Writing short stories can be both fun and profitable, so the most common question I get is: “what’s a short story?” Here’s the short answer: a short story is any short piece of fiction which is satisfying to the reader.
How to Get Your Head Around a Short Story
- In a short story, someone wants something… a likable character undergoes a transformation, or learns a lesson, or solves a big problem.
- A short story can be any length up to around 20,000 words.
- In commercial fiction, a short story fits a genre.
1. Someone Wants Something
In this article, Basic Short Story Template: Keep It Simple, I gave you a basic template for a short story. Someone wants something, overcomes obstacles, and gets it, or not.
Assuming that you’re writing commercial fiction — fiction which sells — and not literary fiction, that’s a workable template for a short story. If you remember “someone wants something” you won’t write slices of life (vignettes), which although interesting, won’t satisfy readers.
Humans are hard-wired for short stories. In our short fiction writing program, we look at an Australian short story by Henry Lawson, called The Drover’s Wife. It’s one of my favorite stories, because it has everything I like: a strong, uncompromising character, a sense of place, and — of course, someone wants something, is determined to get it, and in the end gets what she wants.
When I was six, my school was a one-room schoolhouse, on the (then) rural outskirts of Sydney. Our teacher read us The Drover’s Wife many times. He made the story real to us. The story’s wonderful when read aloud by someone with a little acting ability.
2. Your Story’s Length
Your story is as long as it needs to be, to tell the story. In practice, it can be up to — or beyond, if you like — 20,000 words. Stick to the template in this article, and you can decide up front, how long your story will be.
3. Your Story Needs a Genre
Decide on your genre before you start writing. It helps with Amazon keywords: that is, it helps readers who want that type of story, to find yours.
You can mix genres if you wish; it’s your short story, but do keep genre in mind.
When You Learn to Write Short Stories, You’ll Learn to Write Fiction
Short stories are USEFUL in many ways:
- They teach you to write fiction at any length, and keep control of your story. It’s practice for longer fiction. I wrote short stories for many years. When I sat down to write and sell a novel, I quickly got a publishing contract on a synopsis and chapters. It’s extremely unusual for a new novelist to get a contract on a synopsis. I’m sure the story-writing practice helped me. It will help you, to ;
- They’re easy to expand into longer works: a novel, or a serial;
- They’re satisfying to write: you can complete a short story in a single writing session;
- They can help you to complete something. Often a student will send me an attempt at a (unfinished) novel which can be transformed into a satisfying short story;
- They can be profitable. More writers are writing shorter works, because of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.
Updated: January 15, 2017
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