12 tips for successful short stories
Writing coach Jessica Page Morrell offers advice to hopeful short story writers
1. Always adhere to the limitations inherent in the format. Generally there will be a limited time frame and cast of characters. Dialogue is heightened and crisp. Setting is required for texture, but needn't be explained in great detail. Avoid sub-plots.
2. The opening page should not be static description and routine observations unless you use these descriptions to show how things are at the moment of interruption, before the actions heats up, but not too far before.
3. Remember the advice to Western writers to 'shoot the sheriff on the first page'. Start the short story with an inciting incident that propels the story forward with intensity. This explosive incident often involves a threatening change in the protagonist's status quo.
4. Strive for a single, powerful effect on the reader.
5. The short story needs to have a pay-off that is staged in front of the reader. Although the pay-off does not have to be as dramatic as a novel's climax, it nevertheless must deliver. Remember that only if the reader shares the same experiences with the character, blow by blow, will he be able to empathise with the character.
6. Short stories are best told from a single point of view unless you have extensive experience with the genre.
7. Avoid excess, every detail should have relevance to the plot.
8. As in longer fiction, make your characters struggle to keep afloat amidst terrible troubles or dilemmas.
9. Make your characters flawed, vulnerable and heading towards some unthinkable conclusion.
10. Shape your ideas around a series of scenes where the characters are acting and talking and the events seem to unfold in front of the reader in real time.
11. Don't prolong the ending.
12. Generally short stories are about conflict, a decision or a discovery. There must be something important at stake for your main character. The conflict plot should be staged so that the other person is the obstacle and the climax is a confrontation. If the short story climax has the protagonist making a decision, this decision should have far-reaching consequences. If the story ends with the character making a discovery through some kind of realisation, this realisation should have potential to be life-changing.