How to write

a good short story

How to write a good short story

Αργύρης Χατζόπουλος: How to write a good short story...

Essential components 1. What is a Short Story?

2. Theme

3. Plot

4. Developing characters

5. Use Setting and Context

6. Writing techniques

1. What is a Short Story?

A brief fictional work that usually contains one major conflict and at least one main character.

A short story is a form of short fictional narrative prose.

2. Theme

Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn't mean what the plot line is, the sequence of events or the character's actions, it means what the underlying message or statement behind the words is. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the mind of your reader. The best stories are the ones that follow a narrow subject line.

What is the point of your story? Frequently deals with only one problem.

3. Plot

Α. Set Up the Plot

Plot is what happens, the storyline, the action. How you set up the situation, where the turning points of the story are and what the characters do at the end of the story.

A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.

Β. Brainstorming

Develop a list of events. Think about distressing, unusual, or difficult periods in your own life.

Pick some of these events and write a paragraph about each one. If you are having trouble deciding on a plot, try brainstorming. Suppose you have a protagonist who’s lost in a shopping mall. What are the actions that can result from this situation?

The next step is to select one action from the ideas that you had and brainstorm another list from that particular action.

C. Create Conflict and Tension

Conflict is the fundamental element of fiction. Fundamental because in literature only trouble is interesting. It takes trouble to turn the great themes of life into a story: birth, love, work, and death.

Conflict produces tension that makes the story begin. Tension is created by opposition between the character or characters and internal or external forces or conditions.

By balancing the opposing forces of the conflict, you keep readers glued to the pages wondering how the story will end.

D. Possible Conflicts Include:

· The protagonist against another individual

· The protagonist against nature (or technology)

· The protagonist against society

· The protagonist against God

· The protagonist against himself or herself.

E. Build to a Crisis or Climax

This is the turning point of the story- the most exciting or dramatic moment. The crisis may be a recognition, a decision, or a resolution. The character understands what hasn't been seen before, or realizes what must be done, or finally decides to do it. Timing is crucial.If the crisis occurs too early, readers will expect still another turning point. If it occurs too late, readers will get impatient--the character will seem rather thick.

While a good story needs a crisis, a random event such as a car crash or a sudden illness is simply an emergency --unless it somehow involves a conflict that makes the reader care about the characters.

F. Find a Solution

The solution to the conflict. In short fiction, it is difficult to provide a complete solution and you often need to just show that characters are beginning to change in some way or starting to see things differently.

Let’s examine some of the options to end a story.

· Open. Readers determine the meaning.

Brendan's eyes looked away from the priest and up to the mountains.

· Resolved. Clear-cut outcome.

While John watched in despair, Helen loaded up the car with her belongings and drove away.

· Monologue. Character comments.

I wish Tom could have known Sister Dalbec's prickly guidance before the dust devils of Sin City battered his soul.

· Dialogue. Characters converse.

· Literal Image. Setting or aspect of setting resolves the plot.

The aqueducts were empty now and the sun was shining once more.

· Symbolic Image. Details represent a meaning beyond the literal one.

Looking up at the sky, I saw a cloud cross the shimmering blue sky above us as we stood in the morning heat of Sin City.

4. Developing Characters

Each new character will bring a new dimension to the story, and for an effective short story too many diverse dimensions (or directions) will dilute the theme. Have only enough characters to effectively illustrate the theme. Generally has a limited number of characters and scenes.

Your job, as a writer of short fiction--whatever your beliefs--is to put complex personalities on stage.

Building up a character:

· Appearance Gives your reader a visual understanding of the character.

· Action Show the reader what kind of person your character is, by describing actions rather than simply listing adjectives.

· Speech Develop the character as a person -- don't merely have your character announce important plot details.

· Thought Bring the reader into your character's mind, to show them your character's unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.

· Don't have too many characters. Each new character will bring a new dimension to the story, and for an effective short story too many diverse dimensions (or directions) will dilute the theme. Have only enough characters to effectively illustrate the theme.

Setting moves readers most when it contributes to an organic whole. So close your eyes and picture your characters within desert, jungle, or suburb--whichever setting shaped them. Imagining this helps balance location and characterization. Right from the start, view your characters inhabiting a distinct place.

Setting includes the: time



and atmosphere where the plot takes place.

Remember to combine setting with characterization and plot. Include enough detail to let your readers picture the scene but only details that actually add something to the story.

(For example, do not describe Mary locking the front door, walking across the yard, opening the garage door, putting air in her bicycle tires, getting on her bicycle--none of these details matter except that she rode out of the driveway without looking down the street.)

Use two or more senses in your descriptions of setting.

Rather than feed your readers information about the weather, population statistics, or how far it is to the grocery store, substitute descriptive details so your reader can experience the location the way your characters do.

Our sojourn in the desert was an educational contrast with its parched heat, dust storms, and cloudless blue sky filled with the blinding hot sun. The rare thunderstorm was a cause for celebration as the dry cement tunnels of the aqueducts filled rapidly with rushing water. Great rivers of sand flowed around and through the metropolitan inroads of man's progress in the greater Phoenix area, forcefully moved aside for concrete and steel structures. Palm trees hovered over our heads and saguaro cactuses saluted us with their thorny arms.

6.1 Choose a Point of View

Point of view is the narration of the story from the perspective of first or third person.

As a writer, you need to determine who is going to tell the story and how much information is available for the narrator to reveal in the short story.

The narrator can be directly involved in the action subjectively, or the narrator might only report the action objectively.

First Person The story is told from the view of "I." The narrator is either the protagonist (main character) and directly affected by unfolding events, or the narrator is a secondary character telling the story revolving around the protagonist.

This is a good choice for beginning writers because it is the easiest to write.

I saw a tear roll down his cheek.

I had never seen my father cry before. I looked away while he brushed the offending cheek with his hand.

Third Person The story tells what "he", "she," or "it" does. The third-person narrator's perspective can be limited (telling the story from one character's viewpoint) or omniscient (where the narrator knows everything about all of the characters). He ran to the big yellow loader sitting

Your narrator might take sides in the conflict you present, might be as transparent as possible, or might advocate a position that you want your reader to challenge (this is the "unreliable narrator" strategy).

6.2 Gets off to a fast start

In today's fast-moving world, the first sentence of your short story should catch your reader's attention with the unusual, the unexpected, an action, or a conflict.

Begin with tension and immediacy.

6.3 Write Meaningful Dialogue

There is no room for unnecessary expansion in a short story.

If each word is not working towards putting across the theme, delete it.

Use only the detail necessary for understanding the situation.

Dialogue is what your characters say to each other (or to themselves).

Write Meaningful Dialogue Labels.

6.4 Beware -- a little detail goes a long way.

Why would your reader bother to think about what is going on, if the author carefully explains what each and every line means? Uses only the detail necessary for understanding the situation.

6.5 Make every word count.

There is no room for unnecessary expansion in a short story. If each word is not working towards putting across the theme, delete it.

Good Luck


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