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The Key to Writing Short Stories

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Planning

When you are used to writing novel-length stories or simply are not accustomed to sticking to a restricted word count, moving to the world of short stories can feel like an impossible task. Are they seriously expecting you to cut even more precious words just to fit into fewer pages? Well, yes. Sadly.


Contrary to non-writer belief, the shorter the story, the harder the process. But have no fear! Armed with encouragement and practical tips, We Got Story has got your back.



It's Harder? But...How?


The shorter the tale, the more tricky your writing process is. Fact. There are less pages to fit a complete plot within, less sentences to inform and entice, and fewer opportunities to gain your reader’s respect. When you are a storyteller, it's natural to want all vital details to be out there, paint a world with words and embellish for richness. Going shorter requires you to be selective on what you write and control your impulses. The following advice aims to help you in your quest but remember: Never give up, never surrender! You can write a short story.

Moving from Novels To Short Stories


First – a no-brainer: Read short stories exclusively in preparation for your planning. By reading multiple examples, you will soon be able to identify shared traits and writing styles. You can also pinpoint what sort of narrative you prefer – an action-packed flurry of scenes, or a slow-burner that focuses on people rather than events.


A novel typically spans over a number of detailed events in a more spaced out timeline. For short stories and smaller, you have to scale down. You can keep your detail if you shorten the time frame (e.g. detailed events in one evening), try the reverse (e.g. Skipping over all but the necessary details over years) or a balance of both extremes.


Take a novel-length idea, figure out its highlights and write a short story based on an event which could stand alone. Do not stress if you cannot identify a stand-alone event: this method is not always applicable.


Clearly define a beginning setup, single middle phase and short conclusion. No in-between. Then build events, their order, and their purpose within the story. When I say ‘Focus more on the ending’, I’m not saying the journey get to the end is unimportant. Rather, in a short story your ending will take up a larger proportion of the plot than if it was a novel. And as short stories are usually read in one sitting, the ‘character journey’ will encompass the ending far more.



Quick Tips For All Short Story Planning

1. Limit Your Cast: Combine characters when you can to avoid unnecessary bulk. Give each character a unique job for the story and merge any who could kill two birds with one stone. If a character's role does not dramatically influence the plot, they have to go. Now is not the time to form attachments to unnecessary bodies! 2. Avoid Long Description Blocks: Well-crafted, one-off descriptive sentences are better than bulky paragraphs. Leave the multi-hued, masterpiece of scene-settings to the epic novels - your job is to paint the scene in as few words as possible. You'll find that this actually makes your descriptions more 'punchy'. No one will be complaining. 3. Cut Fluff: Eliminate all action/dialogue that won’t impact on the plot. Be ruthless. Funny one-liners can be scribbled on the side and be cherry-picked for inclusion later in the redrafting sessions if they truly are too good to be cut, but in the meantime keep the tempo quick and relevant. 4. Get in Trouble ASAP: No time for settling readers in with a safe opening, throw them and your protagonists headfirst into a problem as early as you can. Upheaval requires consequences, and you should have your characters reacting. Not sure how to achieve this? Write your natural opener and do your best to get to the 'inciting incident' as efficiently as you can. Then...cut out everything before the first major action sequence. You can add parts back later, but springboarding into drama cuts out a lot of unnecessary preample. 5. Assign Word Limits: Before you write, allot each section of your story with a word count limit. Being stingy with your numbers is erring on the side of caution - in this case, fully recommended. Aim for a shor-short story, because you will likely run over! When you come back to edit, easier-to-cut-down scenes can lend their limit to a heftier one.

With time often limited for some busy readers, the market is eager for new, fresh and exciting short stories to meet readership demands. To find out whether or not short stories are up your street, you need to actually try it. Chances are you won't write a perfect piece the first time, but that's no reason to be disheartened! It might just be that second or third attempt will be a story that captures the imagination and hearts of readers around the world.


When you are used to writing novel-length stories or simply are not accustomed to sticking to a restricted word count, moving to the world of short stories can feel like an impossible task. Are they seriously expecting you to cut even more precious words just to fit into fewer pages? Well, yes. Sadly.


Contrary to non-writer belief, the shorter the story, the harder the process. But have no fear! Armed with encouragement and practical tips, We Got Story has got your back.



It's Harder? But...How?


The shorter the tale, the more tricky your writing process is. Fact. There are less pages to fit a complete plot within, less sentences to inform and entice, and fewer opportunities to gain your reader’s respect. When you are a storyteller, it's natural to want all vital details to be out there, paint a world with words and embellish for richness. Going shorter requires you to be selective on what you write and control your impulses. The following advice aims to help you in your quest but remember: Never give up, never surrender! You can write a short story.

Moving from Novels To Short Stories


First – a no-brainer: Read short stories exclusively in preparation for your planning. By reading multiple examples, you will soon be able to identify shared traits and writing styles. You can also pinpoint what sort of narrative you prefer – an action-packed flurry of scenes, or a slow-burner that focuses on people rather than events.


A novel typically spans over a number of detailed events in a more spaced out timeline. For short stories and smaller, you have to scale down. You can keep your detail if you shorten the time frame (e.g. detailed events in one evening), try the reverse (e.g. Skipping over all but the necessary details over years) or a balance of both extremes.


Take a novel-length idea, figure out its highlights and write a short story based on an event which could stand alone. Do not stress if you cannot identify a stand-alone event: this method is not always applicable.


Clearly define a beginning setup, single middle phase and short conclusion. No in-between. Then build events, their order, and their purpose within the story. When I say ‘Focus more on the ending’, I’m not saying the journey get to the end is unimportant. Rather, in a short story your ending will take up a larger proportion of the plot than if it was a novel. And as short stories are usually read in one sitting, the ‘character journey’ will encompass the ending far more.



Quick Tips For All Short Story Planning

1. Limit Your Cast: Combine characters when you can to avoid unnecessary bulk. Give each character a unique job for the story and merge any who could kill two birds with one stone. If a character's role does not dramatically influence the plot, they have to go. Now is not the time to form attachments to unnecessary bodies! 2. Avoid Long Description Blocks: Well-crafted, one-off descriptive sentences are better than bulky paragraphs. Leave the multi-hued, masterpiece of scene-settings to the epic novels - your job is to paint the scene in as few words as possible. You'll find that this actually makes your descriptions more 'punchy'. No one will be complaining. 3. Cut Fluff: Eliminate all action/dialogue that won’t impact on the plot. Be ruthless. Funny one-liners can be scribbled on the side and be cherry-picked for inclusion later in the redrafting sessions if they truly are too good to be cut, but in the meantime keep the tempo quick and relevant. 4. Get in Trouble ASAP: No time for settling readers in with a safe opening, throw them and your protagonists headfirst into a problem as early as you can. Upheaval requires consequences, and you should have your characters reacting. Not sure how to achieve this? Write your natural opener and do your best to get to the 'inciting incident' as efficiently as you can. Then...cut out everything before the first major action sequence. You can add parts back later, but springboarding into drama cuts out a lot of unnecessary preample. 5. Assign Word Limits: Before you write, allot each section of your story with a word count limit. Being stingy with your numbers is erring on the side of caution - in this case, fully recommended. Aim for a shor-short story, because you will likely run over! When you come back to edit, easier-to-cut-down scenes can lend their limit to a heftier one.

With time often limited for some busy readers, the market is eager for new, fresh and exciting short stories to meet readership demands. To find out whether or not short stories are up your street, you need to actually try it. Chances are you won't write a perfect piece the first time, but that's no reason to be disheartened! It might just be that second or third attempt will be a story that captures the imagination and hearts of readers around the world.


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