Most of my posts for the most part up to now have been related to blogging so I wanted to widen the horizons here on Perfectly Prompted. Many people who write tend to do so in a variety of forms. Perhaps your dabble in poetry, maybe you write lyrics, or short stories might be your outlet of choice. Today we are going to focus on the latter, Short Story writing.
Short story writing is an excellent outlet for creativity that is adaptable to a modern world. Many writers want to write the next best-seller, they dream of writing novels with intricate plots, well-rounded characters, and detailed description, but often they just don’t have the time. Short stories can be a great alternative to a longer piece, and still give you the satisfaction of a finished, well-developed work of art with less strain on your day-to-day life. They are also an excellent stepping stone to develop your skills for the moment when you do find the time to write that award-winning novel.
This post will give you a quick look at the benefits of short story writing, and provide tips to help you get started. (Also, check out the prompts at the end of this post for fun story ideas)
In the world of short story writing there are no real rules. Writers are constantly creating and evolving in the genre, and any rules that do exist often get tested, pushed to the limit, or broken. There are a few basics to short story writing that can often be a helpful guide, especially for a beginner, but remember a story needs to astonish and thrill a reader or it is not worth reading, no matter how short it is.
The first thing to remember when writing a short story is the amount of information you are presenting in such a small space, because the length of short stories is substantially shorter than that of a full-scale novel, or even a novella, it is important you pay close attention what goes in to it. (You do not want to overwhelm the reader with useless information and leave them wondering where the story went and so, nothing should be written that does not relate to the protagonist, or the issue they are facing in the story.) Unlike a novel where the main character may face many different issues through out the storyline, a short story presents only one issue for your character to deal with. This single issue should cause the main character to be torn emotionally and should generally cause them to fight or contend with someone else in the story, this person would be the antagonist.
Generally speaking both characters will face the same issue but have opposing positions, or views, about it. What happens in the story is kept simple and is the result of the battle between the two contending sides. The problems that these characters faces usually does not end well, this part of the story would be the crisis, these characters usually know each other, (they are not usually strangers as a short story does not give ample time to develop a relationship) and often times they are closely related such as family members/best friends. The battle between these characters generally has a few rounds before the conclusion or resolution.
The general rule of short story writing is that the crisis and resolution change the protagonists life forever, and they never truly win the fight, as they are never quite the same no matter the result. The end of the short story, which is called the dénouement, should give the reader some idea of how the character goes on in life. In other words; the story must always tie up the loose ends and not leave the reader wondering what happened. Unlike novels or movies, short stories will have no follow-ups, so all issues must be resolved within the frame of the writing.
Symbolism plays a huge part in short stories. Many of the more popular short stories have deep symbolic meanings embedded in the text for the reader to consider at a later time or as they read. If you are unfamiliar with symbolism it is something you should study, at least briefly, as it can play a key role in a good short story.
Lastly, short stories always begin at the beginning of the end, there is no time to start earlier. A good writer will fill the reader in on the past quickly and efficiently through well-written description and strong character development.
Those are the basics of short story writing, but as I said before; when it comes to short stories these ‘rules’ are often evolved, expanded on and regularly broken. The only real rule to a short story is that the writers imagination has created it. Even the length of a short story is in perpetual debate, generally it is a story that is no more than 20,000 words and no less than 1,000, but this criteria is pushed and changed as often as the other listed rules. Basically, a short story is whatever you make it out to be and it fits ‘generally’ into the basic criteria for the genre.
There are many benefits to short story writing. It is less time-consuming, the plot, characters, and story itself are easier to compose and keep track of, and the market for such work is vast. Probably one of the greatest benefits to short story writing (besides creative freedom) is the market available for such pieces. Unlike with novel-writing, most short story publishers do not require that submissions be solicited by an agent, and so new writers can easily get their foot in the door and start a career. The pay scale for such work varies drastically, but an author can quickly make a name for themselves and earn a good income if they are a good writer.
If you have never tried writing a short story (besides the ones you had to write in school) I highly suggest you make an attempt to do so now. This form allows you creative freedom and helps to develop your craft without much effort, or substantial time. Below I have listed some short story prompts to help get you started, give them a try, and feel free to post your finished product (or a link to it) in the comments section. (Please don’t be shy, this is a ‘writer friendly’ environment for everyone beginner to advanced.)
Short Story Prompts to Get You Started:
- A girl is snooping around her best friends apartment and finds a disturbing photograph in her drawer…
- Your main character suspects that her/his partner is having an affair and decides to spy on them, what does she/he find?
- At a local flea market your character buys an antique lamp and finds a note hidden inside.
- At the airport a stranger talks your character into carrying a mysterious package on to the plane. The character gets stopped by security, it is not drugs, so what is inside the package?
- Your character picks up a hitch-hiker on the way home who presents them with a strange opportunity…
- Your character is being blackmailed. Why? and by who?
- Your character arrives home and can immediately sense that something is not right, how? what?why?
- Your character is confronted by a person from the past who tries to apologize for…
- Your character is reading a book when they hear a strange noise. Looking up they see it outside the window…
- Pick someone from a ‘personal ad’ online (or in the paper) and write a story based only on how they look, or what is written about them.
- Use the following line to begin your story: “I couldn’t help but stare…”
- Write a story with a dark hallway, a broken vase, and one lost slipper…
- Create a story about Greg McDougall, a lonely investment banker on the rooftop ledge…
Feel free to create (and even submit) your own prompts as well. As always comments are welcome, as are links to your site, or finished pieces relating to the content. You can submit these in the comments area or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to remain anonymous.
Here are a few last-minute short story tips to get you writing:
– Who is your protagonist and what does he/she want?
– When the story begins what actions has your character already taken that have brought him/her to this point?
– What unexpected consequences will your protagonist face due to their actions? Will this change their mind yet again? How many times?
– What details are important to ensure your story is complete? Which are not? (eg: avoid travel scenes, filler conversation, and things that have already been observed or stated previously)
– What final choice will your character make at the climax of the story? (It should be unexpected, and your reader should feel connected to this choice)
Until Next Time…