If you’re a long-form writer like myself, you know the struggle of reigning in your desire to provide every detail of your character’s life, or else risk your work becoming a massive info dump. You may also suspect that trying to start your career as a novelist with no published work to show off isn’t going to be easy. However, when you go searching for opportunities to get your name out there, you quickly realize that everything you’re finding are journals that only accept—you guessed it—the dreaded short story.
The real question for a novelist isn’t where to submit these stories but rather how to write them in the first place. I have gone out in search of some answers and here is a culmination of advice to keep in mind if you’re struggling.
If you start a short story thinking it won’t be as good as your other writing, it won’t be. You must accept that the reader isn’t going to know every little thing about your main character.
For example, a character in a novel—let’s call her Amy—might spend some time complaining about a horrible coffee date she went on in order to show the reader part of her personality and viewpoint. The short story version of this would sum it up with, “Amy knew that her disdain stemmed from one too many dates gone wrong.”
2. Let the Form Serve You
NY Book Editors suggests “[letting] your short story serve as a character snapshot.” This is a helpful way to view the form if you’re having trouble sticking to one idea or moment.
Try walking through a scene with a character in your novel. Curious how your MC would react to a visit from a long lost uncle? Write a short story about it. Wondering how to hone in on the heartbreak of losing a pet? Write a short story about it. These snapshots work double time by both padding your portfolio and allowing you to explore your character.
3. Get to the Point
The most important thing to remember when writing a short story: stay in the action. You may be tempted in the middle of a tense scene to slow down with a moment of reflection but you have to fight that urge. Keep the character focused, maintain momentum with strong dialogue, and utilize the setting as a tool rather than simply a background.
For example, if there’s a park that has sentimental value for your character, don’t have them tell us about it from their bedroom. Set the scene there and see how the emotions naturally shape the narrative.
Center your short story around this question: What is the one thing that is most important to my character? Now showcase that in one instance. It’s intimidating, but once you identify that core desire and key moment, your plot will stay much more focused.
4. Be Precise and Concise
A skill that all writers must learn is how to create complexity and depth in just a few lines. To help achieve this daunting task, Writer’s Edit suggests “employ[ing] clever dialogue, interactions and reactions, flashbacks, and short sharp imagery to develop [your] characters.”
Find something truly unique about your main character and run with it, always making sure to be picky with your word choice. Instead of telling the reader “Samantha was always a smart student,” try working it into her inner dialogue, something like, “Sure, some people might call Samantha ‘intelligent’ because she has a 4.0, but she didn’t want to be reduced to a number.”
I know from experience that it can be difficult to break free from the comfort of your preferred writing style, but if you allow yourself room to play and make mistakes, I have faith that you will be able to reap the many benefits that exist in the world of short stories.
Meet the blogger:
ANGEL KIDD is a senior creative writing major with a focus in fiction. When she isn’t watching YouTube, she is attempting to write a science fiction novel. After graduation she hopes to find a career in the publishing industry or as a manuscript editor before hopefully becoming a published author.