You’d love to write, but you can’t imagine spending months on a novel. Why not write short fiction?
Not only will short stories improve your writing skills, they’ll also build your readership.
You can write and self-publish a short story as soon as you’ve edited it. Alternatively, you can wait. When you a have a collection of five or more stories, publish the collection.
In our writers’ group, we discussed publishing short fiction. Several of the group were concerned about genre.
Short fiction: which genre?
You can write short fiction for any genre you choose. Here’s an article with examples of short stories in many genres.
I’ve written short fiction under a pen name, as well as my own name. Short fiction is fun to write, especially for those periods when you’re overwhelmingly busy.
In addition to genre, we had questions about story length. How long is a short story?
1. Word count: decide on the length of your short fiction
Generally, short fiction is estimated at under 15,000 words. Once the word count approaches 20,000 words, you’re in novella territory.
The short story authors in our group all wrote stories under 8,000 words. Depending on your style of writing, this is a good length: you can tell the story and involve readers via emotion.
But how do you get started with a short story?
2. Write a quick summary of the story
Think “short”. You don’t have time to wander off on tangents. One author in our group, who writes only short stories, suggested: “Tell yourself the story first. A quick summary—just a few sentences—the beginning and ending. Then you can focus on plotting and writing.”
Think of it as if you’re telling someone about a movie.
For example: “Rear Window is about a wheelchair-bound man who spies on his neighbors in an apartment complex. He believes there’s been a murder. Then the murderer comes after him.”
By the way, Rear Window was based on a 1942 short story by Cornell Woolrich: “It Had to Be Murder.”
This brings us to emotion, which is arguably the most vital part of your short story.
3. Get moody: what’s the emotion you want to arouse in readers?
Rear Window is both a mystery and thriller.
Emotion (helps) readers live in the world of your fiction and care what happens to the characters. And emotionally-driven stories start with you.
I love writing short fiction because it allows me to focus on emotion, and improve my writing-for-entertainment skills.
To discover more about fiction and emotions, check out this study, Emotions and the Story Worlds of Fiction (you can download the complete PDF for free):
Emotion is to fiction as truth is to science… Fictional narrative has its impact primarily through the emotions.
Once you’ve got your story summary, you can choose your scenes.
4. Choose your scenes: focus on conflict
While novels may have upwards of 60 scenes, you can write engaging short fiction in just three to five scenes.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a short story about a woman who’s suddenly accident-prone. Her hands are burned when an appliance short-circuits. Next, she’s on a long car trip to see her mother who lives in a rural area; a truck tries to run her off the road. She suspects her husband is trying to kill her…
These scenes might work:
- She’s on the phone to her sister (who’s never liked the husband) and is told her husband is having an affair. She’s still on the phone when she turns on the dishwasher and it gives her a shock, stunning her.
- The truck tries to run her off the road;
- Deciding to follow her husband, she spots him with his mistress…
- Twist ending: she calls her lover, and says: “he’s got to go…”
Big tip: if you want to improve your fiction, focus on scenes. The Scene-ery Solution is a good writing program if you want to master them.
5. Revise: involve your reader via the senses
In a sense, we’re back to emotions again, because sensory writing involves readers.
Good advice from Sensory Writing: How To Pull Readers Into Your Fiction:
For readers to experience the world of your novel, you bring them into it via their senses, through the medium of your viewpoint character.
Can you write short fiction?
You won’t know until you try—you may love writing short stories as much as I do.
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