Crafting short fiction

Writing Short Stories

     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, ‘well that’s just madness! Why would you start a story in the middle? What about the beginning?’ and you’d be right to do so, because yes, we do need the beginning of the story so that we can ‘see the whole picture.’

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

     What this means, is that while you are starting your story in the middle, you need to scatter enough exposition (relevant background information about the characters and events that occur before your story begins) throughout your work, either through dialogue or narration and without a massive info-dump. 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. 

     Another good tip when you’re writing the first draft of your short story is to 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 need to keep writing and aim towards the end.

     When you’ve finished the first draft, congratulate yourself on a completed task and a job well done, 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 and see what’s missing. Do you need shorter or longer 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 in relation 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. It’s normal to feel like this, however, 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 even added. I mark these with a number and then on the back (or on a blank sheet of paper) 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.

     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 can take a minute to get your head around.

As always, thank you for reading!

Until next time…

George

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