Write Better Short Stories – Part 2
As part of the planning stage, in addition to the storyline, characters, point of view, central theme and where the action takes place, it’s worth outlining a beginning, middle and an end. You may not think this is necessary with a short story, but it can help keep you motivated during writing because sometimes things can slow to a halt, ideas dry up or you’re not sure which direction the story should go, so a rough outline helps to keep you on the right path and provides a framework around which the story can form.
Unlike novels, short stories must convey a lot of information in fewer words, so there isn’t much room to give the reader backstory or lots of background information, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include it – it just means you need to be more efficient in with your words.
The beginning should start at an important or interesting moment in your protagonist’s life, or at a crisis point. There’s no room for half a page of explanation. Get right to the point and introduce your main character straight away. The aim is to establish a connection with the reader from the outset and to set the tone, so that the reader gets a feel of what the story is about. Don’t info dump for four or five paragraphs and then introduce the protagonist. The opening should tell the reader whose story it is, grab their interest immediately and get right into the story.
It’s up to you how you open the story. An intriguing first line can lure the reader, or the story might start with some action. There’s no right or wrong way – just make sure it grabs their attention.
The main portion of action and storytelling happens in this section, because it’s where you build the momentum of the story, where the main character overcomes an obstacle or two, or has to deal with a problem, and so has to work towards achieving his goal.
This middle section is also where most of the tension, atmosphere, drama and conflict will take place as it builds towards the climax of the story, so a rough idea of what will happen to the main character, and other characters, and how he or she will overcome their dilemma, problem or obstacle, will help guide you when you’re writing.
A brief outline is a good way to help you stick to the story and keep it on track, explore the main theme, and to not let it wander off at a tangent.
The outline is a way of building characterisation, formulating ideas, creating hints and clues, conjuring up problems or moral dilemmas for your protagonist and deciding what path the story will take.
Every reader looks for a satisfactory ending, and every writer worries about achieving this.
The ending of a short story should come about naturally – don’t force it. By having a rough outline, you can plot some ideas and think about what kind of ending it should be, such as a dramatic ending, happy ending, a twist ending that the reader won’t see coming, or maybe a thought-provoking ending. Writers assume the climax must have action and excitement, but that’s not the case. Any ending will work if it’s the right one for the story.
This is also an opportunity to show how the main character overcomes his problem or achieves his goal (or not, as some endings can be left open). In addition, any questions raised by the story should be answered, so don’t forget to tie up those loose ends.
And don’t let the ending drag on. It should be swift for maximum effect.
On Part 3 we'll look at what to include in your short story.