Today Rebekah has a wealth of experience to share about writing short stories…
When Kate first asked me to share some tips on writing short stories, she mentioned something about me being the “queen of short stories” which I thought was odd, because I hadn’t written that many of them. Had I? I looked up the length of “short stories” and found some say they are 1,000 to 7,500 or so words while others say up to 10k. So let’s say any stories that are at least 1k but under 9k will qualify.
How many have I written and published?
Okay, I just counted my short stories that are published. I have over 50. I guess I have written a few.
But all that aside, here are my 7 secrets for writing short stories.
1. Stick with 1-3 Main Characters. The more main characters you have, the harder it will be to write a short story. You can have more minor characters, but don’t try to make them all important. Some of my short stories have a large cast, but most characters aren’t even named. Others have very few characters.
2. Keep the Plot Simple. Seriously, if you have a complex plot, chances are you are going to end up with a novel, not a short story.
3. Stick to One Theme not Many. If you try to weave in more than one theme in a short story, it can get confusing and will either end up too long and complicated, or it will end up a mess. You can have a setting be different than a theme. (My Christmas stories are set at Christmas time, but the themes aren’t always just Christmas.)
4. Try to have Few Scenes. If you are writing a really short story keep your scenes to as few as possible. Maybe everything happens in one place with no changing scenes. Or maybe your scenes are short. Many scenes means more words.
5. Describe Your Characters in as Few Words as Possible. If you don’t have a lot of room for words, don’t spend a lot of time describing each character and what they are wearing and how their hair looks, and the exact shade of their eyes unless that is vital to the plot of the story. Try to give your readers a sense of things without a lot of words.
6. Practice Cutting and Tightening. Try writing some short stories with a word limit and don’t let yourself go over them. If you are more than 5 words over the limit, go back and see what you can tighten or cut out. Can you make a sentence have seven words instead of ten?
7. Practice Expanding Your Story. If your stories are falling short of the goal, go back and see what you can add. Drop a little more detail, a few extra words here or there. If you are really needing more words, add another scene or some thoughts from the MC.
Something that I found to be extremely helpful when I first started writing short stories was enlisting the help of my family and friends. I picked a handful of pictures and put them in page protectors in a notebook. (They can be from calendars, magazines, Pinterest, wherever you want.) Then I asked friends and family to help me by giving me a word count that the story must be (ie. 4,250 words, no more than 5k, 7,500 words), and how many characters I could have.
I wrote the info on scraps of paper and slipped each one into the page protector with the picture. Sometimes I’d let my friends pick the picture, other times it would simply be the next one in the notebook. (I would also let them give me special instructions if they wanted like, include ice cream, or make the main character a girl my age, or describe emotions without saying “they were angry, sad, happy, etc.”.) Then I would write.
Tip: Never let your story get more than 5 words over or under the limit.
And there you have it. My seven secrets for short stories.
Rebekah A. Morris has lived her entire life (as of now) in Missouri. Being home educated during her school years was great, except for writing. That was the worst subject (along with math) that she had to do. It wasn’t until after she graduated that she discovered the joys and wonder of writing. Now she can’t write enough. After spending six years in research and writing, she completed her first book, “Home Fires of the Great War,” a 500+ page, historical fiction about home life in the United States and Canada during the First World War. Since then, she has been an avid writer and always has more than one story going on at once because only one story at a time got tiring and dull.
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All supplementary images from Pixabay.com