1. SerraSwift
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    SerraSwift Member

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    writing the short story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by SerraSwift, Aug 31, 2010.

    I'm having a terrible time with short stories. I am so fascinated by people, and characters are typically what dominates my short fiction...but now I am wondering if it is possible for a reader to care about a character in such a short span of time. Is a strong plot necessary to move short fiction along?

    For the most part I'm feeling like my short fiction is purposeless...that because I'm focusing on characters and not a plot, that there is no reason for the story to be written or read. And yet I am pleased with the characters and their personalities.

    I suppose I'm also having trouble with the concept of the "ending"...because I feel that since short stories are vignettes when compared to the span of a novel, there is no real "ending." My endings feel rushed, tacked on, I guess because I'm used to being able to draw things out much further.

    Usually I focus on longer works, so this transition is very difficult for me, but I would like to try my hand at it. I like a good challenge...I'm just struggling at the moment and would appreciate advice.

    What are your thoughts?

    Thanks,
    Serra
     
  2. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey Serra,

    I can't speak for everyone, of course, but my short stories are pretty much solely character driven. That's what I love about writing them. Creating the ending of a short story feels less threatening to me than figuring out an ending for my novel. A short story is, after all, a snapshot. My plots tend only to exist to support my short stories as character studies. I do try to aim for some dramatic tension as the story builds but I feel somewhat constrained by the word length of a short story.

    If you are fascinated by people then it should show in your characters/writing and the reader will care too. Maybe you're needlessly giving yourself a hard time. Stick at it.
     
  3. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    I find them challenging but have been having more success with shorts lately and am actually finding them fun to write. I always made them go too long because I tried to put too much in them. Now, I kind of like the minimalist feeling of writing a short story. I still want a short story that I read or write to have at least a fairly strong plot. I am not a fan of many of the shorts I read in literary mags that just seem to meander through varying levels of angst, go nowhere, and then end inconclusively. I am not sure if this is meant to be literary, or experimental, or what. If it what one likes, great, but I still like stories to be about the story.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    As long as there is some sort of conflict going on, a short story will not be purposeless. If you are merely describing characters then you are going to have to find a way to make it interesting, most likely by adding conflict. To answer your question, a story can be character driven and need not be plot driven at all. In fact, most literary short stories are precisely character driven, and there is most definitely an audience for that.

    Endings are tough for me as well. I usually have a good number of them in mind. Then I narrow them down to the best three or four and write them all out. Out of those I choose the best one and go with that.

    The best thing to do is to read some short stories to get an idea of what works and what doesn't in short fiction. There are magazines of every genre that have short stories on their website, so take a look at those.
     
  5. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I am not so sure what you mean by 'a strong plot'. If you mean plots with various sub-plots like in a novel, then I don't think you need that in a short story.

    You can treat the plot of a short story as a sub-plot of a novel... a snapshot/small part of a larger story. In that sense there is not much difference between writing a novel and a short story, except of course economy of words. Also, instead of 'a strong plot' I would rather say a 'strong conflict' is what is necessary in a short story.

    I think you are doing right concentrating more on char developments. That will make the reader know your chars and hence will care about your chars. The readers might hate (as in, this char is bad) or they might love your chars, either way you should evoke an emotion for the chars from the readers. That can only be achieved through char development.

    Endings need not be definite as in he killed her in the end, or the husband and wife divorced in the end. But there should be a sense of resolution of the conflicts. May be an estranged husband and wife started off hating each other in the beginning, an incident or events make them soften their stances towards each other, but due to various reasons they can't be together again (conflict), in the end they remained separated but agreed to share the custody of their son. They started off separated and remained separated, but there is a sense of resolution of the conflict. In a novel, you might continue the story and show how they started dating again secretly because one of them is already living with a partner and so on.... But in a short story, the ending is good enough.

    I am no expert so, I may be wrong. But this is how I see it.
     
  6. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think so.

    Perhaps it would suit you to base your plots on character development?

    For example, the main character needs to overcome some character flaw (internal plot). The character flaw is exemplified by a problem the character encounters in real life (external plot). The plots are resolved when the character overcomes the flaw by reaching an insight or making a tough decision.
     
  7. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I work with stories from this angle: I create a situation that character acts upon, until a feeling of closure or resolution is reached.
    Or, in other words: I create a problem and let the characters deal with it until I reach a point which I feel is a satisfying ending.

    It doesn't matter if the situation/problem is internal or external. If you use this kind of method the difference between a shorter and a longer story is the complexly of the situation/problem. Measured of how many pages it takes to reach a conclusion or a feeling of closure to the story.

    For example, a longer story about unfaithfulness will deal with a bigger scope of the whole situation. A short story of unfaithfulness, might be focused on one or just a few aspect of it, maybe a story about admitting the act.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Flash fiction (typically between 200-500 words) can be a bit tight to get in much character development, but it is doable. By comparison, a full short story is flat out lesisurely.

    But if you are coming from novel development, writing short stories can be a wonderful exercise in focus and concise writing.

    A short story typically centers upon a single conflict, although in some cases you can intertwine two or three. But the best approach is to focus on one, which leaves plenty of room to explore character. You just can't wander. You have to trim away interesting but irrelevant side plots.
     
  9. litchickuk
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    litchickuk Member

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    Serra, to be honest some people just cant minimise everything that they have to say into a short story. Especially after writing novels for so long. I know I am one of them.

    When I first started writing I wrote more short stories than you can shake a stick out, but the longer I write for, the harder it is to be so concise! I cant remember the last time I wrote a short story in less than a year! Now the shortest thing I write are scenes or excerpts for longer pieces or novellas. My days of short story writing I think are past now that I write longer pieces.

    I know how you feel about it being a challenge and we all need to throw a curveball into our routines now and again, so I wish you good luck and hope that you either manage to write the short story (no matter how long it takes!) that you long to write, or you admit defeat (as I did) and be content with a short novel instead!
     
  10. Phlogiston
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    Phlogiston Member

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    I don't mean this glibly, but may I suggest that you read some of the short stories available on the web. There are dozens of excellent eJournals and magazines you can access for little (or more often than not) no expense.

    Read a few of those and you will be introduced to the wealth of worthwhile, well written short stories with characters you certainly come to care about and empathise with. It certainly sets a good standard about what can, and should, be achieved in short fiction.

    My usual example of how powerful short stories can be is the truly excellent 'The ones who walk away from Omelas' by Ursula K. Le Guin. Exceptional writing.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    from what you say, i think you need to read lots of the best short stories by the best writers of all ages, to see how it's done when done well... here's just a few to start with:

    o'henry
    mark twain
    guy de maupassant
    jack london
    katherine mansfield
    alice munro
    zane grey
    margaret atwood
    ambrose bierce
    stephen crane
    flannery o'connor
    washington irving
    isaac isamov
    shirley jackson
    kurt vonnegut
    john updike
    f. scott fitzgerald
    mary mc carthy
    edgar allen poe

    read/study/enjoy those marvelous writers' works and you should be able to overcome your problems with the medium...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  12. SerraSwift
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    SerraSwift Member

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    Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions, advice, and recommendations! I think I am going to treat myself to some short story collections this week and study up. I'd love to be able to tackle this difficult form, and now I feel a little more ready for the task...I have wind in my sails and all that! I was feeling rather defeated before...
    So, thank you!

    -Serra
     
  13. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    The characters should obviously be an integral part of the plot and in the boundaries of a short story, a writer should try to develop the two simultaneously. By that, I mean the fleshing out of the character's background should also be part of the build up of the plot structure, thus killing two birds with one stone.

    I've set down many times to type out a short story, only to realize that my story isn't so short after all...as I start chapter 17.

    I think many of us have a hard time with that one. Its hard to exercise the self discipline required to cut things down to size, removing sub-plots, excess supporting characters, comic relief or romantic interests, just to keep the story focused on the singular main plot.

    The best advice I can offer on this point to write out the story the way you want to, then review your work with an eye towards trimming the fat. Anything that can be cut out, without taking away from the main plot, should probably get the axe. Perhaps you might even be able to save some of your removed material for use in another writing project.
     
  14. KittyGoesRawr
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    KittyGoesRawr Member

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    I think you're focusing on your character's dimension and being realistic rather than the plot, when usually, people have a great plot, they just suck at characters. Do what the people who suck at character's do, and practice, haha. Focus on the plot & what these awesome characters are doing!
     
  15. cryssfox
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    cryssfox Member

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    Hey, Serra!
    How's the short story reading coming?
    I've been really into the 1000 word short story lately (I'm in a flash fiction contest for the second time with that word limit) and it is a blast.
    I would quote him if I could, but Kurt Vonnegut said something along the lines of: the key to a successful short story is to make every word count.
    You don't have room for anything meaningless.
    As someone who writes character driven short fiction, I too feel that I struggle the most with the endings. I seem to wrap up the story in a sentence or two, but then, if you think about, denouement doesn't really have a place in a 1000 word piece. It's got to end quick or your little ten minute read may seem to take an hour.
     

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