Apr 3, 2012

How to write a successful short story

While a novel would seem to be easier to write as you can meander all over the place with characters and subplots it is far more difficult to write a short story. Writing a short story is an art. The structure of the short story still requires that you have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but you do not have the luxury of forty thousand words within which to tell your tale. You have to be concise, and write tight. You have to do without all those darlings or sayings just because you love it and it sounds clever, and get into the story as soon as you can.

Basic requirements

The five commandments for any story require that your character has a want, a need, an inciting incident, progressive complications, and resolution. In the middle part of the story you deal with the problem or conflict that has presented itself. Here is an example. A young girl with a beautiful voice wants to be a singer. Her father does not want her to be on stage and sing. She loves her father and wants to please him, but she also does not want to give up singing. What does she need to do? She needs to do something to please both herself and her father. The need is usually a hard thing she has to wrestle with if she wants to have both peace in the home with her father and also sing. The story is therefore about going against the grain. In this case, to rise up and make her father understand what singing means to her, and get him to agree, or go against him. In other words, to tell the story satisfactorily, she has to go outside her comfort zone which presents the conflict.

Crisis and resolution

The middle of the story should have a steady build-up and then have conflict. The story will fail if the girl does not satisfy the need as the need is the crux of the story; what she is going to do, what steps she is going to take, how she would satisfy the need. Her actions are pivotal. The bravery or failure of the girl’s actions is what the story is all about and what the reader is there for; to read something that is short and satisfactorily tells the tale. This article for example has a beginning, a middle, and an end even though it is not a short story. A story needs structure; you get in, you have a quick hit, and get out. Don’t stand around like confused detectives at a crime scene when the story ends. Have a hard hitting ending and get out.


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