May is Short Story Month. Let’s take a look at what makes up a short story and some basic facts of the elements to include in your story.
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I love writing short stories but they’re one of the most difficult of the writing craft to do well.
The condensing of all the different parts of story into such limited space is a real challenge. So if you write short stories and do it well…good for you!
Word count is 1000 – 7,000.
Less than 1000 is considered (by most) to be flash fiction. Some will stretch the 7,000 a bit but once it’s too long–well, it’s no longer short.
There are no chapters in a short story. If you feel the need to start adding chapters then you’re headed towards a novelette or novella…or who knows–maybe a full novel. This is great but it’s not a short story.
There are FIVE elements that you need to include for a short story. Each is important to the integrity of the story.
- Character: this needs to be developed immediately. Who are we dealing with? What is he like? How does he react? This needs to be woven into the story to show his personality.
- Setting: the character needs a setting. This is about time and place. Describe the scenery in a few words that further illustrates the season or time of day. The setting can be a building, room, outside, car, spaceship, or wherever. It grounds the character so we know where he is.
- Conflict: Something needs to happen to spur the conflict or tension. The moment can be a huge event or internal struggle. The main character will have to deal with the fall out of some situation, concern, observation, struggle etc. The way in which he chooses to deal with things creates the tension. Think of the decisions the main character has to make–does he turn left or right? each will have consequences (or should) and take him to the next hurdle and need to decide what to do. The reader wants to cheer for him through all the conflict and barriers placed in his way. Remember too, that conflict can be internal.
- Plot: This is the series of events that happen in the story. These events will relate back to the central conflict that the character is dealing with.
- Theme: what does this story mean? Is there a lesson that the author is trying to convey? Is there a shared belief? Some will write a short story specifically with “theme” in mind.
I would recommend you stick with one Point of View (POV) for short stories. With any more than one the story can get muddled because your space and word count is so limited. It’s important to really get into one characters thoughts and show the story.
Personally, I like to write short stories in first person but there’s no rules.
Play with the POV. If you’ve written a story in first person and it’s not getting any traction then rewrite it in third person. Play with it.
If you’re writing short stories, you should also be reading them.
This is really important as it gives you an idea of how the structure works and the shaping of characters, plot, conflict, setting, and theme.
Here’s a few that I’ve read recently. Some have been around for what seems like forever but they’re classics. Heck, maybe you read them in school.
Many are online and worth a look.
- Babes in the Woods by Margaret Atwood
- The Swimmer by John Cheever
- The Girls in the Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
- The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro
- Town of Cats by Hanuki Murahami
- The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
- You, Disappearing by Alexandra Kleeman
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
- Speech Sounds by Octavia Butler
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