5 Tips For Better Short-Stories — Part-I


In many ways, short stories can be a scary thought for beginning writers. A non-writer may equate shorter with easier, but for a writer… How in the world do I fit a story into a neatly packaged bundle, with no-less than 2,500 and no more than 7,300 words?!

“It can’t be done!” was my reaction for quite a while. It took me a long time to even try because I believed failure was inevitable. But once I actually forced myself to try, I discovered it’s really a lot less intimidating than it seems! I’ve now been writing short-stories for a number of years, and today I am going to share the first two of five helpful tips that I have discovered along the way.

* * *

#1 Begin… At The End

I once heard an author (I don’t remember who) say:

“In order to write a successful short story, you have to start as close to the end as possible.”

~ Uncredited

I’m a perfectionist, and on top of that, I’m very detailed oriented. When I write I want to record every little thing. When it comes to short stories, there just isn’t room for all that extra content. So where do you begin? Well, at the end.

In some ways it’s easier to write a short story than a novel. Because you’re jumping the difficult content and starting after the defining journey. It’s like fast-forwarding Star Wars and only watching the Death-Star battle, or The Return of the King and only watching the final struggle between Frodo and Gollum in Mount Doom. Since you only have a limited amount of room, the place to start is at the beginning of the final conflict, when the Villain and the Hero face off for everything at stake.


#2 A Fast Pace Wins The Race

When I read a short-story, I expect a brief, enjoyable, fast-paced read with all of the feelings, emotions, and thrills of a full length novel. And that expectation throws a lot on the plate of short-story authors. It’s also why a fast pace is essential for short stories. With a good movie or novel, the pace increases towards the end, as the hero approaches the final conflict. Since a short story starts at the final conflict, it needs to hit the ground running with an already established fast pace.

Here is an example of a slow-paced short-fiction beginning:

Steve Channel rubbed the back of his neck and yawned. It was 9:00 PM—bedtime, and he knew that work began early the next morning at the office. He reached to the end table and picked up the Television remote, lazily flicking the set off and standing up. He drank a glass of water, as was his normal routine before bed, and then retired to his room where he traded his blue-jeans and tee-shirt for his red flannel jim-jams.

Heading for the bathroom, Steve flicked the light on and grabbed his hairbrush from the small shelf above the sink. With anther yawn he combed his hair and then traded the comb for his toothbrush. He brushed his teeth in slow, lazy circles counting off two minutes silently in his head. He rinsed the toothbrush, returned it to its small holder on the shelf and with a final yawn turned the light off and walked back down the long hallway to his room where he tiredly climbed into bed.

Steve was just drifting into sleep’s sweet embrace when he was jerked awake by the sound of shattering glass. He looked, panicked to the open door that led out to the living-room.

“Hello?” He called out as he sat upright. “Is anybody there?”

 Now, here is an example of fast-paced short-fiction beginning:

The window shattered, jerking Steve Channel awake. He looked, panicked to the open door that led out to the living-room.

“Hello?” He called out as he sat upright. “Is anybody there?”

 See the difference? Neither is necessarily “wrong.” Either could be included into a short-story.

But while the second example throws you headlong into the action, the first example drags on with “story-fluff” (the content that is “there” but doesn’t really add anything important to the story (which can waste your precious word-count. If the story starts with Steve asleep in bed, it’s not really necessary to include his pre-bed routine, because your reader will automatically assume that he already did it. Or they won’t care.

It’s okay to have “story-fluff” events, providing that further into the story they impact future events. Good Mystery writers are renowned for adding what appears to be story fluff at the time it’s conveyed, but later on is discovered to be a vital clue.

Maybe Steve hears a noise while brushing his teeth—a noise that he ignores at the time—but later realizes that it was the noise of a car-door shutting. After the window is broken, Steve might remember that noise and be able to tell the police that the culprit arrived in a car.

However if such scenes can’t and don’t get linked into the main plot somehow, I would advise just getting rid of them. From personal experience I can guarantee that nothing irritates a reader like ending a book and wondering How in the world was that [insert scene name here] scene relevant to anything?”

 * * *

Stay tuned for 5 Tips For Better Short-Stories Part-II” the continuation of this post.

Do you have any tips on writing short stories? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

photo credit: Domiriel via photopin cc (Cropped, dimensions adjusted)


One thought on “5 Tips For Better Short-Stories — Part-I

  1. Pingback: 5 Tips For Better Short-Stories — Part-II | The Never Ending Path

Leave a Reply: (Required fields are marked, your email address will not be published. I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, or off-topic.)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s