Writing short stories? I’ve had several questions from students about writing and selling short stories as ebooks. In some genres, notably erotica, ebooks consisting of a short story can be VERY short: fewer than 5,000 words. These super-shorts are meant to be read in a gulp.
You’re not restricted to writing erotica in your short stories of course. Short mysteries, thrillers, horror stories… you can write short material in any genre. If you wish, you can create serials.
If you’re used to writing nonfiction you can find this a challenge. You’ve got very few words. How do you tell your story in under 5,000 words? Here’s how: you focus on your scenes, BEFORE you start writing. Then, just write the scenes. You’ll write quickly, and well.
A scene is defined as a unit of action; the operative word being ACTION. Something happens in a scene. If nothing much happens, it’s not a scene.
In that article, I shared that my scenes tend to be between 1200 and 1800 words; 1500 words on average. It’s worth reading the above article, if you’re not au fait with scenes.
Here’s a graphic with the number of scenes in short stories, novellas, and novels.
5,000 Words: Four Scenes.
I’m currently writing a series of short stories, each of which is under 5,000 words in draft form. They tend to get longer in revision – I’m a wordy writer – but I aim for just four scenes in the initial draft.
- Scene 1: the setup.
- Scenes 2 and 3: complications and conflict.
- Scene 4: dark moment, climax… the end.
When you’ve got just four scenes, you roll everything into those scenes: exposition, as well as scene sequels, which may be just a few words, and then on to the next scene.
I like to play the story as a movie in my head, then write down what I see in a list of scenes. I eliminate everything which doesn’t have punch: excitement and conflict. When you “see” the story playing out in your mind, it’s easy to choose the key scenes.
Trust Your Readers: Resist Long Explanations.
You use your imagination, and so do readers. Readers just want the good stuff. They don’t want long, boring explanations of anything.
I wrote about dialog tags, and said: “Readers read fiction to be taken out of their daily lives, and enter a new world you’ve created.” With hints from you, they create your world in their own head. A reader’s imagination is your most powerful ally.
So, close your eyes, and watch your story play out in your imagination. Choose your key scenes, and start writing.
Post update: May 8, 2016 (definition and length of stories)
My definition of a short story (this definition helps you to write your stories)
Here’s my definition of a short story: “in a short story, something happens to a character. That something changes him in a meaningful way, and this has an emotional payoff for the reader.”
Simple, right? To create a satisfying story, you need a character, plus events. Those events need to have meaning, and the whole story needs to deliver emotions to the reader.
The big challenge of length — how long should a short story be?
I classify any fiction under ten thousand words as a short story.
A story that’s longer than ten thousand words, but under 30,000 words is a novella.
Anything over 30,000 words is a novel. Yes, I know… Novels usually contain at least 60,000 words. However, in the past few years, since self-publishing became a money-spinner for authors of fiction, ebooks have become shorter.
You can argue about how long (or short) a short story could or should be forever. Big tip: your fiction is what YOU say it is. Because you wrote it, you decide. 🙂
Don’t get too hung up on length. It’s hard to judge how long a piece of fiction will be before you begin planning and writing. Planning only takes you so far, too.
You may decide that your story idea will pan out at 15,000 words. Then you write five thousand words, and the story takes off; you know that this story will be a novel.
On the other hand, perhaps you have an idea for a novel. You start writing, and decide that you’ve only got enough mileage for a long short story.
Have fun writing your stories. 🙂