The short form of story telling is a different packet of noodles altogether. More like the instant kind. You don’t have the luxury to wait them to simmer and be done. No riffling comfortably through pages waiting for the build-up and the show-down. So, how to go about tackling a short story when writing?
I had never really thought of writing a short story. Having written a few for blogs and some more which I just toyed with and didn’t have the courage to submit anywhere, I tried my hand for a short story contest with Harper Collins India – and won! In the contest, I had to first outline an idea and then if the idea was selected, I had to write the full. When I sat down to write, I looked up lots of writing advice which gave me courage to believe I could write this format and that story is set to appear in an anthology out this December. Yay!
So based on my experience and research, here are my tips.
Stick to one problem or incident
This is the most important thing I’ve found worth keeping in mind. You can’t fit a lot of subplots in a short length, so it’s better to be specific. What is the problem confronting your character now? Which of the pressing issues she has to deal with right at the moment which demands action. Not desires or needs to be pondered on. What she has to do now.
Chart your characters
No matter even if it’s a short format, you have to know your characters or the aspect you want to come out in the story. It can be instinctive knowledge or deliberate sketch out, but anyway you should know how they will react. My suggestion is to think out at least one important incident about their childhood, youth and current situation each. It helps to define a character well.
Make every word count
This was really difficult for me as I’m given to repetition in my writing. I use it a lot for emphasis or escalation of feeling. For novels also it is inadvisable. But it’s a total no no where short stories are concerned. Had to learn that. The good was when I edited out the repeats, it gave me space for more. However, you don’t need to do the extra work. Stick to simple, stark description and strong verbs.
Have a well rounded conflict
Make it convincing from all angles. Writing is about emotion but without logic in your argument, you’ll have readers shaking their heads and putting down the work. For example, if the character faces money problems and has to do something illegal because of that, you can’t have her putting on diamond earrings in the scene. Well, you can but you’ll have to explain why she can’t sell them to take care of her troubles. So on. Always think out the motivation for the character’s action. Elementary but so easily missed in the flow of writing.
Anchor your scenes
This is especially difficult when you have little amount of words to work with. You cannot indulge in pages of description. Instead depend on the senses to anchor your reader. Smell. Hearing. Is your character in a boat? Have her feel the spray rather than describe the roll of the waves . Also it’s better to have just one or two changes of scenes in the whole story. Any more and you’ll be wasting words in description rather than using them to advance the plot.
Keep it tight throughout. More importantly use the same tone in the whole story. Is it light and humorous; dark and with underlying threat of danger? Serious and delving into psyche of characters? I wouldn’t advise changing the mood midway, unless there’s special cause for it. Want to build the momentum? Use short sentences for speed.
The resolution should be well delineated. Satisfactory or cliffhanger? The cliffhanger which leaves you coming to your own conclusions is more common in short stories. In any case, it should still make a statement and leave an impact on the characters…thereby on the reader.
Most of all have FUN writing!
So did you find this post helpful? Have any more tips to share? Let’s hear them. I’d love to know your views.