Why Should We Write Short Stories?
I love writing short fiction. In fact, I’m just now finishing up a collection of short stories that’s scheduled to be published in July. Not only do I write them regularly, I also recommend that my coaching clients do so as well. Short stories are an excellent creative exercise. They provide an opportunity to explore and test new ideas, and teach us how to distill thoughts, writing tighter and stronger narratives that can then be carried over to novel writing.
Ever have a character you wanted to write about but didn’t have a good grasp on their personality? Consider putting that character into a short story to get to know them better. By putting a character into a hairy situation, you’ll discover how they respond in different scenarios, and you’ll inevitably get to know them as you do an old friend.
Most importantly, though, due to their condensed nature, short stories provide an opportunity for us to hone our overall writing and editing skills.
What Is a Short Story?
A short story is a glimpse, a moment in time, and it’s our job as writers to bring this moment to life, to raise the stakes and to illuminate the meaning behind the moment. We do this through vivid use of language, through the combining of words in an order that creates beauty, that reveals truth.
Words have the power to rouse memories and emotions, to ignite the imagination, and to transport our readers to a place far away from their immediate reality. Words turn on the senses in such a way that a reader experiences vividly the events we’re writing about, as if they’re in the story, walking alongside our characters, laughing when they laugh, crying when they cry.
Ready to write a short story? Here are 6 tips to get you started.
1. Start with one sentence. How many times have you had an idea, maybe a sentence, maybe a scene running clearly through your mind? Every time that happens, you have the beginning of a story. Here’s an excerpt by Raymond Carver, short story writer and poet, in his essay, Principles of a Story, on just that:
“For several days I’d been going around with this sentence in my head: “He was running the vacuum cleaner when the telephone rang.” I knew a story was there and that it wanted telling. I felt it in my bones, that a story belonged with that beginning, if I could just have the time to write it. I found the time, an entire day—12, 15 hours even—if I wanted to make use of it. I did, and I sat down in the morning and wrote the first sentence, and other sentences promptly began to attach themselves. I made the story just as I’d make a poem; one line and then the next, and the next. Pretty soon I could see a story—and I knew it was my story, the one I’d been wanting to write.”
2. Dive into the action quickly. Determine where the story actually begins. It’s usually in the midst of action or conflict. Backstory can then be threaded carefully throughout from that point on.
3. Don’t spend a lot of time planning your story. When writing a short story, let the story unfold as you write. While we tend to do a lot of planning with novels, due to the scope of the project, short stories allow us more freedom to discover our characters and circumstances as we go, which can make them a lot of fun to write!
4. Write in as few sittings as possible. Let the story flow from your mind, to your fingers, to the page. You can go back later and revise. Work on getting the story out when it’s still fresh in your imagination.
5. Flesh out your story with more than one idea. A short story is limited in words but that doesn’t mean we should write a linear story. Just as real life has more than one thing happening, so should your story.
6. Edit and proofread. Once your story is done, with a beginning, middle and end, you can begin the editing process. Tighten, shorten, make it more compelling. Hunt for unnecessary words, weed out echoes, analyze word choice, and make your sentences sing.
Writing short stories is an art and a craft, it’s a skill that should continually be developed. The skills you acquire from short stories will prepare you for navigating the labyrinth of a novel.
Go ahead and write as many short stories as you can, read lots of short stories to learn from others, and never give up!
Now go write!