Chatting · Writing Advice

What I’ve Learned Writing Short Stories

Since launching my website, getting involved with the writeblr community, and starting my newsletter, I’ve tried my hand at quite a few short stories. They’re a completely different beast from novels, much less a series, and utilize a completely distinct skill set of storytelling tools. Today I’m sharing some of the tricks I’ve learned in my experience!

You can still outline – It just looks like a list of bullet points or one paragraph instead of a spreadsheet and a wall full of sticky notes. I find it useful to still have a plan going into the story, so even the bare bones of a character objective and obstacle can help structure the plot and keep it from running off an extra 3000 words, or running into the ground after two paragraphs.

Choose one thing to improve or experiment – In each of my stories, I’ve taken the opportunity to mess around with a particular aspect of the story, be it a strange POV, changing the tense, turning it to script form, playing with the alightment, color, font, and format of the text, or other such shenanigans. The nice thing about a short story is that you only have to commit to the bit for a few thousand words, rather than an entire book, and it takes a lot less time to revise. It’s like doing figure studies in art, or scales in music.

You often start In Medias Res – In short stories, there is rarely page-time for backstory or build-up. It’s crucial to jump straight into the action, and keep the narrative running at a steady pace. It’s a different story structure than you often find in full-length books, and so it’s interesting to explore a unique process of plot beats that might not line up with what you’re used to writing.

Explore different elements of your world – If you’re stuck with the plot of your main WIP, short stories are like writing fanfiction for your own book. Explore “deleted scenes” that you might not expect to make it into the final cut of the draft. Switch POV for a scene to a side character who doesn’t often get the spotlight. Explore an alternate universe to see if changing the setting leads to more interesting conflict. This is what I’ve been doing with the Runaways universe, to share lore about Seelie the girls don’t get to see.

Finishing smaller projects is a confidence booster – When you slog away at a giant WIP for years it can be easy to get discouraged and feel like you’ll never finish. If you’re anything like me, checking things off a list is supremely satisfying, and tinkering away can get exhausting when you look ahead and see no end in sight. Bashing through small works is a great way to revive motivation when you can see the checkmark within a week or two of setting out. Accumulating a nice backlog of works also means you have them to pull out and share at a moment’s notice, which is also great for getting immediate feedback, since people are more likely to read and finish a short story.

Treat it like a low-budget theater production – We don’t have time for set dressing! That costs words! You’re reusing the blue curtains whether you like it or not! What do you mean three side characters? Can’t we get away with Joe in a funny hat? Graphic descriptions of props and macguffins? That’s a nerf gun covered in masking tape and paint. It doesn’t need backstory. LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION!


Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing a review of Newsletter Ninja, so be sure to check back for that, or to leave a writing prompt in the comments. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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