Week 16, Step 16: “The World of Short Stories”

I’m sure some of you who have been following these blog posts are writing short stories.  Some of you are probably more entitled to write a blog post about short stories than I am! :-) I’m actually not very good at writing short stories. I’ve done a few, but I’ve only been happy with one of them. (By the way, that story should be released in just a few weeks to the world! I’ll be posting it here.) So I’m just going to give you some tips. And if there’s something I’ve missed, please feel free to comment and tell me – and everyone else! – what to do to make our writing better.

In some ways, writing a short story is way easier. Your plot line and build-up to the climax is a LOT shorter. There’s less details to worry about because it usually doesn’t cover a very long time. But there are some things that will help guide you along this process.

1. First of all, use very minimal characters. The less time you spend introducing people, the better. That means that having huge families or big nations is probably not a good idea. The ideal number would be between 3 and 12 people. There are 5 main types of characters in your story. Having one of each of them makes for a great short story.
The Protagonist: The hero or heroine, the one on the journey
The Antagonist: The villain OR the idea or fear or thought that is trying to stop the hero from accomplishing their goals/dreams
The Mentor: The one leading, guiding, and/or protecting the hero
The Side-Kick: The one who supports your character and helps them and goes through all the struggles with him/her
The Comic Relief: The character who could act as a side-kick or an assistant to the villain who provides some good laughs or less suspenseful moments
The Romantic Interest: This one is actually not completely necessary, but almost every single GREAT story in the world has some small amount of romance in it. However, there are many EXCELLENT stories without romance. Take the Chronicles of Narnia, for example! But adding a hint of romance to your story, especially if it’s done Biblical, is not a bad thing.

All you need are those five or six characters to have a good story. And some of them can even overlap! The comedic character and your side-kick can be combined into one. Your side-kick and romance character can be combined into one. There are several options and combinations. Many children’s books only have two or three main characters. But really, you don’t need a ton of characters to have a really good story.

2. Figure out your plot and how each of the characters fit into it and when. Use the same plot-outline that you would use for a big book, but make it a lot shorter. Make sure there’s still a grabbing opening, a struggle, a climax, and a short resolution.

3. In the beginning, don’t introduce everyone at once. Introduce the main character, then slowly add everyone else. Don’t overwhelm us with a ton of facts. All the necessary information should be given in just a few sentences or paragraphs. Make sure you have an opening that will really grab the audience!

4. For short stories in particular, you don’t really need to say much about your characters, the surroundings, etc. The less that can be explained, the shorter and more compact your story is, and the more exciting it will be because you’ll be using more dialogue. Readers LOVE dialogue. They can picture so much more using dialogue than whatever long descriptive paragraphs you can write in your story. And sometimes for short stories, when every single word counts, description can get in the way and take up unnecessary space.

So, to summarize….
1. Short stories are very similar to tiny itty bitty novels. Most of what we’ve talked about in the other blog posts apply in a condensed form.
2. Limit your characters! Pick them carefully and make sure they fit the character-types that we’ve discussed.
3. Remember to have really short introductions and an intense or mysterious opening!
4. Don’t put in much description at all. Let the dialogue be your description.
5. Spend time writing out a plot-line that works before you write out the short story. Make it compact and very plot-driven instead of character driven.

That’s it! Don’t forget to email me at hope@hopefulstories.com to ask me any questions that I haven’t answered! Week 18 is going to be our last and final week and our Q & A week! Thank you for reading!

Suggested Homework:

For those of you writing short stories, put into action the points listed above.

For those you who are NOT writing a short story, try it! Pick a character that’s in your novel and write a short story about them. It’s good experience, and you can possibly use it to publicize your book when you get ready to publish it!

  • http://twitter.com/sharonrosebooks Sharon Rose

    Thanks for all your helpful hints, Hope! Just thinking of the short stories I have written, I can’t think of one that has more than ten characters. In fact, most of them have about five characters. The fewer characters I have, the more in depth I can go about how my main character is feeling and reacting to the things that are happening to him in the short story. : ) I think having fewer characters also helps the reader to feel less like they are drowning in information as they read your story.

    I really like books that have little or no romance. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE romance – it’s just that sometimes when I am finished reading the story I am left feeling extremely lonely and jealous. Because of that, if I include romance, I try to keep the main focus off the romance and more on other feelings, adventure, or mystery. But I agree, that it can be good if you include Christian courtship values and it does make the story more exciting!
    One way I sometimes start a short story is by making some sort of startling statement. For example, “It’s terrible bein’ a mouse” or “You could have been killed!” It immediately catches your readers attention – and hopefully makes them want to read more!

  • Sarah

    I can`t wait to read your new short story, Hope!