Writing Short Stories

After Rain author Wendy Lesser, in a New York Times Review, said, “. . . the great short stories, in my experience, keep you balanced in midair, suspended somewhere between the world you normally inhabit and the world briefly illuminated by the author.  You see them both at once, and you feel them both at once:  the emotions generated in you by the story carry over instantly and applicably to the life outside the book.” 

As you develop your short story, ask yourself these questions:  What is the hidden element of my short story?  Why am I writing it? 

To discover a theme, play around with ideas of how events in your life have changed you.

What pushes your hot buttons?  Feel an emotionally charged way about a relationship?  A matter of ethics?

In a novel, a theme can be broad, but in a short story, the theme must be specific. Your character must meet a conflict head on and resolve it within a tight amount of words.  Hook the reader in the beginning, establish the tone of your story and start the conflict immediately. Leave questions in your reader’s mind to propel them through the story. By the time your reader has reached the end, your protagonist needs to change in a small but meaningful way.

 Most short stories are between 1500-3500 words, although each magazine, literary journal, or contest will have their own word length.  Gaining in popularity these days are short-short stories, from 500 words down to 100! 

Do you want to write them?  Then read them.  Good classic short story writers include Shirley Jackson, Katherine Anne Porter, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.  Read and write for literary journals such as Glimmer Train, glimmertrain.com ,  Zoetrope: All-Story, all-story.com/  Boulevard, boulevardmagazine.org, Epoch, arts.cornell.edu/English/publications/epoch.  For markets for younger students, see pages at the right side of this blog. 

 Writing Prompts:

  1. Take an idea or novel you have and craft it into a short story.  Once you have a rough draft, write it several more times until you have it polished where every word counts.  How few words are absolutely necessary to convey your character, setting, and plot? 
  2. Enter a short story contest.  Workshop your story with a writing partner or group to make sure you are creating your best work possible.   
  3. Take your short story from #1 and write it within 100 words! 
  4. Can you write a short story in a paragraph?  A sentence? 
  5.  Check your stories.  Is there enough reason for the reader to read beyond the first paragraph? 
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