In many ways, short stories should be easier than writing a novel. They’re shorter, as the name suggests, and do not rely on a rich back story, foreshadowing, or even complex plot lines to interest a reader. However, creating an enjoyable story without these elements raises the question of what you do put into your limited word count.
Short stories cannot be written as if they were simply a short novel; they are very different styles of writing, and I believe a short story relies on the purpose of the protagonist. In a collection of emergency tips this point is hammered across quickly, as the story will be driven by your protagonist, their actions, and the consequences of those actions. That protagonist has to want something and their decisions, good or bad, are all your story has, without a back story.
Backstories are the building blocks of a novel, but in a short story, they are essential and virtually non-existent. This meaning that a good backstory is one you don’t realise you’re reading. In a blog post I read, it lists good ways to incorporate backstories into novels. In a short story, you get a few lines of dialogue, or a single train of thought. Any more and your readers will start to lose interest and you will start to lose valuable space. The key lies in giving your audience enough to fill the remaining blanks on their own, and to leave out information that is not dire to your characters or plot.
In the prior to paragraphs, I have listed just a few rules to guide you in writing (or appreciating the work that goes into writing) a short story. These rules are similar to that of a Kurt Vonnegut but despite all his rules regarding short stories, he admitted that great writers would break them all, excluding his golden rule of never leaving a stranger (your reader) bored while you have his attention. This boils down to you as a writer saying… screw it. In the end, it’s your story, and if you believe it works better told through non-stop flashbacks, that is your executive decision to do so. Don’t let the ideal of a ‘perfect’ story get in the way of you finding your story. It’s also important that you short story readers out there appreciate the story the author chose to write, not what an article told you to expect.
Now that I’ve told you what to write, what to write without writing to much of it, and then completely contradicting myself by saying “remember, you decide”, it’s time for the most important part of any short story. With a novel you get a blurb, a fancy cover maybe, a prologue perhaps. With a short story, you get the perfect first line, which isn’t easy without some fancy guide. It may seem a bit late in my somewhat instructional essay to mention the first line of the story, but many guides online leave this step until well after first draft (or in some cases, second draft). This line is important in many ways. It invites the reader into the world and scene, sets the tone of the author, and the best writers use it to surprise the audience and tell as much of the story as they can. This is because whether or not the reader likes, dislikes, agrees, or disagrees with your story, the perfect first line will stay in their mind and in the very least assure them your ability as a writer.
Short stories have always been a passion of mine, due to how fun they are to write, and how difficult they are to master. They are quick bites of a story which allow the reader a snippet into the life of a protagonist, while providing a creative reader blanks to fill on their own. I am proudly a published author of a short story entered into a competition led by Write 4 Fun, and since then I’ve taken pride in writing short stories from 200-several thousand words in length. The only real rule I would give a writer, is write the story you want to read. Know your audience, but write for yourself.
Whether you have interest in perfecting the style or not, I highly encourage giving short stories a go, and if you have nowhere else to publish your story, or would like some amateur feedback, feel free to send it here and I will happily give it a once over.