Writing Tip — Short Stories

womenw-1483484_1280I’ve always loved short stories. I discovered the short stories of Damon Runyon and Sherlock Holmes as a teenager. As a new mom, I could squeeze in a complete story before dropping off into an exhausted sleep.

Although most of my writing ideas take shape as novels, I’ve learned a very important technique from reading short stories: write tight.

Write Tight

New novelists have a tendency to take all the room of a book and fill it up with a lot of unnecessary words.

If I look at each chapter as a short story with a goal that must be reached within a specific word count, I trim the long passages of description, get rid of tiresome explanations, and punch up the dialogue.

Description, especially, is the area where I have benefited from reading short stories. No matter what I am describing, person, place, or thing, a succinct , vivid description in one sentence will stick with readers longer than a detailed paragraph. And within a novel, I can revisit those descriptions, dropping reminders of a person’s eye color or the night’s humidity, echoing the first description. If I rein in my word count, it give me more space for plot and characters development.

I also love how many short stories have a kicker ending, a twist that makes the whole experience wonderfully satisfying. I don’t know if you can do that kind of a twist in a novel but I’d like to figure out how.

Bonus Benefits

When I am getting restless in my reading material and want to find a new author to rave about it, I read anthologies. I can sample many different writers in a short period of time, and if their short stories intrigue me, I can check out their novels. If a short story doesn’t hold me interest or lets me down, I have only wasted one night, instead of weeks with a novel that disappoints.

Another benefit is that short story writing allows aspiring novelists to get material published and before readers while waiting for their novel to be discovered. I thoroughly enjoyed writing a crime fiction short story because of the challenge it presented.

Which do you prefer to read, short stories or novels? Which do yo like to write?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

chocolatew-2202080_1280How would you explain where it came from? This prompt was inspired by a real-life mystery my friend author and editor Sharyn Kopf faced. She posted on Facebook, asking friends for an explanation.

Here’s mine: “A spy hid a thumb drive in the candy bar. Realizing she was being watched, she slipped the candy bar into Sharyn’s pocket. Now agents from all the major world powers are seeking the candy bar.”

What is your idea? Please share in the comments below.

Writing Tip — Flash Fiction

bookw-2250364_1280If you like writing short fiction, need a break from your novel, or just want a challenge, flash fiction may be the right form for you. I had read about these stories of less than 1,000 words as scrolled through writing advice blogs, but I didn’t consider writing one until I picked up some copies of Splickety magazine at a conference.

I still haven’t written a flash fiction piece, but now that I’ve written a short story in just over 3,000 words, flash fiction isn’t as daunting as I first thought.

For good advice on how make flash fiction powerful, check out this post from Almost An Author.

Writing Tip — Short Stories

keyboardw-498396_1280At a recent meeting of my writers’ group, author Sandra Merville Hart led a workshop on writing short stories. I found it helpful when I was writing one for an anthology our groups it compiling.

Much of her advice came from Creative Writing: Forms and Techniques by Lavonne Mueller and Jerry D. Reynolds.

1. Beginning: Present the problem of the story. Plunge readers immediately into the first incident.

2. Middle: Create suspense. Include events both favorable and unfavorable to  your main character.

3. Ending: Solve problem raised in the beginning. It can be a positive or negative resolution.

Some other advice Sandra gave was:

4. POV: Only have one point of view in a short story.

5.  No subplots: Focus on the problem presented a the beginning and nothing else.

When I wrote my short story, remembering to stick to the problem was very helpful. I enjoy developing characters and exploring their personalities could have sidetracked me from the plot. When  I was floundering in coming up with a reasonable ending, I finally realized I didn’t know what the single problem of the story was. Once I settled on one problem and its resolution, I could fill out the middle with favorable and unfavorable incidents that led to the ending.

Sticking to the point can also be applied to blog posts. Since I have only 250 to 500 words, my post should have just one point. If I find myself wandering away from that point, I can use my tangent as the point of a separate post.

What have you learned about writing short stories? Do you recommend any books or posts with tips on how to write them?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompt

figure-skaterw-266512_1280With the Olympics in full swing, I thought a prompt about them would be fun. Can you think of a new sport for the Winter Olympics?

I was thinking of Ice Diving. It’s just like diving at the Summer Olympics, but instead of landing in a pool of water, the divers have to enter the water through a hole in a sheet of ice. Or Ice Polo. Wearing heavy wet suits, two teams follow the regular rules of water polo with the added challenge of playing around chunks of ice.

Please share your ideas in the comments below!

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