A short story is defined as a piece of fiction that revolves around one theme, doesn’t have a lot of characters, and contains a limited number of words. This is true, but a short story is a lot more than just a piece of fiction with a finite amount of words. A short story can and should have the same effect on the readers as a novel – with the difference that it’s a lot shorter. In effect, the reader gets a glimpse of what a novel involving the same characters with a setting in the same universe would be like. And if the reader wants that novel, then you’ve done a really good job. However, there are some mistakes that new writers are prone to making, and below, we’ve gathered things you should avoid when writing a short story.
1. Fitting a novel
Every story starts with an idea. Depending on how big your idea is, you can adapt it into a novel, or a short story, or a novella. The key here is to find the right medium for your idea. Don’t attempt to fit a novel into a short story – you will end up giving too much unnecessary information to the reader. Additionally, trying to cram a novel-lengthy plot into a short story will only make the plot seem rushed, or incomplete. This is why you need to decide whether the idea you have can be adapted into a short story. If it’s too big, write a novella or a novel instead.
2. Use bad openings
There are quite a few openings that will make readers, editors and agents stop reading. Some of them are universally scorned, like beginning with the weather, or the character waking up in the morning. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use them (plenty fiction writing “rules” have been broken by writers, and in a brilliant fashion). For example, the weather can be used to set up the mood and to show how it affects your character. On the other hand, after a character wakes up in the morning, there is the part where, inevitably, you will write about their morning rituals, and that, for most readers, will be boring.
3. Too much development
A short story needs to begin as close to the climax as possible. A novel can take a slower path, developing the world, the characters and building the story slowly from the ground. However, in a short story, you need to start as close to the top as possible, and give the readers enough information about your characters and their backstory for them to follow the story and enjoy it, from the beginning to the end. No, you don’t need to tell us the exact age, appearance, and life story of your characters – although if it comes up naturally in the course of the plot, you definitely should.
4. Forgetting plot
Plot is important. A story needs plot. This is a mistake new writers often tend to make. A short story isn’t a description of an object or a place, and is not a morning in a character’s life where they brood over their life. It’s not sensibility, it’s not mood. A short story has characters, scenes, action, just like a novel. In other words, it has a plot. The plot might be short, revolve around a single conflict, and lead to a sudden revelation and resolution, but it’s still a plot nonetheless. A short story that is tightly plotted, where every sentence adds to the tension and says something important while moving the plot forward, is always better and more entertaining than a story that is set inside a character’s head, and revolves around his mood.
5. Avoiding dialogue
People talk, and so should your characters. A short story cannot be just a recap of events, without dialogue. The dialogue in a short story needs to be precise, and to the point. It needs to be effective. It is another form of action that can create conflict, usually between two characters. This will reveal the true self of your characters. Good dialogue can help with setting the mood, and even clarify plot points, and as such, should never be avoided in a short story.
Image credit: Christian Guthier on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/photo.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic.
As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.