Towards the end of last year, I fell in love with short stories and ever since then I have wanted to tell anyone and everyone to sit down and read and write them! Whilst their brevity may suggest to some that they're less powerful than their counterparts, I am here to tell you that that's a misconception. Look at me, spreading the good word! Whilst I'm not exactly Chekhov, I do write short stories from time to time and I have also passed a module on the very subject therefore I feel that I'm in a position to start spouting advice about writing them to a relatively high standard. Obviously. Here's a selection of tips that I've put together to get you started but remember: it's important to take them with a pinch of salt, make your own creative decisions and have faith in what you're writing. Developing your style and extensive editing sessions are all part of the process and whilst I have picked up the following bits of advice along the way I don't want anyone to feel overwhelmed.
Everyone deserves to write a 'shitty first draft'. So, get started and don't drown yourself in doubt.
Read a broad range of stories and work out what you like about them. Take your pick from the Carvers, Julys, Hemingways and California Coopers of the world. Once you've found a story that interests you, think about re-writing it in your own style. For example, I re-wrote July's 'Man on the Stairs' with a new protagonist who, if anything, welcomed the stranger on her landing. This is a good way of developing a writing style whilst also discovering plenty of others.
PLAY AROUND WITH PROMPTS
PLAY AROUND WITH PROMPTS
It's a good idea to keep a page of your journal dedicated to creative prompts, be it full sentences or just individual words. These prompts can be particularly useful if you're struggling to get started and they can also work really well as daily writing exercises to get you into the hang of writing on a frequent basis.
devote time to crafting a first sentence
The elusive first sentence can make or break a story. It doesn't necessarily have to be ground breaking, or wordy or lengthy, it just has to introduce characters or ideas that your readers want to see more of/from. Think about first sentences that you've read and enjoyed and work from there. What best represents your story to your reader?
WORK ON A SENTENCE LEVEL
I can't remember who said it, and I'm most definitely paraphrasing here, but someone once said that every sentence you write should be 'troubled into existence'. What the hell does that mean? It means you should look at your writing as a whole, sure, but also take the time to look at it sentence by sentence and ask what each is doing for the piece. Is there a sentence that isn't really offering anything? Is there a word choice that doesn't quite work? Scratch it. Your story will be better for it.
find a new way of saying things
It seems silly, really, but one of the best things I learnt whilst studying short stories was to embrace my inner-Ezra Pound as it were and learn to 'make it new' by finding a new way to say things. Avoid clichés. Look at how you're describing things - have people seen that before? I honestly feel like a 'new' writer ever since thinking about the way I choose to present things.
tone it down!
Short stories work best when they're toned down. It's best to not rely too heavily on adverbs or adjectives or sentiment. Preening your word choices will help. If you're looking for a second opinion, check out Hemingway App online. It helps to keep your writing clear and concise.
GIVE YOUR READER SPACE!
The best short stories are those that are oblique. Be playful. Be brave. See how much you feel comfortable ommitting. Suspend your readers belief and they will thank you for it. Of course, there is a risk that you'll share too little so take it easy to begin with!
think about the ending...
One of my favourite things about short stories is the ways in which they end. They don't tie themselves up too neatly. The ending should transform or amplify what has come before it, but it shouldn't feel contrived. And for the love of God, don't end with it all being a dream or with the protagonist dying. Your reader will throw your story across the room.
The majority of this advice is obvious, really, but sometimes the creative process can make you lose sight of the little things. Short stories can be incredibly rewarding to both read and write and I'd encourage everyone to give them a go, even if you don't consider yourself to be a seasoned writer. I'm now itching to write a new one. Have you read any great short stories?
If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.