How to Properly Write a Short Story?

Discussion in 'Short Stories' started by isaac223, Nov 6, 2016.

  1. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist Contributor

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    I really have to question this. What you've written is an abstraction rather than a character. I'm just not sure that writing unnamed characters in abstract black and white terms is very good short story writing. Any writing, honestly.
     
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  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    One thing I learned in my MFA program was to name your characters. You can take or leave that piece of advice, but when I reluctantly took on this practice it made a world of difference in my short stories.

    Something no one has brought up is how important picking the right story occasion is when it comes to short stories. I think that's the big one.
     
  3. raine_d

    raine_d Active Member

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    Another writer to look for (if he hasn't already been mentioned) is Fredric Brown. Absolute master of the short short - if you're looking for how to pack maximum impact into the tiniest of stories, he's hard to beat.
     
  4. Skibbs

    Skibbs Member

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    I do see what you mean, but I quite like writing in this way - if you introduce characters - it means that you have to keep up to date with those characters and you have to follow them. However, I prefer my descriptive style of writing - as, although perhaps not the scenery and characters, it leaves a lot to the imagination of the reader. Alongside this, short story writing is - in my definition - to write about a small segment of what could be a novel. Introducing proper characters with names just adds confusion to the piece, in my opinion. Again, just my thoughts.
     
  5. Ray Elkins

    Ray Elkins New Member

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    Same here, I couldn't agree more! If I have to guess at the pronunciation of a character's name, there is one strike already. When the number of characters gets large enough that it is hard to remember who is who and who did what, I'm very likely to put the book or story aside and never pick it back up.

    Writing style is unique to each person and one must be wary not to pervert or spoil his or her own uniqueness by incorporating the methods of others. But hey, I forget I am talking to writers so that is kinda like telling a fish that water is wet. My opinion concerning the writing style really shouldn't matter, but I'll share what I personally like to do for the sake of the OP rather than for the sake of trying to tell someone else how to write.

    The shorts I've written run <5K, and 3 characters or less, not due to any set limit but simply because the imagined story included a number of characters and could be told in that word count. My stories are all the result of dreams though, which might explain the length and number of characters. When I awake in the night from a dream, I jot down the characters and the best quick explanation I can give about the story. When I'm awake, I read back those notes asap (while memory can recall more detail) to see if there is anything that a story can be built on.

    Ok, 'nuff said about my methods of madness, since our own unique methods are the core of our individuality, we should strive to develop them individually
     
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  6. Ray Elkins

    Ray Elkins New Member

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    I tried to edit my reply but I get a message saying it looked like spam (maybe that is a hint?) and wouldn't let me, so I have to quote myself, lol

    I just wanted to clarify my meaning since this comment could easily be misconstrued to imply that I think asking for another's opinion is wrong. Absolutely not the intention of that statement. I think it is always good to know others' opinions and take advice. I only meant that our own unique style should be adhered to primarily in order for our writing to remain "personal."
    To me, (this offered not as fact but only the perspective of this aspiring writer), art is personal, forged by the experiences, trials, victories, etc. of the artist, unless it is allowed alteration by introducing the qualities of another person's identity and personality. Then, it becomes a double-exposure with two images, each distorting the other where neither can be seen clearly. When it is bastardized and no longer reflective of the artist, it ends up in a yard sale for a nickel.

    The writers (and other artists) whose work has passed the test of time (hundreds and even thousands of years), developed their own unique style and didn't contaminate their personal style with that of others. I believe that is why their work has remained. When we read a passage from Homer or Poe, it isn't uncommon for it to be recognized as the work of Homer or Poe. That is, to me anyway, the art that I truly feel a lot of us would aspire to create, writing that can be recognized as no one else's. Aspiring and achieving, in my case anyway, are as distant from one another as the horizons! :)

    My point? Only this; I wasn't being critical of someone asking for advice. I was trying to say that my input wasn't being offered (or insinuating it could serve) as a suitable replacement for someone else's creativity.

    Sorry for being so long-winded, just a newbie that would prefer not being tarred, feathered, and ran outta town over a misunderstood comment. :)
     
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  7. lonelystar

    lonelystar Member

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    There is a monthly short story contest in the contests section that you might want to have a look at
     
  8. MilesTro

    MilesTro Senior Member

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    Give it a third act structure under 10K words.
     
  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Cutting something by two thirds and not explaining? Not sure what sort of short story you'll end up with that way. A short story doesn't always mean paring down. And leaving thing unexplained isn't really going to work for me as a reader or writer of short stories. A short story is still a story.

    What? No, don't do that. I wouldn't do that. A short story is not a riddle or a puzzle. It's a story.

    If we want readers to see our characters as real and as people, we should design them as such. And I've yet to meet a person without a name.

    No, no, no. Short story writing is completely different than novel writing. They aren't even trying to achieve the same thing so I really wouldn't lump them together like that. And where are you following these characters? Where are they going? Weren't you going to put them in a short story. You decide where they go or can keep them put right where they are.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2018
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  10. WaffleWhale

    WaffleWhale Active Member

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    Or, if you don't necessarily want it to have a real name, the MC or their friends could make up some cool name for it.
     
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  11. Michele I

    Michele I Member

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    Sixfold holds short story contests a few times a year, for just $5 to enter. I tried my first one this past spring, and loved it. Not only do you get to submit your short story, but are required to read a total of 18 others (6 in each of three rounds), to critique and comment on, and then rate in the order you liked them, in order to remaining in the running. I loved the concept of critiquing other stories, and was mostly surprised how many people failed to follow the simple guidelines, such as word count. In the end, my story rated #32 out of 315, and I was able to read those that ended on top. The top two choices were well deserved wins, but a good short story is subjective to the reader. The other great thing about Sixfold is that you get to read all the comments others gave about your story. I've just entered their summer contest, the deadline being July 24th, in case anyone is interested.
     
  12. Michele I

    Michele I Member

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    Most magazines or short story contests have a maximum word count, say about 5,000 words. Your short story should have a beginning that introduces your main character and the problem, a middle that expands on those, and an ending that wraps up, concludes, and resolves whatever problem there was. The fewer the characters, the better.
     
  13. Michele I

    Michele I Member

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    Adding dialogue to a story is meant to bring your characters to life, but the dialogue has to be authentic, and allows the reader to get to know more about the character, and how they feel.. Avoid empty dialogue, so not to bore your reader. There have been times I have wanted to pitch a book out in the backyard for simply poor dialogue.
     
  14. fjm3eyes

    fjm3eyes Member

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    Properly write a short story? I don't know. I mean, can you ask a better question? It seems to me that writing any sort of "proper" short story should be up to the author. If by properly, you mean writing a good, quality, story rather than one that doesn't say much, I would echo some of the advice written above........Read, read, an read again. I'm talking about reading stories from established and well received authors. Notice things like how they use the language and their sense of story. Also, write the story you would like to read if you were the reader. You would, in either case I think, be on your way.
     
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  15. srwilson

    srwilson Senior Member

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    Your MC does not have to be likable, but the reader needs to identify with them. Also, the conflict does not have to be resolved, as it often isn't in horror, and is often made much worse.
     
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  16. srwilson

    srwilson Senior Member

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    I like this. It goes against a lot of normal advice about setting a clear scene, but I agree that it's perfectly valid to leave the reader guessing right from the start. BUT... it should be done carefully, not through recklessness. The conflict should be clear: what is the problem that the MC perceives, what is he/she thinking?
     
  17. MilesTro

    MilesTro Senior Member

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    The basic limit of a short story is 7k or 10k. If you can end your story before you can hit one of those limits, you got a properly written short story.
     
  18. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    That seems to be the case with genre short stories, but for literary or mainstream publications, 3k to 5k words seems to be the sweet spot.
     
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  19. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    The sweet spot is more or less the same no matter the genre, but definitionally a short story tops out at 7.5-10k words.
     
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  20. zoupskim

    zoupskim Contributor Contributor

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    "I desire a thing!"

    "Thou shant have it!"

    "Fooooll, I shall!"

    *fight*

    "I have claimed the thing, and leeearned!"

    The End
     
  21. Cynthia June

    Cynthia June New Member

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    You have opened up a world of possibilities for me as well, in your suggestion to abandon the word "properly" and replace it with "effectively", not only in the way I write, but in my plans to conquer almost any task at hand. Effectively is much more productive, far less judgemental. Thank you for that.
     
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  22. Cynthia June

    Cynthia June New Member

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    Try writing for "50 Words Only".
    Writing "50 Words Only" stories and poems compares to writing short stories as
    Petting a porcupine compares to petting a baby bunny.
    :)
     
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  23. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    :superidea:
    Spiked Lady.jpg
     
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  24. Cynthia June

    Cynthia June New Member

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    That is the most bizarrely beautiful porcupine I've ever laid eyes on. :)
     
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