The Short Story

Short stories present the interesting situation of having to straddle being too long and too short (that’s what he said!). There’s a very delicate manner in which information has to be given but the writer has to carefully consider what information the reader needs. Much like poetry, every single word of a short story has to push it foreward (or backwards or sidewards or whatever way) and keep it moving.

I always have viewed short stories like a snap shot of a character, a situation, a place, a moment, etc. A short story has a tight focus. Unlike epic fantasy novels, too many characters, quests, ideas, problems will drown a short story. When I write a short story I usually try to focus on one character and that one character’s situation.

To see the differences between a short story and a longer length work, consider the difference between having an hour long interview to present yourself and why you are the best for a job and a five minute long interview to do the same thing. You have to approach those in totally seperate ways. Let’s say you have five years experience as a secretary, four years as a telemarketer and two years as a waitress. You’re applying to be a restaurant manager.

Now in the hour long interview you can weave those three jobs together into the reasons why you are the best candidate. You’ll likely have plenty of time to fully explain your responsibilities, give examples, name drop, and tie in with the job you want. That’s like a longer piece of work. You can weave together more threads and explore a wider range of ideas.

Now, in the five minute interview, you are likely going to have to pick out two or three skills you have and really drive those home. You don’t have the time to tell the story about how you saved the cook when the kitchen caught on fire, or the time the idiot on the phone just burst into flames.

Yeah.. might want to leave that out of a job interview...

The difference is you have to have a more defined focus in the shorter time. Now, neither one is wrong. They both do similar things in different ways, and you can even interview for the same job in both of those ways (tell your story in both ways) without hurting anything.

So here are some basics to try if you’re struggiling with a short story:

  1. Limit the number of main characters.
  2. Narrow the time span. 
  3. Write from a different character’s POV (what does the waitress see when the bloody man walks in?)
  4. Just write. See where you end up.
  5. READ SHORT STORIES.

Now, these are just suggestions to try. However, the best way to gain a better understanding of the short story is to read more of them.

Alright, now I’m going to throw out some writing prompts. I love prompts with short stories for some reason (hate them for everything else).

  • Find a map of an area you don’t know. Pick a town, city, road, landmark, etc. and write a story about the people there. (This is how my short story Split Peas started)
  • Go to Flickr’s Last Interesting 7 Days section. Pick a picture and write what’s happening.
  • Go people watch at a local store. Write what’s going on in their lives.
  • Watch the news. Write about something happening.
  • Turn on the radio, pick a song and write a story that matches the song.

There you go, a few prompts and some advice on jobs and writing. Two for one win right?

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2 Comments »

  1. Laura Said:

    Thanks for this! I am awful at writing medium-length things. I like short short stories/flash fiction, or novels. Seems I can’t fit anything in between…thanks for the prompts, though generally I don’t like prompts. I just spent about 15 minutes on Flickr, lol, looking at the pretty pictures. :/ I shall go forth and write a short story now… *gulp*


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