As I promised last week, I have written a blog for some of my techniques for writing a short story. These are by no means comprehensive or concrete rules, but they are a set of guides that have helped me to grow in my short fiction process. (A quick note, for me a short story is any work under 20,000 words).
First and most important, keep it simple. I realize that short stories are a great way to introduce character’s and the depth of your world building, but if you cram too much information into your short story, what will most likely happen is you will overload the reader or risk information dumping. (Information dumping is when an author just runs through facts rather than bringing them up organically in a story.) If you are writing a short story as an introduction into a bigger world, then what you want to do is give the reader a taste. A short story that serves as an introduction should be like an appetizer, something small and delightful, which will maintain an appetite, not the entrée where you are filled afterwards. So reveal what details are pertinent to the story and leave your reader wanting to discover more. When writing, I do not try to cram a novel’s worth of content into a short story.
Now that you are keeping it simple, remember to have a rewarding ending. Before I start a short story, I already know my ending. It gives me a goal. I include this tip because I have read a lot of short fiction that had a fantastic story and characters but you could tell the author did not know the ending, so we have this great adventure and then it just ends. Abrupt, unfulfilling endings are just as bad as a boring story. Sometimes a simple ending is the most appropriate ending, where your hero lives to fight another day by escaping or defeats the villain. However an ending that feels like the writer just gave up or ran out of good ideas is extremely harmful. Not to mention, if you are using your story as an introduction, this last impression will keep some people from looking for the full work. So always be mindful that your ending is rewarding for your reader and appropriate for the story. In my opinion, classic pulp masters H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard excelled at this. Their endings always fit the story and left me satisfied.
Finally, even if you are writing a short standalone story, make sure that it is compelling. Your characters should still be believable characters, with flaws, and backstory. Even if you don’t reveal it (because you are keeping it simple), it is important for you to know them. It’s difficult to write a consistent character if you don’t know what events influenced their lives. Also keeping the conflict simple does not mean weak. A problem I see with short fiction is that the author has tried too hard to keep it simple and watered down the story until it’s mundane. You can keep a story simple while still presenting a good plot, compelling conflict, and interesting characters.
Again this guide is not comprehensive or concrete but it has helped me. If you would like to see my short fiction click on the covers below to be taken to their Amazon pages.