I started writing short stories most seriously within the past year. It was, what I like to refer to, as an interesting feat. It felt odd at first to think of an entire plot within a confined number of pages that did not progress too far into a novella. On average, my short stories range between eight to twelve pages. This is just how the words and pages have always seemed to fall.
The first two short stories followed the young adult conventions and style, just like the novels I write. These resembled realistic fiction with a small touch of magical realism. Later, I purposely shifted my style to expand my range and stretch beyond my writerly comfort zone. I wrote three short stories that were suspenseful. However, they were not suspenseful in a horror, thriller type of way. Rather they featured a layer of something a bit strange and mysterious. Darker tones and moods seemed to weave through the scenes, something I never pursued within my literature before.
You can read these three new suspenseful short stories on my blog this summer, once all edits and revisions have been made and my confidence within each story becomes too high to ignore. Expect a June, July, and August date for each.
Within the past year, I have recognized my improvements within writing short stories, as well as the areas in which I am continuing to refine and work on. Having a list of tips to reference is perfect for improving yourself as a short story outliner and writer. Here is a list of short story writing tips I believe in, remind myself, and think that you will find helpful as well.
It’s All In The Timing
Writing a short story will take time, effort, and dedication from the draft to the final version. Composing a short story will not always be something you can write quickly and swiftly, typing all the scenes within a single sit-down session. Unless, however, the concept of a short story that you have been rustling with in your mind already knows its purpose and placement. In this scenario, it could be possible that a single session may earn you a draft.
However, multiple writing sessions are likely to be necessary in order to work out the kinks, close the plot holes, develop the characters well, add in the right doses of suspense, or whatever it may be. The biggest tip to take away here, is to remove the timeline-like way of thinking when it comes to how fast you should write a smaller tale.
And like any other piece of writing, your short story can always be put away and returned to if a break away from the plot feels necessary.
Just The Important Parts
In a full-length novel there is a lot of space to inject extra components of description for the sake of enhancing, even when it isn’t necessarily needed, but is rather just enjoyable and appealing. In contrast, a short story has less space to inject these types of language. While it isn’t totally unwanted, we must keep in mind that as a writer, we have more constraints to work with. Simply, there is less times to grab the reader and take them where we want them to go.
Be concise and precise within your writing when composing a short story. Be able to establish what is important to the greater good of the story, while being able to acknowledge the extra parts. Be okay with removing unnecessary and unpurposeful parts. Keep track of the edits and deletions and if you’re having trouble parting, try to use them in another story that may complement them better.
Experiment With Time
At moments, a short story can seem too contained and too controlling, potentially limiting our voice and hindering the words. However, shortened stories can elevate certain qualities of the plot. One example of this is the concept of time.
In novels, the plot takes place over the course of a year or more. We see an extended period of time being played with. However, a short story primarily focuses on a month or a few months, possible even just weeks. Use this shortened time period to your advantage. Consider how you could manipulate the span of a few hours into something dimensional. Or possibly even just five minutes.
Make The Characters Come Alive
In my most recent short story, I wrote with a more suspenseful tone. After writing the draft, checking for spelling and grammar errors, I handed it off to two people to read and offer feedback. Luckily, the comments were helpful and opened my eyes to new horizons of where the story could go.
In relation to this particular tip, however, one of the pieces of advice I received was to make the main character feel more dimensional. It was mentioned that my readers did not feel totally invested in her and at times, it seemed as if she was behaving in ways that didn’t align with how she was perceived at the beginning of the text.
So, I began to reconsider and reframe the protagonist.
In response, I have this tip to offer for myself and for other beginner short story writers: A shortened piece of text should not diminish the opportunity for readers to get to know the characters, understand them, relate to them, feel as if they are actual individuals who exist and thrive in the real world. Make your short story character’s dimensional, even if the readers will spend less time with them.
Without characters, there’s no story.
Know Your Sources Of Inspiration
When it comes to poetry, I know the topic I want to write about and the feelings I want to provoke, as well as the tone I want to write in. The title, sometimes, can come first even before the content. There is something about the order in which I write poetry that differs from the norm. However, one thing that remains constant is my ability to use poetry as a way to inspire short story plots.
Your own writing can be some of the best sources of inspiration. And my connection between poetry and short stories can prove just that. Before I detail further about this connection, know this: always be open to anything and everything inspiring you. You will never know when a short story idea will strike or rather a poetry or novel idea. From that poem or novel, a segment can be taken, abstracted, and placed into another literary form.
In one instance, this past summer I edited and revised a poem that was originally posted for National Poetry Writing Month, NaPoWriMo. The poem was inspired by the conversations people have beneath the stars while around a campfire. I switched the perspective and gave the stars of the night sky a voice as they talked amongst themselves as they stared down at humans. Since the stars often become a topic of conversation between s’more munching, I thought this was a unique and descriptive poem opportunity.
So, I wrote it.
Later, that same poem inspired my short story, The Night The Constellations Extinguished, which I posted to my blog. Feel free to read it!