1. kneeswrites
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    kneeswrites Member

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    How to write short stories

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by kneeswrites, Jun 24, 2015.

    I wish I could think of a better way to word what I'm trying to say so it doesn't sound so stupid but I tried, and I can't.

    My husband has been on my ass for years about how I should just start small and write short stories since I have such a problem with committing to a novel, so that I can practice my writing and be doing something I love. So to get myself out of my 3+ year writing funk I'm wanting to try short stories but when I try to come up with even a seed of an idea I get so stuck.

    My brain turns every story into a novel length affair. I think I have an idea that would work as a short story maybe, but I don't ... get short stories. Like, how do you condense all of the action? Also how do you come up with ideas for a short story? Obviously it can't be a big murder mystery or an epic quest, but it can't just be a boring snippet of life either.

    I know it's not complicated but my brain seems incapable of comprehending this idea. I either go full LOTR or straight to, like, poetry. I have a problem with expressing myself in a succinct manner, meaning I say way too much about nothing (can you tell?) so that's probably part of it.

    How do you guys suggest delving into short stories? Also what are some short stories to read, because I know if I read more of them this would be easier. The only story that's stuck with me was A Good Man is Hard to Find, which I adored and it still stays with me. I just don't understand how to break an idea down.
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know if you can pick this up, but here's amazon's page one of their 'writing short stories' books. I'd have a look through, see which ones might be of help to you.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias=aps&field-keywords=writing+short+stories&tag=writingfor07a-20

    There is more to a short story than just a truncated novel. It's a different approach to storytelling altogether.

    I'm not a short story writer OR much of a short story reader these days, but I do know they are different forms of writing, and each has its own particular craft to learn.

    If you have trouble sticking to a novel, but you actually THINK in terms of novels? See if you can get to the root of the problem. Is it because you start out and lose interest? Is it because you start out and get stuck? Is it because you start out and then think of something else altogether and get sidetracked?

    Of course the answer to any of these is ...don't walk away. Keep at it. Don't let yourself start and not finish something. Force yourself to focus and finish. I know it doesn't sound like fun when put that way, but it actually is. There is NOTHING in the writing world more satisfying than finishing something you started—after working through any problems you encountered while writing it. You can then show it to people, work on getting it nearer to perfection (a perfection that won't ever be attained, but you can work towards it.) You also will have confidence that you CAN do this, so the next one will be easier.

    If you start out writing with a nebulous idea, and then discover it doesn't lead anywhere, you need to spend more time THINKING about it first. Start visualising scenes and the characters and settings. Play pretend in your head. Pretend you are there, that you are one of the characters. Who would you like to have in that scene with you? Etc.

    After a few years interacting on this forum, I've come to the conclusion that many new writers don't spend as much time in preliminary thinking as they ought to. Writing is just the manifestation of your thoughts. If your thoughts are vague and undeveloped, your writing will be as well. Some folks can think best WHILE writing, and that's fine if it happens. But it's obviously not happening for you, because you wander off without finishing. So maybe try a different approach.

    But first of all, get hold of a few books about writing short stories ...maybe even a few collections of short stories as well, to give you a flavour of the modern form ...and see if this stimulates you to try writing them for yourself.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
  3. TuSlick
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    TuSlick New Member

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    One short story which stuck with me was The Saucer of Loneliness by Theodore Sturgeon, and you should be able to find it online. It's a pretty famous sci-fi piece, and you may find it interesting as it's as close to poetry as most short-story writers (or novelists) would dare to try.

    I'm in the same boat in that I want to eventually write a full-length novel, but I've decided to go the route of short story since they're much less of a time commitment.

    I guess what I would say about short stories is this: most novels have a lot scenes, so short stories would necessarily have a lot less scenes. That means less detail overall, but you can get pretty in-depth with the scenes you do decide to go with. To condense action, I think one should hone in on the few scenes that are most important to the story, and work from there.

    Like you said, reading short stories would help a lot with writing them, so I think you're basically on the right track.
     
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  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    For me, the way I really got into short stories was by imagining them as 'scenes' from novels, just working it out so they could stand alone. Almost always this involves using characters I already have from bigger projects/ideas, so in my head it's on a bigger scale even though in text I'm able to keep it brief. I know how this figures into the greater continuity, which satisfies the thing in my brain that's like "write novels! write novels! write novels!!" - meanwhile I challenge myself to make it as self-contained as possible. Focus on the unique emotion of that one specific scene, that one moment, rather than how the content relates to the bigger story.

    Also, because I'm terrified of NaNo, instead every november I get a prompt list and make myself write a short story every day all month just to really push myself. It's done wonders for my ability to crank'em out and mess with the format.
     
  5. animenagai
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    animenagai Member

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    You don't have to think in such neatly packaged boxes. What about writing one scene from your novel-ideas and polishing it up? What about writing writing a piece of 300-word flash fiction about something unusual eg. a homeless man who found a priceless painting, or a small dog-walker trying to control a massive husky by riding it?

    Here's another idea, take something that you've dreamed about -- something that you wish you'll eventually do in real life -- and write a spiced-up version of it.

    You can write about anything you want, in how many words you want. 300, 600, 4000, 30,000... whatever. Heck, there's a thread on these forums on 6 word stories. If the idea's just to write something short, then just find one idea -- one scene -- and write it. You can decide if it's flash fiction, or a short story, or a chapter in a novel later. It doesn't really matter what it is, just find something small to write about. The story doesn't feel finished to you? That's fine. The exercise wasn't about telling a complete story.

    Even the longest stories are made up of smaller chapters. Find something small and beautiful, then write it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
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  6. kneeswrites
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    kneeswrites Member

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    Argh you guys are awesome. Usually when I ask people things they tell me stuff I've already thought about but here it's like you actually get it and you actually teach me things. Just wanted to throw that out there. It's like I've found a place I can genuinely be.

    I think I'm going to try just writing a scene. Though I hope to work up to understanding short stories. I just want to finish something, you know? Have a finished work.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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  8. Mocheo Timo
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    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    My problem is actually the opposite of yours. I've posted a thread recently asking how I could develop a short story into a novel. @jannert and some other people gave some excellent ideas. I find writing short stories way easier. Maybe because I started writing very recently, and short stories are the only notable pieces I've written.

    Anyway, when I write a short story I set boundaries to myself. I suggest having a specific amount of words to begin with. Set, let's say 2000 words maximum, and stick to it. That will already limit your writing process, and keep the plot from developing too much. Next thing I would decide the time-length. Don't make it longer than 2 or 3 days, otherwise you'll have too much room in your story. Then, I'd focus on its depth. Write it, thinking of it as a draft to be developed. So you actually end up revising your work many times, seeking for perfection (like someone mentioned in one of the previous replies). You mentioned "A good man is hard to find"; that would be a perfect model to begin with. Flannery O' Connor wrote very deep lines in her short stories, and that one isn't an exception.
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can find some classic short story authors with works online to read, such as O'Henry or Edgar Allan Poe, because you're right in that reading and studying short stories will better prepare you to write them.

    With a short story you basically have to limit the # of characters and the # of/scope of the conflict. Usually there is only one POV character as well, and there is limited 'world building', especially if you're writing fantasy or SF.

    While there is some crossover skills in writing short stories and novels, as was said above, a short story isn't a truncated novel, and a novel isn't a stretched out short story. I guess you could say it's sort of like training for cross country skiing and down hill skiing events.

    When I begin a story or a novel, it's usually started around an idea or an event, and then I go from there. One of the concerns I address is considering whether it's an idea that has enough to carry a novel or not. What complexity (in characters and plot and world building) will be necessary to pull it off. And some short stories are short (1500 words) other longer (5000) and that's a world of difference in story telling too. And remember, in general the shorter the story's length (keeping the quality the same) the better chance of finding a paying market for it.
     
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  10. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    Actually, I think it can. A mundane snippet of life that you've made not-boring with your writing skill. Most good short stories are one scene, but not necessarily a scene that would appear in a novel of the same subject. One thing I like to think about is the fact that the shorter the story, the more work the reader has to do, but a meaningful six-word story is a lot harder to write than a eighty-thousand word novel. I think writing short stories will make your novels better, too, and so does this guy:

    "You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money's in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed."

    - Larry Niven
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Get a short story anthology, and read that. That's probably the best way to learn from a wide variety of stories, and this way you aren't limited to just one writer's collection. Other than that, keep writing and practicing. Like TWErwin2 said, a story isn't just a truncated novel, so practice, practice, practice. And read a lot of short stories. Good luck!
     
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  12. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the quote above (bolded), I am not sure that is accurate. Many good short stories I have read are not a single scene. I guess it depends on what you mean by a scene, but short stories can, and often do, traverse more than one location or one specific time frame, which is often what sets one scene apart from another. Short stories don't have chapters (in general), but they do have scene breaks.

    That is not to say that there aren't great short stories that are only one scene, and that short stories with more than one scene are all good.
     
  13. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    Try free writing for 15 minutes straight, just to exercise the 'water pump.'

    I free-write a minimum of 300 words a day. When I don't do that, I don't sit around and feel bad. I start again the next day.
     
  14. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I'd start by suggesting you read a number of short stories. You won't learn how to write unless you first read examples.

    When it comes to short stories, don't think of them so much as a short novel, think of it as writing a specific 'scenario.' Something that has point to it: an outcome based on an experience, a moral, some kind of consequence, or even some kind of clever twist. Take Edgar Allan Poe's, The black Cat for instance. It's a complex short story based on karma and revenge, yet it's a simple scenario: less than a handful of characters, and only one core location.

    It is sometimes easy to let your mind stray off into all kinds of large scale ideas, and sometimes difficult to like an idea so much you force it into your story, which you need control over.

    A good method to get started is to think of something that's happened in your own life, then write about it. Something simple, like when you went to a supermarket once and something embarrassing happened. Also, start small. Write between 500 and 3000 words like they do on the competitions on this forum. Short stories have to transend the 7 or 8000 word mark before being classed as a novelette, but that doesn't mean you have to write thousands of words.

    Good luck. :superagree:
     
  15. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    You don't sound stupid and I'm not just saying that. Look up the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    You are not meant to write a short story. Writing a short story comes as easy to a short story writer as writing a novel comes to a novelist. The short story writer cannot even fathom trying to write a novel because of how big and complex they are. It's the same for the novelist; short stories just aren't enough and there needs to be more.

    Three years for writing a novel is not a long time, especially if this is your first novel. It takes an average of seven years for a beginning writer to finish their first novel (and that's including the ones who finish in a year or two). Your three years so far has just been practice. There are many skills to the craft and things you must learn before you can write something that you yourself can call good and are happy with and can send to publishing.

    Nobody knows this going into writing their novel for the first time because they've probably watched a lot of good movies and tv shows and read a lot of good books and since they know what a good story should look like, they feel they should be able to write a good story as well and have it come easy but don't understand or know yet that it actually takes a lot learning in order to write a good story.

    This is why it's taking so long and it doesn't mean you should just quit your novel and switch to short stories because your husband is tired of hearing from you how long it's taking to write your novel.

    I suggest you don't delve into short stories. I think for some minds writing a short story could actually hinder your ability as a writer. Skip short stories and stick to your novel. The answers you're looking for to get you over this hump with your novel will come.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
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  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I pretty much agree with drifter - writing short stories won't necessarily make it easier to write a novel and may make it harder. The only reason I would suggest turning to a short is to make it easier to attain the one goal that's most important to any author - you would finish it.

    But generally, if you want to write a novel, you write novels. You don't "practice" by writing shorts.
     

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