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Short Stories for Novel Writers

April 29, 2012

I’ve taken my sweet time putting this post together primarily because I’m in the middle of reading a book on the subject.

However, it is taking me a very, very long time to get through this book. The author is one of those pretentious I Am Writer sorts who writes “How To” books simply to show everyone how knowledgeable and eloquent he is and not actually to help anybody do anything.

I really hate people like that.

So I’m just going to ignore that book for now. If it ends up teaching me something, I’ll write a follow-up post.

I think I remember being able to write short stories when I was younger. I’m pretty sure I could. Today, somehow, it’s much harder. Here are the reasons why:

  1. Characters, theme and setting must be established very quicklyWriting in Scrabble letters
  2. Limited space for character development
  3. Limited space for an emotional journey for the reader (does that even make sense?)

But those are all things I can deal with. They just take practice.

Lately I’ve put together a ton of concepts for a short story project, where I write one short story every two weeks (eventually one per week), and as I start to improve, I’d love to put them together into a small ebook. Unfortunately, the demands of school made it necessary to put the project on the back burner for awhile, but now that the semester’s over, I’m returning my attention to it.

The project has really highlighted exactly where my stumbling point it.

Apparently, when it comes to short stories, I can come up with setting, characters, themes, and generally concept, but I get stumped on the plot. Here’s what I mean.

“A teenager girl whose best friend is a ghost gets a taste of death and discovers how beautiful life is.”

There. I’ve got a starting point. I’ve got some characters developed. I’ve got her small town fleshed out. But I don’t know what actually happens in the story, and that’s where I get stuck.

It’s pretty difficult for me to think of a story that can be told in only a few thousand words. When I think “story I want to write,” I think of an epic war unfolding and the self discovery and pacifist protest of a boy caught in the middle of it, or a spaceship crew fighting against an alien conspiracy while trying to stay under the radar of their own government, or the life decisions that lead a team of petty thieves to become heroes while an unremarkable woman falls into villainy. I think about characters evolving, worlds hanging in the balance, people moving through stages of their lives and watching things fall apart and then fit into place.

How the hell do I write a short story?

I’ve done a little research, but most of the advice is the exact same advice I’ve encountered for novels. I have picked up some interesting points, however, and hopefully that should be enough to give me a start as I leap back into this project. I’ve adapted them a little to give myself some direction. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

  1.  Limit your short story to something that occurs over a course of a small length of time, such as a few hours or days. (Inspiration taken from How to Write a Short Story)
  2. Try to establish setting quickly and elegantly (Inspiration take from 8 Unstoppable Rules for Writing Killer Short Stories)
  3. Pick one problem for your protagonist to solve over the course of the story (Inspiration from Tips for Writing a Short Story, which is one of the better articles I’ve found)
  4. View it as a “snapshot of life” (Inspiration by How to Write Short Stories, a good resource with some great tips)

I’ve also picked up a lot of collections of short stories in the genres that interest me, and I’ll be reading them for inspiration and to better understand this craft.


From → Short Stories

  1. Jane Laysen permalink

    Every short story I have ever attempted has turned into the beginning of a novel. I can’t force myself to limit character and plot development… I guess it’s just not my thing.

    • I completely understand. And it may be that eventually I give up and just stick with novels and novellas. But I’d like to try my hand at short stories, and the more writing practice I can get, the better.

    • @Jane: It is practice.. practice… and bit of care, certainly it is possible. Just try reading our 10 tips as checklist before and after writing your short stories. We also recommend to read short stories from editor’s choice list at Furthermore we love to review your stories in case you need… (of course for free 🙂

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