’. Infer what is going on rather than coming right out and saying it. This helps draw the reader into the story, put them into the thick of action rather than making your reader feel like an outsider looking in.
Stick to only one or two scenes
Since a short story centres around just one event, it should not involve anything more than one or two different scenes. If you find your story moving from scene to scene to scene, perhaps it would work better being expanded into something longer, like a novella or novel.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to bear in mind when writing a short story. What else should you consider? Have I missed anything important out?
Once again, thanks to Misha for hosting this, and thanks to everyone for reading! Stories for Sendai will be on sale by June 30th. For more details, including purchase links, the blog tour schedule and details of an awesome prize draw, click here!