1. JMTweedie
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    JMTweedie Senior Member

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    Short story plots

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by JMTweedie, May 7, 2011.

    I have no problem whatsoever with creating plots for novels but I'm finding short story plots far more challenging.

    Trying to fit a well written story within 5000 words doesn't appear to be that easy for me.

    I really want to get a framework down tonight to make a start on soon.

    It's for a short story competition and any genre is permitted, which makes it quite difficult as I want to appeal to as many people as possible.

    Any tips?
     
  2. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I can't write short stories either. Lol.
    I got a tip from my brother once, in a short story, start from the middle of the story rather than the beginning.
     
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  3. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    I'm in that boat as well. My tip would be not worry about a genre appealing to a wide range of people. Find a theme that appeals to people in general then convey it in the best way you know how to.
     
  4. JMTweedie
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    JMTweedie Senior Member

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    Hmmm.. I was thinking of doing a story with the main theme of jealousy/envy but with a sci-fi twist at the end. A be careful what you wish for kind of ending.

    Maybe I should work on that one.
     
  5. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Personally, for me, a lot of short stories worked because of a well-crafted twist. Short stories with clear messages or moral lessons tend not to work as much for me, oftentimes because I may not have had enough time to sympathize with any of the characters.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are some crossover skills and techniques between writing novels and short stories. But a short story isn't simply a condensed novel, nor is a novel an expanded short story.

    Limit the scope of the conflict (or problem to overcome). Limit it to one thing. Limit the number of characters and minimal backstory. Jump right in and have the action/story moving forward on the first page.

    I've had short fiction published in a range of genres and have found that writing other than SF/Fantasy is easier as far as genre goes (especially if you're one who struggles with word count). SF and Fantasy, and sometimes horror, requires world building, which takes up, well, words. But if that's what you favor and enjoy, and have a story for it's certainly not impossible.

    One of the best ways is to read a few successful/published short stories. Study them. See how the authors did it---characterization, pacing, building to the climax, etc. Then apply what you learned--what works for you--to your writing.

    Good luck!
     
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  7. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    I feel your pain my friend.

    Short stories are amazing. Kudos to anyone who can write engaging plots/characters in such a short space. I honestly had to challenge myself by entering the short story contest to see if I had it in me to write something on par with a lot of the other entries I've read and I don't think I'm quite there yet. There is always so much I want to say and put in there yet I can't find the words or motivation to convey my message and sentiments in such a fashion.

    For what its worth, I think the shortest story I would ever be able to write would have to be between 5,000-10,000 words minimum. And that would be a stretch.
     
  8. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've multiple short stories published, with another hopefully coming out in the autumn, so I'm hoping what I have to say has some use.


    • When you've a word count limit it tends to mean don't use any filler whatsoever. In a novel you might use filler chapters to slow down the pace or introduce sub-plots, but in a short story you don't have room for this. This also means limit sub-plots (if you really need one) so that everything is relevant to the story.

    • Don't skimp on detail or character development. Like a novel, the story should have well-developed characters - the difficulty is compacting that character development into a short space without overwhelming the reader. This also means you shouldn't make your characters too complicated, or rather, you shouldn't feel the need to explain every single thing about them. Pick the most important elements to work with rather than focusing on everything. Eg: if the character's past is interesting yet unimportant in terms of plot then don't bring it up - it'll only cost you words. Strong dialogue is important in short stories as it helps the reader to establish the character's personality quickly.

    • Keep a small cast of named characters. You don't have the room to develop too many adequately, so pick the most important and stick to them. In my latest short story -- 5k was the max, I was literally 26 words under the maximum in the final draft -- I had three named "on-screen" characters and a fourth who was never seen. There were a couple of other unnamed characters but their appearance was brief.

    • Establish your plot right from the very beginning. Don't take time to introduce the characters first - jump straight into the story and let the reader get to know the character as they go along. This saves time unnecessarily spent getting to know the character, their life and their daily routine as, most of the time, this isn't even relevant to the plot.

    • Before you begin, I'd suggest shooting for something you want to achieve by the end of it. This isn't a case of knowing the story from start to finish, but rather knowing where to say, "Stop". No, "but I could add this in after..." and developing an entirely new arc - short fiction doesn't have room for this.

    • A short story needs to have a clear start, middle and end - just like a novel. But, at the same time, don't think of it as a condensed novel, it's something entirely separate. Pick a plot and don't blow it up too much. In a short story you're dealing with a single conflict, not multiple.

    • Most importantly, every sentence must count in short stories. I'm sure this can be said about novels too, but this is especially important in shorter fiction. You don't have words to waste so everything must be essential. This means avoiding repetition (unless part of the style), purple prose and unnecessary descriptions.

    Personally, I find romance and erotica easiest to write as short stories.
     
  9. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    I find I actually have an easier time writing short stories, although perhaps not tightly written ones, because what if situations can work quite well for them. Since I only need the plot to be as long as the concept, that can lead to good short stories. It can also lead to stories meant to be the size of a novel squeezed into a short story, but that's a problem to discuss another time.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A plot is a plot. Short story or novel, their plots all consist of an actor, a goal or objective, a motivation, and an opposition. Good stories have strong plots driving the action.

    But I suspect you really mean storyline, not plot. A storyline is a chronology of events, and plots drive the storyline.

    A novel contains a larger network of plots. A novel may be dominated by a single plot, with all other plots directly contributing to it, but often has several parallel major plots, interacting but distinct. A short story, in contrast, usually focuses on a single main plot, with all contributing subplots acting directly on the main plot. That is because a short story requires a tighter focus due to its brevity.
     
  11. Zaphodb2002
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    Zaphodb2002 New Member

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    I used to direct short films, and I feel you here, sometime's it's harder to convey an idea with a limited amount of time. I like to think of things in terms of budget; for a film, it would be monetary restraints, for writing, more like information restraints. They basically mean the same thing, though. Keep your cast down, don't over-reach with your plot, and keep your goal in mind. If you can't describe it in two sentences, it's probably too complex for a short. As Youniquee said above, starting in the middle can help, and fill things in as you go. Also, don't underestimate the reader's imagination. Give them what they need to know for the story, and don't spend unnecessary time describing everything in detail. I like to think in terms of tone and emotion, rather than visual description. Part of the wonder of the written word, at least for me, is using your mind's eye to imagine the story.
     

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