“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
― Neil Gaiman
Short stories are getting popular again and for all the right reasons! In an age where publication in online magazines has been increasing, there is fresh talent being discovered through short stories. Apart from that, it is also a great way for writers to practice their skills. But a misconception is that short stories are easier to write than novels. The short story requires as much skill and practice as a lengthy novel, but there are a few tips which can make the process easier for you:
Identify your story
Due to the word limit, a short story writer won’t be able to have the freedom to meander through sub-plots and supporting characters like novelists do. Be very sure about who is your story about and why.
Point of view and form
Short stories are a great way to experiment with point-of-view (POV) and form. While it is best to stick to one POV, the short length of your story will give you more time to experiment with different voices and perspective and see which fits your story. You can also play with form to break out of a routine. You could try writing the story in the form of a letter, a radio broadcast, etc. and see which parts of your story are highlighted with each style. Short stories are a great space for experimental fiction, so don’t hesitate to break the rules.
Good title and word count
Nothing sells a short story like a good title. Most famous short stories have very straightforward titles, but with the right amount of intrigue. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe are some great examples of how a title can simply tell you what the story will be about, and also arouse curiosity.
Most writers and publishers agree that the perfect maximum word count for a short story is 3,500 words.
Read short stories—and newspapers!
The best way to hone the craft is to read and it’s always better to read a form similar to what you are writing. But another medium which can be good for writing short stories is to read the news. Don’t look at the big headlines and international news. Instead, focus on the small local stories. These stories are often about regular people who have experienced something extraordinary. Notice the way the journalist has framed the headline, and you will in the process learn what makes a story attractive to a reader.
Just because your story is short, does not mean you should not add some depth to your character. Your protagonist should feel like a person who has a life outside the story as well. One way to do this is to ask some personal questions about the character. Has your character ever dated before? What are their views on marriage? Is fitness an important part of their life? Some of these characteristics and details will not be relevant to your story, and that’s fine. This is more like a character profiling exercise which will automatically affect the way you write about the character in your story. It will help your character seem convincingly real.