The Long and Short of It – The Short Story

The gals at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency were chatting the other day over chai lattes and Rey thought she’d like to try penning a short story.  That gave Linda—also a blogger—an idea.  Why not provide tips on how to get started, seeing as she gave some to Rey?  (JJ thought she’d sit this one out, but might jump in later.)

So, this is a two-parter post.  The first part provides advice and the second will feature Rey’s short.  She’s thinking hers might revolve around an actress turned private eye.  Hmm.  Sounds vaguely familiar.  <LOL>

Over to you, Linda . . .

Hello all.   I’ve written a number of short stories over the years—a few were published, too—so I feel I’m qualified to provide guidelines (in case you were wondering).

If you’ve always wanted to be a writer, but haven’t yet written anything, a short story is a great place to start. 

Like a full-length book, you should present a conflict or complication, a quest or mission, create tension and interest.  Your aim: inspire the reader to read

Where will you get your idea (storyline)?  From the media, an author, a real-life situation, a recollection of something or someone—the channels, options, are numerous.  You don’t want to copy (steal) the idea outright, but you can certainly make it your own by adding the right twists and turns . . . and your personal touch of creativity and imagination. 

The length is up to you, but traditional short stories are 1500 to 5000 words in length (that’s 250 words to a double-spaced page, by the way).

Whether you’re writing short fiction or long, make sure you know it well—learn all you can about the genre by reading it.  Many, many times.  One can only become an expert through concentrated effort and application.

Start by jotting down ideas, characters, thoughts, actions—whatever comes to mind.  Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation.  Just get it on the page or screen.  Let it out.  Purge.

Throw your protagonist (main character) under the bus right away.  Figuratively speaking.  A short story is just that: short.  You have little time (or space) to get too flowery or descriptive.  Yank that reader in right away!  This is contingent on what you’re writing, of course, but whatever the genre, you want to intrigue your readers from the get-go

If you’re writing a romance, perhaps the hero isn’t interested in the heroine, or vice versa.  Maybe the hero’s lover is unfaithful (or so it appears).  Is the protagonist torn between love or comfort (l’amour or moolah)?  In a mystery, has the protagonist stumbled upon a body . . . and is accused of the heinous crime?  Or has he/she witnessed the murder, but no one believes his/her?  In a western, a nefarious thieving gang is on its way to pillage the town—and most of the frightened townspeople, as well as the deputies, have fled.  Rustlers are rumored to be in the vicinity of the Dalton farmstead.  How will the family deal with them?  In a mainstream story, perhaps the heroine strives to go to see the world before she succumbs to her illness, but there’s no money—or hope—to be had.  The possibilities for any genre are endless.  Let that imagination, truly, run wild. 

Short stories that work are those that appeal to readers through emotions, feelings, principles, values (romance/love, vengeance, justice, escape, and so forth).  Enter enough emotion to sadden, delight, frighten, worry, [verb-of-choice] readers.  Entice readers to pursue your protagonist throughout the dilemma or adventure.  How will the perplexing issue be resolved?  Is the ending a happy one or heartbreaking?  Has the protagonist learned a lesson or acquired new insight? 

That ending, like the beginning, has to happen 1-2-3.  Make certain you bring adequate [quick] closure to provide the reader with a sense of satisfaction.  An “it was a dark and stormy night” opening should have a “the sun appeared on the horizon” ending.  That’s not to say that the end is a happy one, just that something promises to transpire (and it could be equally grim, but that’s your choice).

I believe I’ve given you enough food for thought.  Let’s see if my BFF, Rey, applies my suggestions to her short story.  Hmm.  Curiosity’s got the better of me. I think I’ll take a peek . . .