Crafting short fiction

Writing Short Stories

A lot of people I speak to think that short stories must be easy to write because they’re – well, short!

     In fact, in my opinion, and experience, short stories are harder to write than longer forms of fiction, such as the novelette or the novel.
With those, you can take your time in crafting the world in which your characters will live, developing their personalities and character arcs along the way so that at the end of the book they are well developed and believable.

     Also in a novel or a novelette, you have space in which to tell your story. You can write long scenes if you wish which can turn into long chapters easily, whereas, in a short story, you must accomplish all of that in a relatively short amount of word space.

     The first thing you should know before you begin to write a short story is: start in the middle! You might well be throwing your hands up in exasperation right now and saying to yourself, ‘George, that’s just madness! Why would you start a story in the middle? What about the beginning, man!?’ and you’d be right to do so, because yes, we do need the beginning of the story to know what is really going on.

     The trick with a short story, however, is that you have to tell the beginning while you’re telling the middle.

     What I mean to say, is that while you are starting your story in the middle, you need to scatter enough exposition (what happened before your story begins) throughout your work. That way you’re off to a quick start, and your readers will get to know the whole story, (including the beginning) as they read the whole thing. 

     Another thing I’ve learned is that, when you’re writing your first draft of your short story, write it in one sitting. It doesn’t matter if you leave out massive chunks of plot or details about the characters or settings, it’s just a first draft (which, don’t get me wrong, is a lot of hard work in and of itself) you just need to keep writing and aiming towards the end.

     When you’ve finished the first draft, congratulate yourself on a completed task, because if you’re anything like me, you would have procrastinated for two weeks before actually sitting down to write a single word.
     Take a little break from your work – say a day or two just to shake off the cobwebs you garnered while writing your complete first draft and then when you feel ready, have a run through it and see what’s missing. Do you need shorter scenes? More dialogue? Less?

     Now you need to fill in the blanks. You can flesh out your story and your settings and characters – but not too much, remember it’s supposed to be short. While you’re doing that, don’t forget to sprinkle your ‘beginning’ over the story adding just enough information for your readers to know about important things that have happened which relate to the story you’re telling; this will be your second draft.

     Then comes the edit, which can be a scary word. It implies, at least for me, a lot of hard work in reading and re-reading your story, so much so that what excited you about writing it in the first place has been dulled by the repetition. This is normal, and the excitement comes back when you’ve finished… usually.
     Go through your work with a fine-toothed comb, looking for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. I find it best to use a printout and a red pen. Usually, for spelling and grammar, I make a note above the word that needs to be corrected.

     Once you’ve checked for spelling and grammar, you should read through it again, looking for any parts of your story that don’t add up, or anything that needs taken out or changed or added. I mark these with a number and then on the back, I note the number again and then a little sentence about what needs to be changed.

     Finally, you’re ready to write your final draft. Type up all of the corrections and changes you’ve made and voila! – You have your short story, finished and polished to within an inch of its life. This last part usually takes me a little while longer than it should, because I actually type it all out again. I know, I know, why on earth would I torture myself with extra work?
The truth is I have o idea. I think it’s just habit.

     Anyway, that was a lot, wasn’t it? I hope I didn’t confuddle you too much with the ‘write the beginning in the middle’ stuff. If I did I apologize, it took me a minute to get my head around it too.

Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom if you did. I appreciate that you took the time to do so.

Until next time…

George

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