Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tips on the Short of It

I mentioned in an earlier post (9/27) that I would follow up with tips on short story writing. And here we go ...

When writing a short you want to keep one major thought in mind -- be concise. You have just so many words to tell your tale. You have characters, plot and setting competing with one another. Every word must count, must be relevant. So, be concise. To be honest, with character, plot and setting competing, one of them is going to suffer, and it's usually character. So ...

Characters are easier to develop when they are part of a series, and maybe you are now writing story number 2 or 3 or whatever number. Perhaps you've already established who he or she is, what that person does. etc. However, when this is not a series, you've got a challenge ahead of you. Best advice I can give is to:

1) Leave some mystery to the character(s), but drop in a few bits for incite. Just enough though, whatever is relevant to the story. It could be a childhood memory or traumatic event that gives him or her the reason to react in a certain way in the present. You can do this by flashback, such as in dialog. (See previous post, 8/22)

2) Limit the number of characters in your story. The logic of this should be evident: more characters means more words to describe them, to give them something to do in the story, etc.

Also, if you want to keep your story focused and concise, have the plot flow from the main character as it relates to who the character is. There is just a natural progression to a detective needing a mystery to solve; a teacher who has a problem with a student; a doctor with a dying patient or drug abuse problem. See where I'm going with this? The story's plot "fits" the character and who he/she is. The problem naturally generates from him/her.

Another thing to keep in mind is narrowing your setting and time. Your story should be in a very short time frame -- hours, maybe a day or two at most. (Not counting relevant flashbacks) Place it in one room or a house or apartment, maybe a neighborhood or school. Think of your story as looking through a small hole in the wall. Narrow your scope to focus on the theme, the point of your story, and stay there. Don't venture outside the boundaries of your yard!

The bottom line is that you want to write a story in a certain amount of words, but with enough detail to be complete. Not an easy task. One last piece of advice: if you feel like you don't want the story to end when you've finished, i.e. it feels like there should be more to happen, then maybe it's novel material and not a short. You'll have to decide. You should know your characters and your story better than anybody, but if you're really stuck, it doesn't hurt to get another person's opinion -- from a writers' group or online at such websites as fanstory.com or someone you think can read with constructive criticism.

Good luck to all of you. Now, go and write a great short story!

10 comments:

Innocent Owner Of Mad Cats said...

Been waiting for this since 9/27. Definitly worth the wait. Thanks

plainolebob said...

Teach,
Thought i had better stop in, reall been thinkin bout your advice.
HUGS

teacherwriter said...

Bob, thanks for stopping by. You are a true friend.

And Innocent... I'm glad it was worthwhile. Just trying to help out for whoever wants it :-)

Hunter said...

Another informative post. Thanks for sharing!

teacherwriter said...

Hunter, You are most welcome.

Sarah said...

as usual, great tips. thanks for sharing.

Bendigo said...

Hi..Just a quick note to say love the blog. I have presented you with an award. You can find it at http://bendigosrage.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-awesome-is-this.html. Thanks again for the great blog.

teacherwriter said...

Sarah and Bendigo... Thanks for the kind and encouraging words. Bendigo -- I will check out that award! Very nice of you :-)

plainolebob said...

Teach,
me and Bess, want to invite you to the "hot dog blogger" awards thingy we got, tomorrow, at the plainolebob2blogspot site.
BIG HUGS
and congrats

plainolebob said...

Teach, sorry my coputer is having a mind of it's own. your award is at
http://www.plainolebon2.blogspot.com