Monday, September 21, 2009

Writing Short Stories

Short stories, by their very nature, are limited by length, but that does not mean they are equally limited by depth or purpose. In order to fully utilize the power of a short story, I have a few suggestions.

First, limit the number of characters in the story. The fewer the characters, the more you can drill into the core of each one. I’ve read one short story that worked well with numerous characters, but I think it was necessary for the type of story that it was. Unless you need a great many characters to make a specific point, I wouldn’t recommend doing so.

Now that you’ve cut the cast down to a paltry sum of players, keep the plot focused. Don’t include multiple subplots or unrelated flashbacks, no matter how cool those paragraphs felt when you wrote them. You risk confusing or agitating your reader. If you really like a certain off-topic narration, perhaps you could reuse it in its own short story.

Finally, don’t over-fixate on inconsequential things. For example, you may write two paragraphs that describe the details of a clock, but if the clock isn’t mentioned again, you’ve spent too much time on it (no pun intended). Now, perhaps you purposefully want to focus your readers on something of no real value in order to hide something of importance, but even so, I would caution against complicating the story. Along the lines of this precaution, try not to get too flowery with descriptions in general. I don’t know what the right balance is for “just enough” detail, and I’d rather err on the side of too much than not enough, so I think this comes down to personal style. Just be sure to be as concise as your style allows!

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