All you need to know about Short Stories
"Short story is not a sailing ship to take you far in the ocean but a boat to transport you fast on the other side."
Honestly, I had not much of interest in short stories before. I — an experienced bookworm — obviously, preferred full length novels over twelve-page stories. I liked to sail far rather than jump in for a short ride. Till one day, I accidently got The Magic Shop by H. G. Wells in my hands. Unwrapped on a very delicate line between illusion and reality, it was narrated in such exquisite way that I was immediately dragged in, headfirst.
This was the beginning of my journey into the world of short stories.
Doubtless today, I can assure you, that reading short stories is, indeed, one of the greatest ways to delve into a fiction world and still be on time for the job. But despite of its size, to write a good short story takes lots of practice, chiseled writing skills as well as the fundamental understanding of what short story, in fact, is.
To say it simple, short story is a piece of fiction, typically no longer than 8,000 words. Although, most short stories are only 2,000 to 5,000 words, there are microfiction that can be even less than 500 words. And longer short stories might be around 20,000 words (keep in mind that novellas start around 30,000 words).
Well, now you understand why I said that short story is a great way to delve into a fiction world and still be on time for the job. Everyone can consume average 4,000 words while on train, or in a queue for doctor’s appointment, right?!
Here, I’ve gathered some of the short stories, I think you might enjoy reading.
- The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
- Sunbird by Neil Gaiman
- The Sage of Theatre by Diana Wynne Jones
- The Magic Shop by H. G. Wells
- The Bound Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
- World of the Myth by Harlan Ellison
- I have no Mouth, and I must Scream by Harlan Ellison
- A Day at Niagara by Mark Twain
- The Black Veil by Charles Dickens
- High-Heeled Shoe by Richard Bausch
I hope, for those of you, who have not yet discovered the magical world of short stories, this list can be a good start.
But how to actually write a good short story?
A key emotion
First, we need to understand that short story is not about complex, witty plot but rather about feeling. So, in order to write a good short story you need to find a key emotion to put in the very core of it. It can be anything: some kind of nostalgia, fear or excitement.
So, before you start writing your short story, make sure that you have a key emotion to build your story around.
Even though, short stories have no place for unnecessary words (Clichés) and, therefore for all plot points that usually are included in the traditional story structure of a full-length novel, it’s still should be comprised of these five elements: exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, and denouement. Of course, it’s always up to you how to present these elements in your writing.
Now, when you have a key emotion, it’s time to start writing. And as a next step to writing a good short story, we’re going to talk about a hook.
An opening hook
In my opinion, every writing piece, whether it’s a short story or an article, should start with an opening line. And, it’s not always easy to write it.
Naturally, when writing a short story, you want to make a good presentation of your characters and draw an alluring cloud around your narrative to make your reader interested in your story at once. And an opening hook, a sentence, that will give a great space for imagination and wonders, is exactly what you need to do that.
In The Sage of Theatre by Diana Wynne Jones, the opening hook is
‘There was a world called Theatre in which Heaven was very well organized.’
If it’s not brilliant than I don’t know what is.
Just one sentence and you already have this space for imagination. Theatre — is it a metaphor for some special place — this was my first wonder. And Heaven? Very well organized? Well, I just knew, from the very first sentence that I wanted to know more. I wanted to read this story at once and I absolutely loved it.
Another trick to use when writing your short story is to begin in the middle of the action. Usually, it means starting as close to the end as possible. What is the biggest event, the most emotional scene in your story? You might consider to start right there and get your reader right on the hot spot.
Now, when you’ve established your opening hook, it’s time to actually write the story.
Write the story
Remember, that short story is short.
Try to make each word worth of space to build a strong narrative that speaks to your reader’s heart. And since, short story is short, it’s also relevant to mention that as well as there is no space for empty words, there is also no space for unnecessary details.
Make sure that the information you put in the story is important for the whole picture. Don’t overuse details. Some things like, favorite color, details of the outfit of a character or the color of a character’s nails, don’t really play a great role in the story. Unless, of course, your story is all about those things.
Now, write a strong ending
Nothing kills the charm of a good written narrative as a weak ending.
When you’re at the end of your story, the desire to finish it might be too overwhelming. Yet, don’t rush. The ending of your story is as important as the first sentence of it. You don't want your readers to be disappointed, right?!
Sometimes, it takes time to come up with a satisfying ending. Think of the key emotion your story is built around. It might give you a right direction as to how your story should end. Think of your characters and what your reader would want to happen to them in the end. Sometimes it also helps to think about the moral and mood of your story. What ending would be the most impactful for the story?
Here is the promising ending from The Bound Man by Mary Robinette Kowal.
Reiko lifted her head, looking at the women, and the barren landscape beyond them. Everything she saw was result of her son’s actions. Or were her son’s actions the result of choices made here? She did not know if it mattered.
‘Are there any prophecies about Aya?’
Halldór nodded. ‘She’s destined to—’
Reiko put her hand on his mouth. ‘Don’t. When she comes here, don’t let her know she’s bound to the will of the gods.’
Now, when the ending is written, it's time to reread your story and do some editing.
And remember, even though short story is not a sailing ship to take you far in the ocean, it’s indeed a magic boat to transport you on the other side.