Writing Short Stories

The last Killer Nashville Conference session I want to summarize was on Short Stories, ranging from Flash Fiction (which might be anything from a few words up to 1000) to short stories that are nearly novellas. The panelists for this session were: Ray Anderson, Kay Elam, Robert Mangeot, Carolyn McSparren, and Debra Goldstein.

Flacheetah-902440__180sh Fiction was defined as a moment in time. It was compared to a cheetah, while longer short stories were more like a leopard.leopard-608891__180

With both Flash Fiction and the traditional Short Story, the time line is compressed and the number of characters limited. With both, the story usually ends with a twist. For many writers, they start with a prompt and go from there.

You can’t always write a novel for every voice in your head, but you can write a short story using that idea or character.

Short stories have the same elements as novels. Where are they, why, what are they after, and what ups and downs do they encounter? For some writers it’s the plot that’s important, for others the character(s). They have turning points that lead to the climax, same as with a novel

Come up with a premise, and think of a screenplay structure. Make it tight and then tighten more. Build layers to a peak.

The panel emphasized that with a short story, every next sentence moves the story forward to the end. This means the writer must cut, cut, and cut some more. It’s in the editing that the story takes form. Kill the darlings (those beautiful, lyrical, sentences or words) if they don’t fit. Over and over the panel members emphasized writing is rewriting. Trim the setup (beginning) so the story takes off. But make sure clues are there and in the right order.

It’s important to know where to start. Although the writer needs to know the backstory or have done the research needed to create the location/situation, most readers don’t need all that information.

It’s also important is to know when to end. Readers expect a big ending (big honking moment), a twist, but once you’ve achieved that, don’t keep going. Make your point and stop. Solve the crime and end.

But don’t over polish. Put the story aside for a few days, then look at it again.

It was mentioned that Sisters in Crime Guppies has a short story group. There are markets out there. Google for short stories and see what’s being published. Find your niche.

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10 Responses to Writing Short Stories

  1. Melissa Keir says:

    I love writing flash fiction and short stories. But I also love poetry… it’s all about the word choice and images!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Lately I’ve been turning to short stories for my evening read. I know I won’t have to stay up late to finish the story, yet I’ll have something to read while my husband flips from one TV channel to the next, and the next, and the next.

  2. Diane Burton says:

    Until 3 years ago, I hadn’t written a short story since high school. You know, back in the Dark Ages. 🙂 A blog I contribute to organizes a holiday collection of short stories and, I’m happy to say, I’ve enjoyed writing one each year.

  3. I enjoy both reading and writing short stories. Many times I find they are better written than novels. Good info and advice here!

  4. Lucy Kubash says:

    Everything I know about writing I learned from short stories. Before I started writing them I read them in magazines (when magazines used to have them) and I loved them. I think you can tell a really great story and get a lot across in the short format. But it sure ain’t easy!

  5. Writing, and submitting, short stories kept me sane for that time in my life when writing full length novels wasn’t a viable option. Lucy’s right. It ain’t at all easy, but what a great medium.

    • Maris Soule says:

      From what the panel members said, although there are opportunities in many magazines, there are many e-zines looking for (and some paying for) short stories. Glad you were able to keep writing through those years, Margo.