1. Sammy
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    Sammy Member

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    Problems writing short stories

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sammy, Feb 2, 2009.

    Am i the only one that has problems when trying to write a short story?
    When i was at school i used to love English and used to get good grades for writing but i have never been very good at sticking to the word limit.
    The teachers used to let me get away with it because apparently they liked reading my work but i used to go WELL over (and still do) the word limit.
    I remember once we were given a starting sentence and told to write a short story (up to 500 words) from that. I wrote 10 pages!
    Does anyone else have this problem and if so how do you stick to the limit?
    It's almost like i can't write something without giving a tonne of detail.
     
  2. zorell
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    zorell Contributing Member

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    Maybe you aren't a writer of short stories.

    As to word limits, when you have to stick to them, Write it your way first, then edit down untill it meets the reqs. Or, and this is hard for writers, but it does what's asked of you, write the bare bones and nothing else. I hated that when I took English 101 and I kept writing paragraphs but only had ten word limits... (I tended to overlook those pesky limits:p)
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm actually better at writing short stories than anything that is novel-sized. My advice is to stick to the main plot. Longer pieces allow for more complicated plots and subplots, but since length is an issue, only stick to a major plot. Also, only have a few characters. And only pay attention to important details. Don't spend time on a character's dress or hair if it contributes nothing to the story, especially for something as short as 500 words.
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes the problem comes in the planning stages. The scope and complexity of the story to be told has a great bearing on how long it will be.

    One can cut and trim, but often that is not enough to get a story revised to a reasonable word count to find a market.

    Terry
     
  5. Sammy
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    Sammy Member

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    Thanks. Maybe you're right zorell, maybe i'm just not meant to write short stories :) I have always been a person who loves detail whatever it might be. I just find it really hard to stick to the main plot without getting sidetracked by what that other person on the street might be thinking or what that other person's history is and how they got there in the first place.
    I definitely don't have a problem with writing long stories - editing on the other hand...
     
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's a link to a recent discussion we had about the differences between short stories and novels, perhaps it'll help you decide which you have on you hands, and help if you do wish to write a short story. http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=18075&highlight=short
     
  7. othman
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    othman Member

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    Think about it. A novel has the main plot and many sub-plots, for short stories just effectively cut into a main sub-plot ... as in you do one of the little stories and leave it to the readers' imagination to do the rest.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Discipline is still important. All the subplots should tie in to the principle storyline, either having soime bearing on the story's outcome, or adding depth to one of the principle characters. Likewise, detail should have a purpose with respect to the story, sufficient to incur the penalty that detailed description demands on the story's pace.

    Of course, sometimes the pace needs slowing down. So detail does serve a purpose beyond indulging te author's desire to paint the scene in high def.

    Short stories do require a different level of discipline, though. You do really have to trim down to the bare essentials. You can't delve deeply into background or indirect outcomes, and you can't handle a large cast of characters. You ave to trust the reader to fill in te blanks, but provide enough hints so he or she has some basis for doing so. Instead of describing why Scott and Elaine can't stand to be in the same room for more than five minutes, just show their unease. Don't explain their long and stormy prior relationship, but hint that along with their discomfort there is a residual attraction, and let the reader deduce that they have a history. But if tat tension has no bearing on the story you are telling, leave it out completely.
     
  9. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I'm not good with short stories either. I just see myself as a writer of long stories (novels, novellas, and serials). I'm more into deeply exploring characters, their emotions and thoughts and interactions, and numerous intertwined plots. That's just how I am. It happens.

    I haven't advice for how to stick to word limits, I'm afraid, but once you're out of an environment where you MUST stick to a word limit, don't be afraid to write longer works. Some of us are just better at that kind of writing.
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a very different set of skills. Teachers need to keep their assignmemts short because they need the time to read as many as 90 of them, if they teach more than one class that is being given the same kind of assignment. Sadly, they don't always realize just how hard it is to keep a story within 500 words. My grade eight teacher didn't get it when I couldn't write a story in what was probably even less than five hundred words, and we were expected to do it all the time. Some people simply are not meant to write short stories. I've only ever completed one three that had nothing to do with school assignments, though I have also written little vignets in a writing group where we did prompts at the group.

    Unless you're determined to write one for a particular publication or you're still in school, keep in mind what thirdwind and Cogito have said, but otherwise, relax. When you get an idea that works for a short story, it will come. Besides, if you want to make a career as a writer, people pay for novels and collections of stories that are ten or more pages, not two pages. If you can handle ten pages, which is usually 2000-2500 words, find lit journals that accept stories over 2000 words. They are out there.
     
  11. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    Try writing with a time limit.

    Set your writing rules, so that after X min. the piece is done, even if your not. Over time this will train you to complete a story within a given frame.
     
  12. dthomas
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    dthomas Member

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    I'm not sure if this will help anyone, but when I decided to start writing short stories I also used nonfiction as exercises to get down plots, descriptions, etc. For example, if you see a front-page article about a small town murder, read in-depth about it, discover as much as you can about the characters, intentions, actions, location, etc. and try to create a story from those elements. It might not be the story you want to write, necessarily, but it is a story nonetheless and can be a stepping stone to fully developing the things you really want to write about.

    I'm not sure about other writers, but I find it much easier to write about places I've been or things I am most passionate about, and I think readers can feel when a short story is loose and forced and when it is tight and the author really cared for it and thought it through. Just my two cents, hope it helps.
     

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