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How To Write Short Stories?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kasper Hviid, Jan 25, 2020.

  1. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    I'm currently working on the last bits on the entry for my FOOD contest. I had never really given all that much thought to short stories before. I have read loads of writing advice, but never really considered that it is all centered on real stories, that is, novels. Today, short stories are kind of out of fashion. I can't mention any contemporary short story writer.

    When Googling, I mostly find silly stuff like "How to do a short story in X steps" or "Don't forget to add a plot to your short story". But I did find this one, which I like: How to Broaden Your Short Story’s Scope

    So! Any good writing on short stories I should know about? Also, you got any tips and tricks yourself?
     
  2. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Troubadour

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    Limit yourself on the number of characters, places and story lines. If you have two characters in one place with a single story line then chances are it will be a short story.

    Go deep instead of wide. Pick one concept or topic and dig deep into that. With so few words that works much better then trying to do a bit of everything.

    Tropes are your friend. Again, you have few words, so make use of what people know already. Have only one or two things about your world be different that you need to explain
     
  3. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    Good advice, thanks! At only 2300 words currently, I think my story might be a bit too wide for its meager word count.

    Here's some advice I heard: you should read short stories. I think this makes sense. Most of our techniques are stuff we picked up from already existing stories. When you read short stories, you get them on a deeper level. Plus, as far as research go, it's pretty enjoyable!
     
  4. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

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    I think you can apply most of what you know for longer fiction to writing short stories as well. The main difference, as Prince of Spires said, is to limit yourself a bit. Less characters and a single story line.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Edgar Allan Poe has a famous essay on short stories. HIs language can be a difficult slog, but the central point is this: a short story should strive to create a single emotion in the reader. Every word within that story should go toward that end. I've found that a helpful pole star, even if I don't slavlishly try to fulfill it.

    Beyond that, read lots of short stories. There have been brilliant masters of the craft, including O'Henry, Mark Twain, Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, and oh so many others.

    I'll close with Steinbeck: If I had any advice to offer, I'd take it myself.
    :)
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  6. The Dark One

    The Dark One Maester

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    The standard advice I tend to see on short stories is: start as close to the end as possible.

    It also helps to have a major twist, best achieved by seeming to tell one story when, with a sudden, late revelation, you are actually telling a different story.
     
  7. Speranza

    Speranza Dreamer

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    I think writing short stories (and even flash) is a good way to improve our writing, choosing our words and going deep as some of the others have said. I read somewhere that shorter stories and novella's are becoming popular again because a lot of people are time poor, but also the younger generation read on their phones and attention spans are different. A lot of writers I know have had a lot of success with flash fiction in the past year in many genres.
     
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I've always liked Mary Robinette Kowal's way of distinguishing a short story's goals from a novel's, via a look at the Olympics.

    Novel: Like seeing the history of the Olympic gymnast, her struggles to get to where she is, the rivalries she has had with other gymnasts, her vault, the score she receives after a dismount from the vault, a comparison of her cumulative score with the cumulative scores of others, and the reaction of her family, coach, and friends.

    Short Story:
    Like seeing the gymnast just before she starts running for the vault, through her run, vault, and dismount, to when sticks the landing perfectly and throws her hands into the air. (Of course, for a short story she could actually suffer a major tumble instead of sticking the landing, heh.)



     
  9. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    Looking at the short stories in my bookcase, I found 10 books in the scifi category and 8 books about ghosts or general horror. Granted, I'm a reader with limited tastes, but still, I think there is some sort of pattern as to what themes fit the short story, a pattern which is mirrored in shows like The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror or ABC of Death. I think the short story format naturally lends itself well to the element of wonder which is something that horror and scifi does pretty well. Let's take a look at Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes. This is a short story collection running at 800+ pages, roughly the same size at one of his typical novels. So what does the same page count of "short story" give, compared to the same page count of "novel"? This anthology has a total of 23 stories. This means that, 23 times, the reader is thrown headlong into an entirely new reality, with little clue of what to expect. In other words, a crazy high wonder value. It's fun, but it's hard fun. At least, its a bit more demanding than the more smooth experience of a novel series where you, after the opening of the first book, has a pretty solid idea of the story.

    Below are a big load of books on short stories I have found on archive.org and gutenberg.org. I haven't really dug into them much yet, just collecting them. Yeah, I'm a digital hoarder. In one of them, The Technique of Fiction Writing, I found a chapter on short stories that argue against Poes's advice by pointing out that Poe only talked about his own stories which were a very fringe sort where the atmosphere took precedence over everything else. Alas, the whole thing was a bit too long-winded for me to grasp it. An argument can only run for so many pages before I lose the thread.

    Short Story Writing And Free Lance Journalism (1946) ("the short story is not a condensed novel")
    A handbook of short story writing (1932)
    How to write short stories (1924)
    Aspects of the modern short story (1924)
    A manual of the short story art (1922)
    How to write short stories : Bridgart, L. Josephine (1921 )
    The Plot of the Short Story (1920)
    The Technique of Fiction Writing (1918) (gutenberg.org)
    The elements of the short story (1915)
    The art of the short story (1913)
    Art in short story narration (1913)
    A Study Of The Short Story (1913)
    The short-story, its principles and structure (1907)
    How to Write a Short Story (1906)
    The Writing of the Short Story (1902) (gutenberg.org)
    How to Write a Novel: A Practical Guide to the Art of Fiction (1901) (gutenberg.org—got a bit about short stories)
    Some Anomalies of the Short Story (1901)
    Short Story Writing by Charles Raymond Barrett (1900) (gutenberg.org)
    How to write fiction, especially the art of short story writing (1896)
     
  10. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    I have no idea what a FOOD competition is, pet. It just made me think of cake...so now I'm eating some. A google search should answer this question for you and take you threw it in steps. Try reading some short stories.
     
  11. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    Oh, that was nothing fancy, just a short story competition on the topic of food!
     
  12. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    My favourite topic!
     
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    You should check out Ted Chiang. All he writes are short stories and all they do is win awards. The movie Arrival was based on one of his short stories.

    Novels explore many ideas twined together and can say something about many things, and tend to explore ideas/questions fully.

    Short stories tend to explore a singular idea/question and bring the character or characters to a decision point, where you make your point by either answering the question or making a statement about the idea or you can leave things unsaid and make your point that way.
     
  14. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Minstrel

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    Oh yay short stories these are fun! So with fantasy books you make a world for your story, in my case though for a short story I just take the world and write a small scene if you will instead of a whole complex series of scenes. Example: A stranger with odd features walks into a tavern in a city, their is a bit of mystery. With short stories deep emotion or though or a provoking sense of mystery is gonna be your friend short stories in my experience are best when they are short but intense.
     
  15. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Troubadour

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    Short stories, I suspect, originated from the practical need to have a story with a limited word count for publication in small magazines, wherein (love that word!) people could read them in one go. One book on short stories titled How to Write a Short Story: An Exposition of the Technique of Short Fiction (1906), this one book starts out by stating that "Nowadays a good short story is a cash asset. The demand is steady, the market unlimited, and the prices good."

    Am I cynical to suggest that the short story's golden age was spured (right word? spewst, spurst?) not by divine inspiration, but by getting paid for the stuff? That the convenience of having a short, easily digestible story created a market, a demand? (Gods, I sound like an über-capitalism. Someone shoot me)

    I came to think of this since the way most of us (meaning: me) think of short stories is a collection of short stories. A publication with a page count assembling that of a novel. Yet, in a book on writing I just gave a go because I hadn't anything better to do with my shit life, in that book the author pondered on the fact that his shorter stories sold the best. His explanation was that a shorter story was less of an investment for a reader. Disregarding the money aspect, a novel requires a lot more of your time. You want to make sure you really want to read it. On the other hand, even if you never read Hemmingway (I sure didn't #appropriatehashtag) even in that case, you have at some point read his one bit of flash fiction fame, y'know, the one about the baby shoes. Someone somewhere had mentioned the story as an aside and quoted it in its entirety since its fairly short. I'd go as far as to say it's his most-read piece because its short at easily digestible (but, to be fair, also because it's good. But, mostly because it's short)

    So, I was thinking (this is the point of this post) maybe we shouldn't think of short stories a something to put in a fancy collection, but instead, think of them as easily digestible literary threats, sold for micropayment? Looking at Steam—the sole platform for sales of games. The free market demands monopoles, obviously—on Steam, there's a crazy lot of games sold for practically nothing. With digital goods, if you can get a lot more people to buy you stuff because it "practically" free, if enough people buy it, then no matter how low you go, it will pay off. Because, there's no production cost. And if your short story has a high concept thingie going ("I was the PR advisor for the Satan Incarnate") or something, and it's fairly cheap too, lots of people may just click that sweet Buy icon, because, what the hell.

    On the other hand, I really love short story collections, especially when they have a cool theme going, like Zippered Flesh, Machine of Death or Tales from the White Hart. Even if the stories differ wildly, you put your trust in the overall theme. Reading it has a sort of Netflix-binging quality to it. Yet, I think that the single short story's junk food nature is something that is worth exploiting.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2020
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