Writing Short

Jody Lebel
Published on: May 2013
A novel is big. It's long and complicated and takes a big investment of time. You have to fill a lot of pages and do it well. Do I have a good opening hook? Is the pace okay? Did I make my hero tough but still loveable? What tense am I in? What name did I give the dog way back in chapter 2? Sometimes a book is so big it's hard to see all the way to the end. And we give up.

But a short story is...well, short. Short stories are quick to write and rewrite. Short stories don't have time to get too complicated. They have the same rules as a novel, but they are streamlined. It's easy to see in 1000 words where you need to fix the tense or put in a better description. You can complete a project without dedicating 6-8 months to it like you do when you commit to a novel.

Short stories have characters, goals, motivations, and conflicts just like a full length novel. The story should include the protagonist (character), the antagonist (could be a person or a situation to overcome or a goal), something at stake (motivation), and an obstacle (conflict). In addition your story should focus on what changes not what happens, include a hook or unique element, and have emo-tional appeal. All in about four pages. Easy, right?
writing short,novel,motivation
All writers should try a short story. The lack of subplots and the need to write tight makes it easier to stay on track. When there are issues with a shorter work, you can more easily find the problem because it's not buried under the many layers of a novel. Novels are simply short stories with more subplots and twists. Short stories range from 700 words up to 5000 words. The average magazine story length is 1500-2000 words. Anything under 1000 words is called a short short.

But why am I writing a short story you ask? There's a market for them. Many magazines publish fiction and some pay well. You don't have to have an agent to submit stories to magazines, reputable magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman's World in the US, or My Weekly and the Weekly News in the UK. Like to write mysteries? Try Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock magazines. A Google search of magazines that accept short stories will leave you pleasantly surprised. For a fee Duotrope and Writer's Market both offer online lists of places to submit your work and even give you submission guidelines. You will need to do some research to find the best fit for the kind of stories you write. There are also many, many short story contests you can enter. Some have a cash prizes or publication in a major magazine.

Here are some tips to writing short.

1. Make every word count. Instead of saying that nasty mean kid in high school, cut it down to teen bully.

2. Be clear. Even though you don't have much space, you still have to get the story across. If your character is acting badly because of his past, we need to know what that past is but just a very brief version of it. Bitter divorce or smothering mother tells it all.

3. Cut out the fluff. Yes, it's nice that the hotel room has a marble tub and gold faucet and thick plush carpeting. In a short story we don't have the space for all that. Richly appointed. 4. Be visual. Instead of talking about the neighbor as Richard a little trick is to describe him. The vegetarian fireman or the husband stealing blonde next door. It will give the reader a better picture than just a name.

5. Focus on the core conflict. We don't have time for subplots. Man robs bank; man runs from cops; man learns some kind of lesson.

6. Choose compelling verbs. Struggles is more evocative than decides. Wheezed gives a better picture than breathed.

7. Start off with a bang. Get right to the problem or inciting incident. Grab your reader right away. You don't have the word length to talk about how he/she is dressed or the weather or have chit chat with the co-workers. First thing rob the bank, crash the car, or have the lovers walk away from each other.

8. Make us like your characters. While a strong opening to a short story is essential, the characters are the glue that hold it together. Remember to show not tell. He was very tall and handsome vs looks that made woman turn and stare.

9. Choose your point of view and tense and stick to it. Who is telling the story? The school teacher? Okay, tell it from her point of view and don't change it.

10. Put your story in the proper order and have it make sense. It should read smoothly. "Mary bought some eggs. Her brother's flight was late. Last week she got some bad news." Confused? Me too.
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