What’s Important in Writing Short Stories

image by Ramdlon

What’s Important to Consider in Writing a Short Story?

 

Writer’s Voice

  • Establish a strong, yet controlled, voice from the first line.

 Setting

  • Limit the length of days or weeks the story covers.
  • Research to find (or create) a distinct setting that supports the story’s tone and plot. Your setting research should color your story rather than drive the story.
  • Show the setting through characters’ actions. No word-gobbling descriptions.

 Plot

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
  • Present an innovative and unexpected plot. Thoroughly imagine the whole story from beginning to end.
  • Know more about your story than your readers need to know so you can write a well-developed plot. The plot must have a beginning, middle, and end, but tell only enough of what you know to take the reader on a riveting short journey.
  • Focus on one conflict but make room for a small subplot to give the story some complexity and authenticity.
  • Don’t make the ending twist be your goal. The story must be about more than a gotcha.
  • Don’t set your story too far back in the protagonist’s life. Start after his life struggles heat up and as close to the climax as possible—when he takes a significant action toward his goal. Then advance to the conflict that creates the first obstacle to his goal. Conflicts leading to choices that lead to more conflict heighten emotional tension.
  • Infuse suspense so the reader constantly wants to know what happens next. Suspense is more than scary stuff happening.

 Characters

  • Introduce few characters and write from one character’s point of view. Your protagonist should be the one who makes choices and advances the story.
  • image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
    Let the reader know immediately what the protagonist wants. Make her desire fresh.
  • Develop your characters through actions, thoughts, and dialogue. Every line of dialogue must develop a character or advance the plot. No idle talk.

 

  • Create dynamic, authentic interaction between characters through their complex personalities. Your goal is to create memorable characters.

 Good Planning and Execution

  • Brainstorm an original title that compels readers to delve into the story.
  • Rein in the exposition and the backstory.
  • Make beginning and ending lines the strongest in your story. Usher the reader into the story with a surprise that indicates what the whole story’s about, and like a spell, beckons him to read on. Don’t drag the ending out. When the reader reaches the ending line, he must care about the protagonist’s choice and can’t stop thinking about the story—wanting more. Perhaps he sees something about the world differently.
  • Don’t detail characters’ movements or getting them from one place to another; use quick transition words (later).
  • Edit the story to be shorter, tighter, more compelling. Pay attention to language—to word choices and clarity. Eliminate redundancy and repetition.
  • Kill your darlings. Every sentence should develop a character, advance the plot, or be eliminated.
  • Remember, conciseness doesn’t mean resorting to telling rather than showing feelings.

Find out what’s important in writing short stories. Click to tweet.

What do you want from a short story?

Story Setting Part 2: Real vs. Fictional

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First off, remember from Part 1 that setting encompasses such elements as place, time, culture, technology, geography, and weather. Thus, you must decide whether any real setting can work for your story.

Of course, fantasy and sci-fi novels need extensive fictional world building.

Advantages of Real and Fictional Story Settings

 

Real Settings

  • It’s all laid out for you; a good map is a great help.
  • Places you know well facilitate writing the setting.
  • Your hometown makes research easy; everything’s a car ride away.
  • You can choose from many ready-made places to enhance the mood of your story. (For a somber mood, perhaps the rainy Northwest)
  • Actual places give readers a sense of authenticity within the fiction.
  • Places familiar to readers readily supply them with clear images at the story’s outset. Readers enjoy being transported to places they know.
  • Real places can help book sales to people who reside there or to visitors who’ve enjoyed the area.
image by VictorianLady

Fictional Settings

  • Anything goes, as long as it makes sense to the reader.
  • You can still employ a mix of real-setting features but give them fictional names.

 

  • You don’t have to worry about describing actual landmarks, weather, and geography that don’t live up to readers’ expectations or are wrong. 
  • You can develop the setting to fit the needs of your story: a local business, characters’ outdoor interests, and the area’s traditions.

Disadvantages of Real and Fictional Settings

 

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Real Settings

  You may offend readers who know or love the place, especially if you make statements they consider derogatory.

 You must get your facts right about all elements of the setting, such as geography, weather, and time period.

 You may expect readers to know renowned places as well as you do and unconsciously leave out descriptions they need.

 You could lose sales if book reviews say you did a poor job of presenting a country, state, city, or town.

 You may spend much time researching accurate details on a small town to satisfy only a tiny portion of your readers.

Fictional Settings

  • Developing all the elements of setting can be labor intense.
  • You must ensure the setting elements you develop don’t work against other elements in your story. (In an arid spot, you have the criminal bury body parts in lush parks around the town.)

 Combination Settings

 

Both cases require work, either in research or creating the setting. Perhaps employing a combination and using the advantages of both would help with the labor. You could create a fictional setting that is a composite of multiple real places to provide authenticity and the items your story needs. Or you might create a fictional place within a real country or state.

What to consider when deciding between a fictional or real story setting. Click to tweet.

How have you used fiction and reality in developing a book’s setting?

Point of View: Deepen Your Scene as You Employ It

image by geralt
image by geralt

Through two examples, I’ll show how employing point of view can enrich a scene as readers experience the setting, characterization, plot, and story theme.

I’ll use the same elements for each example.

   Character: Clara Hill, a twenty-three-year-old woman.

   Theme: A first-time teacher learns to reach and help her students.

   Setting: Classroom.

   Scene Plot: How Clara handles her first day of class.

Example 1 

Principal Edwards introduced Clara to the class then headed for the door.

He was leaving her so soon—with the black boy wearing unlaced combat boots and sitting in the last row, tying knots in the blind cord? And with the white pregnant girl, sitting in front chewing gum? Or was that tobacco?

Clara scurried to the teacher’s desk, putting the bulwark between her and the class. Seven columns and six rows of one-armed student desks. And all of them filled with lounging teens. Eighty-four eyes bearing down on her, sizing her up, following her every movement.

image by PublicDomainPictures
image by PublicDomainPictures

She grasped the English textbook with both hands. Anything to steady her trembling fingers. As she opened the book, her number-two pencil fell from its pages, rolled off the desk to the filthy terrazzo floor, and stopped at the mud-encrusted wader of the boy with one lazy eye.

She glanced at the boy. Wasn’t he going to pick it up?

“You dropped your pencil,” he said, one eye on her and the other on the pencil.

What happened to raising one’s hand to speak? And since when was a teacher expected to handle a class of forty-two miscreants? [Scene continues.]

Example 2

Principal Edwards introduced Clara to the class then headed for the door.

Clara ran her gaze over the students as she waited until the metal door clicked shut. A motley bunch, but they’d do.

image by tdfugere
image by tdfugere

She strode to the wooden desk, plopped her rump onto the spot where a lovelorn teen had engraved, ‘LILY LUVS AL,’ and crossed her legs.

“My name is Clara Hill. Ms. Hill to you.” She nodded at the teen in the back. “You who can’t decide whether to open or shut the blinds, what’s your name?”

Sniggers rippled through the students.

The boy released the blind cord. “Emmett Crowe.”

“Thanks, Emmett.” Clara’s clog nearly touched the knee of the rosy-cheeked young lady on the first row. She smiled at the girl. “What’s your name?”

“Annabel Grubbs.”

“How far along are you, Annabel?” Maybe Clara should have taken a birthing class instead of CPR.

More sniggers.

Annabel giggled, displaying brown teeth. “Thirty-four weeks.”

“My guess is you’ll miss the first unit test.” [Scene continues.]

 

Through point of view:

  1.  Clara is fearful and judgmental

OR

    is bold and direct.

2.   Clara sees 42 occupied chairs, skin color, filth, and miscreants

OR

     sees individual students, fidgeting, pregnant, and infatuated with “AL.”

3.   The way Clara handles her first day drives what needs to happen to satisfy the novel’s theme that Clara will reach and help her students (plot).

Perhaps, Clara changes her outlook and relationships with her students

OR

fights the community for the students’ good.

Put point of view to work for characterization, setting, theme, and plot. Click to tweet.

How have you put point of view to work in a scene?