If you find you prefer writing a longer story, don't worry, sometimes
it's harder to write something shorter! Was it Mark Twain that wrote
"Sorry for the long letter. I didn't have time to write a shorter
Feel free to bring a longer piece in instead. If it's longer then you
should probably post to DropBox (or email it) so we can get chance to
read it first. I guess if it's much longer than 3000 words, you could
split it so that people don't have to read too much in one go?
Oh, we're also happy to discuss ideas/plots too, if you don't actually
want to discuss a finished piece of work.
Or if you're looking for a story prompt, there are plenty from the
group archives. For example:
* the Dragons Den meet an entrepreneur with a very unusual invention...
* a robotic choir
* kittens! vampires! unicorns with guns!
* something inspired by a Lyttle Lytton competition entry. For example:
"This is a mystery about a murder I committed." from
Hope that's any help!
On 16 February 2012 12:23, Catherine Humphreys
I’ve been lurking and I can’t help but chip in. Hope you lot don’t mind. “Hello!” from over here at the Manchester spec fic group!
Catherine, short stories are very hard to write—just because there are less words doesn’t mean there’s less effort involved than a novel or a novella. I’m a novel writer at heart but all the writing on my MA has been based around the short story form. It’s been a lot of hard work for me to pare down my work but I think I’m finally getting there. I used to write 6-10k short stories on average but I seldom write above 5k nowadays.
Now, there’s so much theory and opinion out there that you’re likely to get a dozen different answers from a dozen different people. Short stories can be interpreted and enjoyed in so many different ways! So here’s a few of my own self-imposed tips...
- Keep it short. This might seem obvious, but I often have a word count in mind before I even start a short story (not always) which I aim at. I’m often writing for coursework or a specific market and that involves a strict word count. Other times I go with the flow but I always keep an eye on my word count. Hitting 3-4k without an end in sight is likely to ring alarm bells—not that I’ll stop writing but I might try to tighten the pace a little as I know I’ll be coming back to give the first half of my story a hard edit. I generally avoid going over 5k. I average around 3-4k.
- In medias res. A lot of people say that your first line and first paragraph are important and you should get down to the action as soon as possible. Well, they’re right. Your first paragraph doesn’t need bullets pinging off the rafters or Auntie Eevie sitting up in her coffin during her own funeral service, but it’s probably worth avoiding unnecessary preamble at the start of your story. Otherwise your reader will skim ahead or even stop reading. Now I hear the phrase ‘in medias res’ almost as often as ‘show, not tell’ so you need to treat it with caution. But yeah. Getting down to it as soon as possible is probably a good idea.
- Structure. A lot of short story theory mentions two distinct story types: ‘epical’ and ‘lyrical’. Epical stories are standard start-middle-end stories, often plot driven, perhaps more often genre, with a clear ‘boom’ moment near the end where the story is resolved; whereas lyrical stories are more typically character driven, maybe more literary and generally have a start-middle structure without any clear resolution but a drifting off which keeps the reader thinking after they put aside the story. It might be worth deciding what your style is—or least the style of the story you’re writing at that moment. Will the story have a clear resolution? Or will it leave a lingering sense of, mmm, something. I personally write a little of each, perhaps slightly more lyrical than epical. Both story types generally follow the same rule of ‘rising action’ at the start which starts low and builds to some sort of crescendo that either goes ‘boom’ (epical) or drifts away (lyrical). You should avoid your story stopping and starting. Keep building the action. Avoid stopping to deliver info-dumps and exposition to the reader.
- Characters and point-of-view. Your story might feature several characters, but it should (probably) only be centred around a single person. Try to stick with a single point of view. This isn’t a hard and fast rule—it’s OK if you write the odd story with a couple of clearly defined viewpoints—but if all your stories have 20 different characters and multiple POVs you’re probably writing a novel. A lot of writers worry that they’re not showing the reader enough of what’s going on—actually this is fine, real life is like that. Your reader loves to gossip about what might be going on, reading between the lines and filling in the blanks for themselves. This makes them feel involved. Try to limit yourself to a single viewpoint. This could make a big difference to the length of your stories with you dropping huge swathes of ‘supporting actor/actress’ viewpoints.
- Edit hard. Editing doesn’t just mean checking for spelling mistakes; you should be looking to cut away whatever you can. Start by stripping out the adverbs (most of them) and dropping those commas you popped in when you were pausing mid-sentence. Hack away at anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Every single sentence should advance the plot, if it doesn’t, get rid (or cut and paste into another Word document for another story).
This might sound fairly brutal. But it’s good for a start!
I’d also recommend ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. I don’t read much King, but this book is pure genius.
Hope I haven’t butted into the conversation too hard. Great to see your group doing so well.