1. That Secret Ninja
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    That Secret Ninja Member

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    Approaching a Short Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by That Secret Ninja, Apr 17, 2010.

    So far, every time I try to write down a short story, I feel like I approach the process the wrong way.

    I get a simple idea to base the short story upon. I expand on that idea and form a fairly cohesive plot. and here's where it all goes to hell.

    I start putting in characters, and detailing what purpose they serve in the story and in relation to each other and the progression of the narrative. Here's where I falter, I make way too many characters and the short story no longer feels like a short story, but something that could turn into a novella, or a novel in itself. and I don't want to write those write now! I simply could not no matter how much I tried.

    Inside I feel like it is absolutely needed to have all these detailed characters, and the dynamics of their interactions between each other to tell the overall plot.

    I just want to tackle simple, short stories, so I can get a better handle of the actually writing process. every time I come to write a short stroy, my mind races a mile a minute and just creates entire plots with all kinds of narrative themes about the classic concepts of betrayal, love, hate, jealousy, all that junk.


    GAHHHHHH!!!

    Should I drastically change my approach to this?

    Do I have to start really small and limit myself to say, how many characters should be in it, how 'deep' the plot is?

    This sucks, I have so many ideas for stories, but I get too ahead of myself and pour too much effort into thinking about something I can't write well yet.

    Anyone have a simple technique that helps you get down the basics?

    I obviously have no problem creating plots, and fairly detailed characters, but I just can't make my short stories...... well short.

    this sucks.
     
  2. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Fisrt and foremost, consider that you're just not cut for short stories and just try writing novels. Not everyone can write short stories just as not everyone can write novels.

    Keep it simple is all I can say. Don't add any unnecessary details that the reader does not need to grasp the plot. Keep the plot clear and uncomplicated. When you add too much details and too much depth and complication is when it starts to get long. YOu'll just have to control yourself.
     
  3. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    A plot can be very 'deep' without having lots of complicated added sub plots or details, especially in a short story.

    IMO You need to be much more organised when you sit down to write a short story than you are when mapping out a novel. Plan out your main storyline and under it add the main goal of the MC and the resolution of the goal. Then you can figure just how much detail and how many extra characters are essential. This is enough for a short story.

    A short story usually has only one clear plot and a limited number of characters in it. You do not go into backstory so much, either (or at all). E.g. in the example below I would try to avoid flashbacks or musings on the past and have the feelings and deeds of the characters become apparent by their interaction with each other, people around them etc.

    a -----> b -----> c ----> d ----> etc (main storyline i.e. events in the story)

    e.g. GOAL AT START
    x hasn't talked to his mother for 15 years but out of the blue x gets an invitation to her wedding with a hand-written note asking if he will give the bride away. x decides that he will go and finally learn the truth about ? (the thing that made x stop speaking to her)

    e.g. RESOLUTION AT END
    x goes to the wedding and learns ?, but it is totally unexpected and exonerates his mother. This makes x feel ?
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Secret Ninja,

    First, I'd recommend that you go out and read a number of short stories, not for enjoyment, but with an eye toward seeing how other authors succeeded where you've been struggling.

    Look at the plots and the characters and the interactions. See how detailed they are, now they connect, etc.

    A short story is not a novel boiled down. Short stories have their own structure and pacing. By nature and size, they have fewer characters, less depth and detail, and fewer intertwining plots. You can't have everything in 5000 words or less.

    Beyond that, focus on what the main plot or struggle in the story is. Focus on the main character and the few supporting characters. That's all. Use stock or cardboard characters as stand ins--the little old lady librarian, for example. Everyone has that picture in their head, so just a half line of text and the reader gets enough of the picture to move forward.

    Finally, you have to be very efficient with wording and dialogue. No room for waste, or to go off on tangents from the purpose or direction of the story.

    If you need suggestions for some online ezines with short stories, I can provide them.

    Good luck moving forward.

    Terry
     
  5. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Short stories are difficult in their own right. You don't have the luxury of time or space to flesh our everything that you'd probably like to flesh out. With a short story, the name of the game is focus. They usually cover a much shorter time period than novels, focus on fewer characters, and stay centered on one main plot. If you're having a hard time keeping your short stories short--a common problem, believe me--then you need to sit down and really think about what the main crux of those stories are. Once you have that figured out, focus on it in the most efficient way possible. Cut out everything that doesn't directly and strongly support the main theme. This is an art form in itself. Every scene that makes it into a short story needs to pull some serious weight. Keep that in mind as you trim.

    Best of luck to you.
     
  6. Northern Phil
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    Northern Phil Active Member

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    I would suggest just writing the whole thing and then if you want to make it into a short story set yourself a word limit. Re-read it and then cut out all the junk, for example, does a particular charecter need to be there or is a sub plot relevant to what your trying to write about.

    That method works quite well for writing out job applications so it might work in your case.

    Also, it would be quite a good idea to have a clear plot established before you start writing and then you wouldn't go off on a tangent.
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't exactly recommend this ^^. The whole focus and premise of a short story is different from a novel. A short story is not a mini novel.
    I actually seem to have the opposite problem from most people here. It is TORTURE for me to write the 70,000 words necessary for a standard romance novel! And the idea of a trilogy just makes me nauseous.
     
  8. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Sorry if it's kind of off topic, but where do you find information on the standard word counts for different types of novels?
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i beg to differ... many [probably most] who write short stories [including me] simply get an idea and then start writing, letting the story/plot spin itself out as we go... it's more akin to the impromptu telling of a tale around a campfire, than mapping out a major campaign speech...

    to me, planning a novel is like drafting a detailed blueprint for a large building you're going to erect, while a short story start just takes a rough mental sketch, before you assemble a lean-to from materials at hand...
     
  10. That Secret Ninja
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    That Secret Ninja Member

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    thanks a lot for all the help guys. makes absolute perfect sense.

    I was approaching each story in mind as something akin to a novel.

    I've been reading some short stories (I bought Necronomicon, a compilation of H.P. Lovecraft stories) and have a better sense of what a short story should be. I can't approach each plot as something as big as I've got in mind every time.

    I'll try to set my plot in a limited time frame, and with limited number of persons to occupy it.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    How funny! I really am the absolute reverse. A short story seems to require much more careful planning to stay focussed. The few occasions I've written for myself and not, say, a competition, I've found it wasn't so good to just start 'telling the tale'. The three novels I've written (only one of which got published, and that was nearly 30yrs ago, must have had beginners luck, or times have got tougher!) all started off being carefully planned, but to get off the ground I ended up having to drop everything, shelve the plans, and just write. I suppose I'd already done the groundwork, though.

    Just shows everyone is different and there are no 'rules'.

    @ Norm: I went back to the publisher that had published my novel in 1983, and asked for their submission details and guidelines. They sent me a very detailed and encouraging letter back, giving all the details about word count, but every publisher is different.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    most publishers today want 80-100k for a first novel... but you do have to check each one's guidelines to catch the exceptions...
     

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