In my post last week, 5 Tips For Better Short-Stories Part-I, I shared the importance of Starting At The End, and Fast-Pacing within short-fiction—Two tips that I have found to be exceptionally helpful in the process of short-fiction creation. Today, I will share my final three tips.
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#3 A Small Cast, Limiting The Extras
It takes time, and words to develop characters to the point that people care about them. Simply put, short-stories don’t have the time or space to introduce the same size cast as a novel. Since they begin after the character development process that take place throughout the course of a novel, you have only a short amount of time to make readers care about an already pre-defined person who isn’t going to change much in 7,300 words.
That’s no easy feat!
It’s made harder by the fact that most stories need to have more than one person. That’s why it’s important for short-fiction to have a small cast. Your reader will not have enough information to begin to care about your Main Character, when the Main Character hardly has any screen-time because of a large-cast size.
I generally aim for three or four developed characters per story at maximum (although many short stories feature only two—Protagonist and Antagonist). This gives you the time and words to focus on who really matters—the protagonist.
#4 Backstories, A Way To Tell What’s Going On
Backstories and their place in short-fiction is highly debated. Some authors say no, some say yes. I’m one of the latter. In fact I’d say a backstory is key to short-fiction mainly because when you just get tossed straight into the action will little explanation, it can be downright confusion as to what is going on!
The key to having successful backstory in short-fiction, without rambling, and wasting-page space is to keep it sweet, simple, and well, short. In keeping with my earlier example about Steve:
Steve edged towards the bedroom door, alert. Who had broken his window? Was it his neighbor? Jim had been pretty irate after last’s week’s argument concerning the scratch in his sports car’s door. Or was this a robbery?
As with any writing it has to be relevant to the story. No ramblings about what Steve had for breakfast, or when his mother called. Short, concise and informational. Personally I tend to ramble on backstories (three or four paragraphs), but generally, one or two sentences is usually a good limit. Also consider interspacing them throughout the story so that the reader doesn’t get distracted from the real story.
Also, don’t get fooled into the idea that you have to have a backstory. A lot of scenes are self-explanatory, and your reader doesn’t have to have everything spelled out for them. Have someone proofread your short story and ask them if anything was confusing. Then add backstory details if you determine it is necessary.
#05 Exercise, Practice Makes Perfect:
If there is one thing that I can attest to as a writer, it’s that nothing ever is 100% on the first try. Short-Stories are no different than anything else. Writing short-fiction (or anything for that matter) is a skill that has to be constantly honed, and the more practice you get, the better you are. A good exercise is to take a scene from your favorite movie, (it can be anything) and turn it into a fan-fiction short story. This is good practice, and somewhat easier, because you don’t have to plot, plan, or even come up with content—the Story has already been told.
If you just can’t get a story to fit within that word-count, maybe it’s a good sign that the story needs more room to unfold. Maybe consider shifting it to another word-count category, such as a:
- Novellette (7,500 to 20,000 words),
- Novella (20,000 to 50,000 words),
- or even a Novel (70,000 to 90,000 words.)
Do you have any tips on writing short stories? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!
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