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Streamline Your Short Stories

Writing a short story, yes, you can do it! However, there are ways short stories can quickly go wrong and fall right off the rails before you even reach the 1,000-word mark.

Stay on track at all times. If a sentence isn’t contributing to the story think about cutting it. Never be afraid to cut things out. A lot of modern short stories suffer from bloat. This is where the author is afraid their idea doesn’t have enough substance or they think the reader needs to see everything they are seeing in their mind’s eye. Therefore you are prone to get pages with useless information that talk about how the weather has been, mindless chit-chat between characters, or describing what someone or something looks like. Do we really need to know how cold the winter was even though our story takes place in late spring? Does the decor and smells of the coffee shop matter? Do we need to know the name of the postman if he only appears for a brief second to deliver a letter to the main character? Chances are we don’t. Most people are familiar with the smells of a coffee shop and who cares about how crappy the winter was? Does anyone actually know the name of their mailperson?!? So why put that burden on your character?

Remember this is a SHORT story so you want to get right into it. We don’t need to know a person’s last name if it’s not relevant. We don’t need a long, detailed back story about the person’s childhood. This isn’t Dickens, this is supposed to be a short story about a woman and a haunted printer, who cares if she hates her mother? Who cares if she went to the grocery store this morning? If none of those things contribute to the core of the story, let them go.

Sure, it’s great for you, the author, to be aware of these details because it helps you build a realistic character and setting, but for the reader, we usually don’t care. We want to read a ghost story, not a biography.

Keep setting descriptions brief. Like everything else in a short story, keep it on a need-to-know basis. Unless it matters that the character’s apartment is messy, don’t spend four paragraphs detailing every pile of papers and every overflowing trash can, just mention the place is a dump, and let’s move on.

Make your characters DO SOMETHING. I see this a lot in modern writing and it makes me want to eat my hair. Characters these days don’t do anything. They are merely reliant on their gender identity or their past trauma. These things DO NOT make an interesting character, they don’t even make an interesting person. Would you want someone describing you simply as that queer girl? Or that one guy who was raped at a party one time? No, didn’t think so. Your characters deserve more. So while you work on moving the story along, make sure your character is along for the ride. Don’t shove them from place to place, a mere victim of your creative whims, without giving them a fighting chance. Give your character a hobby and some opinions. Don’t let them just sit around and wallow, make them interact and make the reader want to interact with them. Oh, and a sidenote: please do not have your character look in the mirror and then describe themselves. Just don’t do it!

If you want us to know your character’s hair color, what they are wearing, or any other personal details, don’t info dump it all in a paragraph or two. As a reader, it’s nice to slowly get the picture and learn about the character as the story goes. Honestly, if everything is dumped in your reader's lap they will probably forget. Last name, their earrings, their weight and height, or the color of the nail polish, does it matter? Does it really? If it does, weave it into the story, show it to us, and don’t just vomit it all out like you’re trying to get it over with. And if it doesn’t matter that your main character has brown hair, then who cares? Keep that detail to yourself and focus on the story.

When you’re writing a short story you don’t have a lot of time so starting it with a huge info dump is boring. Get the action going and let us learn about the setting or character as we go.

One last thing that needs to be mentioned, this goes for all writing, go easy on adverbs and adjectives. A lot of modern writing is really overwritten, why this is, I don’t know. But, man, it makes it a chore to read. If the air is heavy, hot, AND humid, guess what? You only need one of those. If the air is humid we can already guess that it’s hot and more than likely heavy. I have never stumbled out into a snowstorm and thought wow it’s so humid today. Or what about “she ran quickly” can one run slowly? Isn’t that just walking? There are plenty of words you can use from “jog” to “sprint” or just good old fashioned “she ran.” Free yourself from the -ly and notice how much smoother your story reads.

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