Hints For Writing Very Short Stories

     Crafting very short stories presents several special challenges. The new demand for these pieces to be used on the web makes it a useful form of writing to master. Here are six hints to keep in mind.

With this renewed interest in the very short story, as a unique form of story writing, a special set of guidelines is necessary.

Hint #1:
Needless to say, an economy of words is essential. Never use a dozen when you can find one or two that will convey the same general concept or intent. For example in short story writing an author might have space to write: 'Everybody hated Henry Haddock. He kicked dogs, scared children with his cane, and cursed at old women.' In very short stories that might need to be reduced to: 'Henry was the Devil incarnate!' (Note that in a long story or a novel the description of his character might take several paragraphs or pages and may be developed with entries at several places in the story.)

Hint #2:
The same number of words when written as dialog uses considerably more page space than descriptive prose. When possible, incorporate 'dialog' into 'regular' sentences. 'Marjorie said,"Nice day." Harold responded, "Not for me," and flashed an angry look.' The best suggestion is to just omit dialog in very shortest stories.

Hint #3:
Keep to a single point or train of thought. Very short stories must let the reader know what they are all about right from the first sentence and the remainder of the piece must develop that idea or concept. 'Sargent Lester was determined not to be killed even though pinned down in the dimly lit alley by the ruthless mobster who had recently sent his partner to intensive care.' (Notice how that sentence also gets away with being somewhat telegraphic, omitting the words 'he was' between 'through' and 'pinned'. It keeps the meaning and cuts two words.)

Hint #4:
In short story writing a certain amount of 'fluff' is permitted - 'prettying up' descriptions, etc. In very short stories there is no room for fluff (unless it is the name of the old lady's cat!). Each sentence must act as a simple, essential, step between the the one before it and the one that follows.

Hint #5:
Where short story writing is pretty much just a more concise version of writing longer stories, think about very short stories in a different way - as quick snapshots that cut away all but the essential element. Practice writing your life history in 400 words or less. I often ask students to write there life history in 50 words and then later have them 'expand' it to 400. That exercise provides the necessary perspective for writing very short stories. (It is fascinating that many students struggle to find enough words to fill up the entire 400 word goal.)

Hint #6:
Minimize the number of paragraphs in very short stories. Try to design the story within three. Set the story up in the first. Provide the 'meat' in the second (usually the longest). Tie it all together or administer the 'twist' in the final paragraph - which is often a single, well constructed, sentence.

Although writing very short stories is quite a different process from typical story writing, it provides an intriguing set of challenges. Practice makes perfect - well, at least it moves us in that direction!

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Posted on 2013-01-03, By: *

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