Short stories are kind of a new writers right of passage. We all write them when we’re first starting out to start building a publishing record, make a little extra money, and learn how to write. I’m sure you know I love short stories, since I publish them here all the time. I love that I get the chance to write about something completely different than Woven sometimes. And I especially love writing scary short stories. They’re fun.
The question is, what’s the difference between good short fiction and bad. Because let me tell you, there is some bad short fiction out there. There’s some short fiction that makes you want to rip the writers teeth out, and a lot of it is written by overly emotional teenagers.
It’s not the same as flash fiction. Flash fiction, as we discussed last week, is a moment. Short fiction is, at least it should be, a whole story, just not a very long one. It’s not the same as a novel, either. In a novel you will likely have plots, sub plots, lots of character development, and all sorts of things like that. A short story usually just has one plot, and there’s little room for much else.
If you want to write good short stories, and you should, here are some things that separate the good from the bad.
Not every short story has to have a moral. I don’t know why every writer seems to feel that short fiction is the vehicle for social change, but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, a lot of my short stories have morals, but not all. Gracie, for instance, is just a scary story about a little girl. Warm is just a story about a man who lost his wife. Even the stories that do have morals didn’t start out that way. I just wrote a story, and a moral came out.
If it’s going to have a moral, don’t beat anyone over the head with it. You don’t have the words and your reader doesn’t have the time. Subtlety is a great trait to learn in all of your writing, but especially in short stories.
The twist is the best thing about a short story. It’s really my favorite part about this writing form. No other way to write lends itself more to the twist, the surprise ending. The caller was upstairs the whole time holy crow moment. That’s why so many short stories are horror. They’re great for the twist.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re writing a mini book. You’re not. If you have more to say than you can say in 30,000 words, what you have there is not a short story. The theory here is that you should be able to read or listen to a short story in one sitting.
But it still needs to make sense! Please don’t think that just because a twist is good that a twist that doesn’t add up is okay. Don’t think that just because you’re not writing a novel you can do things that are totally illogical. I can’t tell you how many short stories I read that wander off on tangents and don’t actually go anywhere!
Your short story is still a story. It needs a beginning and an end. Even if that end is only a few scenes. We need a start and a finish, or you’ve failed.
Make me care about what’s happening quick. Because I don’t have pages to start asking questions about this world, or caring about this MC. I need to know, in the first few sentences, why I want to read this.
Homework: Read some short stories. Think about how they made you feel, and how that emotional reaction is different than that of a novel. Then, go watch any of the Pixar short films. They are amazing examples of just how awesome a short story can be.