After trying unsuccessfully to break into publishing with my novels, seeing my words in print within the next year felt really good. I was hooked. Just in time to be informed of another short story opportunity. This one gave me a whopping 7000 words to work with. Piece of cake. ;)
My second story, Shackled, a western romance, was quickly accepted for publication by Next Step Books for a romance anthology that will be released this fall. *Happy dance*. Since then, I have written two more short stories for contests (still waiting on those, but one is a semifinalist so far!), and would like to share what I have learned about the art of a short story—which I am still striving to learn.
You can only use tidbits of backstory because of the word constraints, but make sure you still have it. The better you know your character—their little quirks, likes, dislikes, and everything from their past that made them who they are—the deeper and more three dimensional that person will look on the page. It will show in how they view the word.
If they are not vital to plot, character development or setting, you don't have room for them.
Really this isn’t much different than in a novel, only easier as you have less words to extend it across. Make sure it’s there, from the first sentence to the last. I am actually more prone to set down a short story than a novel when the tension wanes. After all, there are usually other short stories to turn to in the same book.
The benefit of a short story over a novel is that instead of 80,000 words, you have less than 8000 to analyze in detail, making sure they are the best fit. It’s easier to cut all those lazy verbs, weasel words, and airy descriptions, bringing the action to life in a few short words.
I know it’s often easier to keep the word count down by simply telling what happened, but don’t do it! I mean, you can—a sentence here and there—but still show us the story. Let us be there, experiencing those few minutes of life that have been etched into the pages—or single page—of your short story.
Be ready for it, it comes quickly, and don’t linger after the resolution. Unlike a novel, you don’t have room for a full chapter or epilogue telling of their “happily ever after” (if you give them one) and you don’t need it. Reading a short story is not like watching twelve hours of epic Lord of the Rings and needing a half hour to unwind before you can live with yourself again. Don’t waste words. End it strong.
These are only my observations from my writing. Have you tried your hand at writing short stories? What have you found works?
If you like short stories, leave a comment and e-mail address for the chance to win an e-book copy of the anthology Out of the Storm.
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