09 November 2010

How to write a short story

We have had a request for "How to write a short story". We have blogged about many aspects of this before (and perhaps we need to organize such posts a little better--any volunteers? Betsy?). Here are some thoughts on the matter...

First of all, What is a story?In essence: A sympathetic character has a problem and tries to solve it. I blogged about this in 2009 On Originality: Write Fresh referring to Robert Silverberg's excellent article(s) in Asimov's Science Fiction: Toward a Theory of Story . Let's look at aspects of this in terms of speculative fiction in a little more detail:
  • a sympathetic character. Character is key. Characters drive stories. See Characterization and The Goal is Empathy for more info. Note: the character does not have to be good but has to have some quality a reader can identify with, or at least be very curious about. Note: it is difficult to pull off more than one point-of-view character in a short story.
  • a problem. This is plot. This is conflict. This is tension. I would say further, a good story has an external problem/plot and an internal problem/character arc and solving the latter enables the former to be solved. Rarely can a short story sustain more than one linked external/internal plot arc. Note: The character needs to actively try to solve the problem. But the character does not need to be successful.
  • I would say a story that we publish must have dialogue.
  • Another aspect to a good story is voice. This is the unique flavor an author brings to the table.
  • In speculative fiction, we also need Speculative Elements including World Building. Check out some more tips for: Outstanding Spec Fic Stories
  • Stories can also include Humor. Although, at the last production meeting one editor thought a story was funny and two did not, i.e. humor is very subjective. Be careful when utilizing this.
  • At our recent production meeting I heard the words "setup" and "payoff". It's nice when the first scene sets up the payoff in the last scene. This means the seeds for the resolution of the story are planted in the first scene. Or maybe another way to look at it: the story problem is evident in the first scene. Note: there needs to be payoff, some kind of satisfaction/resolution the reader gets for reading the story.

So, there you go. Follow these tips and writing a short story should be a piece of cake! ;)
Ha ha. Yes, we all know better, but good luck!

Keep sending us your stories!


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Leigh said...

I agree, having a sympathetic character is key to a short story. If the reader doesn't relate to the protagonist, then you don't have much of a story.