Writing a short story is very different to writing a novel. It’s something that I haven’t tried a lot of because my focus has always been on longer pieces of writing but I enjoyed writing Dancing in the Fire. A short story allows you to get straight into the story – there is no space for heavy backstory, you need a concise plot and in that respect, I think you have more fun with a shorter story. All rules go out of the window!
A short story needs characters that are immediately recognisable i.e. the reader instantly gets to know them and wants to root for them, and you want to throw them straight into a situation. It helps therefore to limit your cast of characters to give yourself time to fully develop them in a short space of time. Dancing in the Fire, for example, focuses for the most part on two main characters – Sam and Becks.
As you only have a few pages to tell your story, you need to think about a setting and a timeframe that will work. You need a setting that you can describe quickly so readers know where they are. That’s why a lot of writers set short stories in the same world as their novels – the readers already know where they are so they don’t have to be as descriptive. And you obviously can’t show a character’s whole life in a short story, you just want to focus on a time where things happen. That’s why most of the action in Dancing in the Fire takes place over two days in a cabin in the woods. It’s a contemporary setting that can be described easily and allows the characters to be trapped in a small space in a small timeframe to make sure sparks will fly.
Generally, a short story needs to have a fixed beginning, middle and an end. You want the reader to quickly get into the story and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. However, because you are writing something so different to a novel don’t be afraid to break the rules and play around with structure and expectations. I included flashbacks in my short story, for example, to give readers a background to the main characters so they could really root for their relationship, or you may decide to end the story with a twist – maybe the whole story was a dream!
Because you have less words to play with in a short story, you need to really make them count. I think writing a short story provides great writing practice, you can really sharpen your story-telling skills and you may even come up with an idea that you want to develop into a novel at a later date. There are also a lot of short story competitions that you can enter and get your writing noticed by the industry.
Do you enjoy writing short stories?
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