10 Things to Consider


As I stepped out into the garden this morning, I immediately noticed an autumnal scent in the air – a clear reminder that summer has been and gone for another year. But I am not sad. There is so much autumn fun coming up: novel edits, new short stories to be written and subbed, NaNoWriMo, meeting old friends and making new ones, and the IWSG fantasy anthology details are due out next week! All good stuff! Life is peachy.


In light of the forthcoming IWSG short story competition, I thought I’d share my top 10 tips for writing a successful short story. Hope you find them useful.
  1. A catchy, no nonsense first couple of sentences, introducing the problem and the main character.  eg. Max hit the ground hard. The bullet whizzed past his ear, scorching his skin. This immediately plunges the reader to the ground with Max and the intrigue begins. What’s happening? Who’s shooting at him? Why?
  2. Ensure your protagonist is likeable – the reader should be rooting for him/her throughout the story.
  3. Don’t fall into the trap of too much telling. Lift the story and keep its dynamic by showing the reader what’s going on, how people are feeling. Too much telling slows the pace and can lose the readers’ interest.
  4. Use effective dialogue. Let the reader hear your characters, after all it’s their story. And try to show how things are said rather than tell the reader. ie. “Get out,” yelled Max angrily could become Max’s jaw tightened and his nostrils flared. “Get out!”
  5. Maintain suspense – throw in an obstacle, complication and/or a crisis that the protagonist needs to overcome in order to resolve the initial problem.
  6. Don’t be predictable. The reader may feel cheated if something is too obvious or if they guess the outcome too early in the story. Naturally the outcome is generally in favour of the protagonist but he/she must work for it and not be handed the solution on a golden platter or an intervention from a genie or magical being (unless you are writing for Walt Disney, then go for it! That would be a cool job…'When I wish upon a Star…’). Now, where was I…?
  7. Choose a catchy title that will give the reader no choice but to delve right in and read the story. I usually leave my title to the end but I do know writers who can’t write without a title. Whatever works best for you.
  8. Use a variety of sentence lengths. This is a great way to control the pace of a story if done effectively. A one word sentence can have a tremendous impact as can a lengthy sentence with two or more commas to ensure the reader doesn’t pass out whilst engrossed.
  9. Edit the story well. Find and eliminate all unnecessary words. Tighten up the sentences. Check for spelling errors and typos. Read it out loud. Record it and listen to it. Get someone else to read it. Chrys Fey has an excellent ‘Ultimate Editing’ list – check it out. Thanks Chrys!
  10. Most importantly, the writer should enjoy writing the story. Feel excited during the writing process. The words (at least in the first draft) should flow easily. If you are searching for words or struggling over a sentence then leave it and come back to it when you are more relaxed. I learned this the hard way and continue to learn. Readers pick up on a writer’s stress. If the writer isn’t feeling it, then the reader won’t either. For example, I wrote a story that I worked really hard on. The story needed to be told but I focused too heavily on vocabulary and perfectionism rather than telling the story through my characters eyes. This is what my trusted Beta reader commented: I would love you to rewrite this, really from your heart. I need to feel the anger, the uncertainty, the smell and the fear. I don't. It comes across in a removed, over descriptive mode which can feel forced and artificial due to the number of adjectives used. I think what I am saying is it is not raw enough. You are trying too hard which can at times make it too contrived. Naturally I was disappointed but she was so right -  an invaluable learning curve.
Are you entering the IWSG anthology competition? Do you have any tips to share about writing short stories? Are you looking forward to the Autumn season?
 


Comments

  1. Excellent list of tips. Sounds like you are all set to write that story for the anthology.
    I like autumn. Football and cooler weather.

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    1. I'm going to give it a go :) Even though I've never written a fantasy story before. Enjoy the coming months and the football :)

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  2. I've missed you

    I have one commandment to replace all of that

    - Entertain the reader

    :O)

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    1. Well said, Mac!! Thanks for missing me. I didn't think anyone would notice :)

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  3. Hi Nicola - great list .. along with Mac's thought! Can't stand football - boo hoo!! Still it's been warm ... but no doubt will be complaining about the rain very soon. Cheers and happy writing and preparations for all that's going on - Hilary

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    1. Thank you, Hilary. Last week, we had a heat wave and I'm glad off the slight morning chill in the air this week. Have a super September.

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  4. Great tips indeed. And yeah, have to be excited to write it, because if you aren't readers sure can tell indeed. I have to work on using a bit less "he yelled" and showing it more I think.

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    1. Thanks for popping over, Pat. Lovely to see you here.

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  5. Good stuff there. Some of the challenge with #2 is with a character who's internal journey is a tough one. When we show all their warts, we have to manage to make them at least sympathetic so the reader will stay with them through that journey. The I Am Not a Serial Killer series is phenomenal at that.

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    1. So many layers to consider. Thanks for stopping by to share your wisdom, Donna. Have a super September and I hope your house gets finished real soon. All the best.

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  6. What a brilliant and comprehensive list of tips, Nicola. Happy September!

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    1. Happy September, Teresa. May it be spider free :) Thanks for popping by.

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  7. I've never tried short stories, but these are super tips really for any story. Good luck with everything, Nicola

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  8. Great tips! I try for tension and suspense, but it always turns out not that tense. But this is a great list. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I've had the same problem creating suspense - tending to give too much information, too soon. Practice makes perfect :) Thanks for stopping by, Loni.

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  9. Autumn is my favorite season for sure:) And I like your "don't be predictable" part, very solid advice:)

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    1. Well, this is going to be an awesome autumn for you, Mark - and deservedly so :) Wishing you continued fun at your book signings.

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  10. I'm really looking forward to fall. Summer takes all the energy out of me. I loved your excellent tips on short story writing. I did a lot of that before I started writing novels. Now, no time for short stories...

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    1. Thanks for popping by, Lexa. Happy autumnal writing :)

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  11. This was very, very well written and helpful. You should publish it on the IWSG site.......
    As far as titles...I've been known to write a story around a title that has caught my fancy. grin.
    Toes crossed (fingers firmly on the keyboard) for your anthology entry.

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    1. Thank you, Sandra. I'm really rubbish at titles, hence leaving it until the end :)

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  12. These tips are excellent! Each pointer is better than the last. If everyone follows these tips, the contest will be tough. ;) And thanks for including a link to my editing list!

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    1. Your edit list is so helpful, Chrys. Thank you for sharing it.

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  13. Great tips. Autumnal scent? Summer has not been and gone in Florida. My leaves might change color and fall off the tree in the front yard during December at the earliest.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Summer only really popped in for a week's visit this year :)That was last week, courtesy of Spain sending up some hot sunshine :) This week is a complete contrast - the morning dew on the grass, chill in the air and a powerless sunshine weakly smiling through the clouds :) That's it!! I'm packing my shades and flying to Florida :)

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    2. Florida is usually very nice during December and January--but not always. Sometimes we need air conditioning on Christmas Day. Sometimes it's chilly and the natives wear heavy coats and mittens that make me laugh because I'm in a t-shirt and jeans. During the summer we can count on heat and humidity, and usually some heavy thunderstorms. Winter is more iffy, but leans toward lovely. Months of weather similar to a crisp autumn day.

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    3. Sounds lovely. We Brits only have to see a spark of sunlight and we're in our t-shirts :)

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  14. These are wonderful tips and great ideas for someone who is writing to use. I am so looking forward to the cooler weather, a fall colours and th smells

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    1. I love to see the colours change :)

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  15. It's summer in the south Louisiana swamps. Autumn is our first tiny breath of a break in the heat, so you know we look forward to that.

    Writing stories can be fun, especially if you simply do it to please yourself.

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    1. Writing should be fun :) I love to pop along to your site and read your stories :)

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  16. These are good tips for any writing project. Although, first draft easy? I have never, ever had an easy first draft. It's like pulling teeth to get anything down on that page. It's in the editing that things get easier for me.

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    1. Maybe easy was the wrong choice of words - flow?? :) I spend so long thinking and planning, getting that first draft down (and no it's not wonderful writing) does flow more easily than the next stage of whipping it into shape :)

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  17. Great list. I remember reading about the anthology, but I have to look it up.

    Happy September. I love the cooling down of the fall.

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    1. Thanks, Medeia. Wish you a lovely September.

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  18. each season has its own unique BEAUTY and all such beauties worth enjoying because life is too short and unpredictable

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    1. Life is unpredictable. I like your thinking. Have a lovely week.

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  19. The fall season is my favorite. The cooler temperatures, colorful trees and the holidays. Wonderful tips. I'm saving them though I don't write short stories. One never knows. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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    1. Thank you, Beverly. Have a lovely week. Thank you for popping over.

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  20. It's fall where you are? Already?! :) All excellent tips to keep in mind. And yes, I'm leaning strongly towards submitting something to the anthology.

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    1. Go for it, Bish! Yes the leaves on the trees are beginning to change colour. Thanks for popping over.

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  21. It's fall where you are? Already?! :) All excellent tips to keep in mind. And yes, I'm leaning strongly towards submitting something to the anthology.

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  22. Wow. Summer gone. In CA we're going to be in the 90s by the weekend, so we're getting what we love to call Indian Summer. I remember as a kid that we always returned to school during the hottest time when we should have still been swimming. Lovely writing tips. I haven't decided if I'm going to enter or not. I'd love to, but I'm thinking I have so much going on that another writing deadline is going to put over the edge.

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    1. Enjoy the lovely weather at the weekend :) We always returned to school wearing thick jackets in the UK :) Thanks for popping over.

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  23. Great advice. I used to write short stories all the time, but it's been a while. In fact, short stories used to be what I mostly read as well and I tend not to anymore. Maybe I should get back into reading short stories as they can be wonderful reading experiences.

    Good-bye summer--you passed far too quickly.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Thanks, Arlee. I love to read and write short stories as well as longer fiction. Short stories are a lovely momentary escape :) Have a super weekend.

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  24. Now, now, summer isn't quite over yet! We still have what, 17 days left? That said, I do like autumn, at least until the really cold weather sets in, then not so much. Have a fabulous weekend :)

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    1. :) Apparently you are right. We're expecting 37degrees here on Wednesday. We'll see :)

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  25. This is an awesome list. Thanks for all these excellent advice. I'm making notes.

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    1. Thank you, Olivia. I'm sure you have lots more excellent advice :)

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  26. Ooh, I didn't know about the anthology! I'm going to go check that out...

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  27. Great post and wise words, Nicola. I love autumn and generally feel more energised once the lethargy of summer is over!

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    1. Me too, Rosemary :) Thank you very much for popping by.

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  28. I just have a working title until I've finished the story. I must be rubbish at titles though because the magazines I sell to usually change them for publication.

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  30. Great tips, Nicola. I would also say, don't get too bogged down with writing rules as it can stunt creativity... sometimes it's good to just write.

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    1. Excellent addition, Wendy. Thanks for popping over.

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  31. Great tips! It's definitely important for the author to enjoy writing the story.

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    1. It certainly is, Sherry. Hope you are having a great month.

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  32. Excellent tips! I always try to hook the reader right off the bat in the first sentence or two.

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  33. Excellent advice. I am thinking of entering this contest and have been mulling over a storyline in my head over the past few weeks. I hope to start typing next week. Hopefully, it will flow out.

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  34. I nay try entering the IWSG anthology contest this year. Depends upon the category they've chosen. Thanks for the tips.

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  35. Now that's an epic list. I don't think I've seen a more complete list of issues I constantly agonize over in the writing process.

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  36. You gave some great short story writing tips here. It is indeed important to keep the reader invested in the story no matter what.

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  37. I love autumn, only second to spring. It offers so much and it's not too hot or too cold, just right! LOL
    Great list of suggestions. I'm going to print them out and keep referencing them as I write. It's so easy to forget the key points. Thanks for sharing!

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  38. I always love writing tips, Nicola! Thank you!

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  39. Fabulous tips for the short story contest. I find titles are my biggest downfall. I'm TERRIBLE at them the majority of the time. Thankfully in the past publishers have come up with better titles for me ;)

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  40. Excellent list. And no - not entering competition. Just not into competitions. Tweeted.
    http://victoriaadams.blogspot.com

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  41. Excellent tips. Thanks for sharing.

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