The Ultimate Short Story Recipe

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Short stories. They’re short. You probably wrote some in high school. Most likely, you either love them or hate them. Love or hate, though, they can do wonders for your writing. They’re also a powerful tool in the age of short attention spans and online distribution. So, here’s a quick and ‘easy’ recipe for crafting your own engaging shorts.

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Do not wait. Launch your short story as quickly as possible with no holds barred so the reader can get into the middle of the plot before the whole thing is over. Remember, short stories are, well, short. You don’t have time to wax poetic or use some clever misdirection, flashback, or other fluff in your introduction. Think of a short story’s introduction like the first hill of a roller coaster. Start at the top of the hill. The hill uses gravity to send guests on the rest of their wild ride, and it’s a heck of an introduction to the rest of coaster’s course. That’s what a short story’s intro should be like.

Use Serious Stakes

The audience needs to care, and they don’t have a lot of time to warm up to your character. Although character is still important in short stories, it’s important to use very serious stakes to get the audience engaged quickly. Is your character fighting for their lives? Is there something spooky in the house? Are they on the cusp of a breakup? What’s happening, and what is the character going to do about it? Sorry to use the roller coaster illustration again, but here we go: a novel is a family’s home video of their day at the park; a short story is the scream cam shot during the meanest twist in the ride. You can feel the energy of that shot, even though it’s a single frame. Your short story should evoke the same tension.

No Messy Middles

Although all writing needs focus, short stories only succeed when they’re zeroed in on a very specific, very narrow story. Where novels can spin out to indulge in subplots and secondary themes, a short story dedicates itself to a single narrative with a single theme. There’s usually a single primary character.

If you struggle with rambling world building paragraphs, unnecessary backstory, or flailing character development, write short stories. The practice will help you focus on what’s important for the story and what’s just fluff. Lots of authors turn short stories into novels – or vice versa – so treat short story practice as brainstorming. Take an interesting character and just throw them in troubled waters. See if there’s potential there. You get the practice, the chance to work on new ideas, and an actual, finished product in a much shorter time than a full novel.

The Ending Is Everything

A short story doesn’t give readers the opportunity to sink deep into your original world or develop a personal relationship with your characters. While your characters may be memorable, the plot typically sticks in readers’ minds longer. Your ending makes the greatest impression, and it needs to shine if you’re going to win over your readers. Read a few collections of short stories and compare how different authors handle this issue. That’s the best way to polish your own finales.

Short stories can boost your writing career as they improve your technique, and once you have some practice under your belt, they can be great fun, too. Although NaNoWriMo is coming up, maybe you should try warming up with some shorter projects. Try writing a short story once a week – or once a month! It’s less demanding than a novel, but it’s just as valid a creation.

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