A short story can be read in a brief period, about as long as it takes to read a newspaper or magazine article. Think of it as a quick escape that transports the reader into the world of a few characters who overcome a significant challenge over the lunch hour. Of course, the period in the story can be a little longer, but it raises the need for carefully chosen words that paint a picture of the characters and the situation at hand as succinctly as possible.
Why write short stories? One simple reason is that short stories provide authors additional outlets to publish their work in relevant published magazines and online journals. Additionally, you may be an author who regularly develops unique perspectives on everyday events. While amusing and interesting, each situation, or story, is completely unrelated to the others. Short stories provide an opportunity to communicate your creations and develop a unique relationship with your reader audience.
The first principle to keep in mind when writing short stories is that they are, in a word, short. You do not have hundreds of pages to develop complex plots, characters, and scenery. Instead, you are writing about a very brief period, a few characters, and one specific challenge. Ideally, the challenge is obvious in the very first paragraph. Following the classic beginning, middle and ending story model, you have to get the reader from the beginning to the end as quickly as possible.
Make it as easy as you can for the reader to relate to the situation and the characters without going into lengthy paragraphs to develop them. This means choosing words carefully to add color to the scene, while focusing on the problem and the character’s actions to deal with it. This does not mean that you can’t be mysterious about the full nature of the problem at hand. Draw the read in by including them in the struggle immediately, but let them guess for a while about the true and complete nature of the problem. This helps builds intrigue and keeps them engaged and wanting to solve the problem.
Write your story in as few words as possible. Imagine telling a complete story in only fifty words. Then go back and rewrite it, and rewrite it again, adding only the words necessary to make it a compelling story in a few hundred words. The ultimate length of the complete story is entirely up to you and may be as short as five hundred words or as long as three or four thousand words. The key is to make sure you write enough to tell the story and solve the problem without leaving the reader hanging because you cut out important elements. Conversely, overly long prose developing plots and characters can become tedious in a story that is only a few pages long.
Your unique perspective on everyday events is the essence of your story, the moment when the reader suddenly comprehends the situation in an entirely new and unexpected way. Then take the reader a little deeper where the harsh reality of personal and life challenges exist before giving them hope that the problem will be solved. Think of the rollercoaster ride, which at the beginning takes you high up where the view is incredible. Then in seconds, you are plunging towards the earth screaming in fear. All thoughts of that wonderful view have disappeared in an instant. You are now focused on the twists and turns ahead, and hoping you’ll make it safely to the end of the ride.
Like any good fictional story, the reader must connect with a main character who is on a quest to achieve something or solve the problem. Every paragraph must keep the story moving and the conflict kept front and center in the reader’s mind. As a short story, you must limit the number of characters involved and the number of plotlines you develop. You don’t have room in a few pages to fully develop all of the elements you can imagine and you risk leaving the reader perplexed wondering what happened to all those characters or events.
The story must end in a way that resolves the situation and leaves the reader satisfied, not loaded with unanswered questions. If the story concludes on a positive note with the challenge overcome, the bad guy punished, or the main character elevated to some new status, you will create a sense of accomplishment and confidence in the reader. No matter how deep and difficult the challenge in the beginning, an uplifting ending will bring the reader back looking for more. Do you have another unique perspective or idea? Write on.