By Lee Masterson
Short stories can be an
excellent way to break into the competitive field of fiction publishing. Novel
publishers are more willing to look at work written by an author whose work has
already appeared in print. Magazines and periodicals love the short form, so
selling the work can often be simpler than pushing an entire novel manuscript.
Readers are more willing to pay money for work from an author they are
already familiar with. Most importantly, though, short stories provide a fertile
ground for bigger ideas to spring from.
The difficulty lies in
mastering this challenging form of writing.
Some shorter stories manage
to leave a lingering impression on readers long after the final word was
written. Others leave readers with the feeling that they have missed the point
So how do you strike a
balance between writing an effective, memorable short story and creating a
short, aimless length of prose?
To make your short stories
more effective, try to keep in mind these following points:
Establish a clear theme
before you begin writing. What is the story about? That doesn't mean what is the
plot line, the sequence of events or the character's actions, it means what is
the underlying message or statement behind the words. Get this right and your
story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.
An effective short story
covers a very short time span. Picture
it as a snapshot of a particular moment in the life of the story. Of course, the
character has a history and will often have consequences to face after the
story's conclusion, too. But for the sake of this short story, only the
explanation of the event is relevant. This
explanation should be the illustration of the underlying theme to your story.
Begin your story with a
conflict scene. Throw your protagonist in the deep end. Open with the action.
Hook your reader into the story by beginning in the middle of something big.
Forget the scenery, or the bad guy who got your hero into this mess in the first
place, or the reason your protagonist is dangling by his feet from a sheer
cliff. There will be time to sprinkle those details throughout the story later.
For now, concentrate on forcing your readers to wonder how he got into that
situation. A reader who wonders this is a reader who will continue reading to
Don't overload your story
with too many characters. Each new character you introduce will bring a new
dimension to the story, but it can also add unnecessary length. Too many diverse
dimensions (or directions) will dilute the theme. Have only enough characters to
effectively illustrate the theme.
Space is extremely limited
with short stories. Many publications adhere to strict word-counts and will not
accept longer pieces. You need to make every word count.
Edit your draft carefully and remove any obsolete words or phrases. Find
a more compact way to say want you mean. Dig
through a thesaurus to find words that more accurately convey what you want to
say. Finding one perfect, strong noun can be more compelling than a whole
The best stories are the
ones that focus upon a narrow subject line. History, external details,
surroundings, other characters-- all extraneous details should fade into
oblivion while you focus on your story's central theme. It can be tempting to
digress, and often more tempting to expand the fledgling idea into a full
novel-length work. The tighter you squeeze the focus of the story, the more the
reader will be pulled into the event you have drawn.
Surprise your readers. Add
a little twist at the end of your story that leaves them wondering about your
protagonist long after the story ends. Avoid the overtly predictable ending and
make publishers remember your style.
Don't leave your readers
hanging in the dark at the end of your story. Be sure that your conclusion is
satisfying, but not too predictable. Readers need to be left with a feeling of
resonance, a feeling that they long to know what happened to the characters after
you wrote that last word.
If you can successfully
incorporate these tips into a compact, focused story, you just might find that
you have created a memorable short story that lingers in the minds of readers
and editors alike, long after they've finished reading!
Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.
Masterson is a freelance writer from South Australia. She is also the editor of
Fiction Factor (http://www.fictionfactor.com) - an online
magazine for writers, offering tips and advice on getting published, articles to
improve your writing skills, heaps of
writer's resources and much more. Check out Lee's newest book, Write, Create
& Promote a Best-Seller at http://www.fictionfactor.com/order.html and
jump-start your writing career.
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