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.
- 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?
- Ensure your protagonist is likeable – the reader should be rooting for him/her throughout the story.
- 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.
- 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!”
- Maintain suspense – throw in an obstacle, complication and/or a crisis that the protagonist needs to overcome in order to resolve the initial problem.
- 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…?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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?