The best short story anthologies and collections show us how a short snapshot can excite, move, surprise and make us laugh. How do you write the best short story you can? Read 7 ideas:
1. Learn from the great short story writers
Many authors have been hailed as masters of the short story medium. An incomplete list contains Alice Munro (recipient of the Nobel Prize for a work) just consisting of short stories), William Baldwin, Anton Chekhov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, H.P. Lovecraft and Hans Christian Andersen.
Reading various short story authors gives us great insights into the different strengths of the authors. It’s easier to see what at a glance these are special skills of the author. And learn something from their craft.
Alice Munro, for example, is known for writing stories about ordinary life in her native Canada and the moments of disruption that change a life forever.
Franz Kafka is characterized by a “mood” by causing claustrophobia, mystery and alienation.
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are rich in beautiful descriptions and moral fables about broad concepts such as “love” or “victim”.
Read story compilations and single author collections. Read as a reader first, just enjoy the story, then read it carefully and ask questions about the style of the author and other options.
2. Choose an interesting premise
What makes a story good? We try to answer this question in our article here. Intrigue, mystery and tension; Excitement, immersive attitude, unforgettable characters. These are some elements.
If you choose an interesting premise, you have a basis on which these interesting elements can arise.
For example with Haruki Murakami dreamlike short story movie theaterA man opens a bar and flees from his feelings after entering his wife, who cheated on him with a colleague.
The bar becomes the setting for strange events – a mysterious regular who deals with loud patrons, an annoying tryst between the cinema and a scarred woman, a cat that disappears after snakes appear on the streets around the bar.
Murakami’s premise is interesting because it contains dramatic and unexpected events (spouse infidelity, the cinema that opens a bar, the arrival of the snakes). The premise promises from the start:
To find a premise for a short story, it is helpful to write a line of log, a two-line concept, or a summary for your unwritten story. This will help you to concretize your vision for your story.
3. Find a convincing situation
Many great short stories begin with a character in a compelling starting point that gradually becomes clearer as the story progresses.
Alice Munro’s short story Dimensions is one of the best short stories when it comes to powerful surprises. Munro doesn’t make it right away obviously what Doree, her protagonist’s starting point, is. When we meet Doree, she’s a maid in an inn:
She was a maid at the Comfort Inn. She scrubbed the bathrooms and undressed and made beds and vacuumed carpets and wiped mirrors. She liked the work – she preoccupied her thoughts to a certain extent and tired them so that she could sleep at night.
Alice Munro, “Dimension”, available here.
It is only when Munro’s story unfolds that we learn the imperative background, the tragic reason why Doree appreciates work that tires her so that she can sleep. We learn of a traumatic event in Doree’s past and the story subtly builds on another moment of crisis that offers a kind of redemption, a chance to face life’s accidents directly.
Munro is a master at creating compelling human situations. She teases gradual, sometimes subtle, revelations that deepen our empathy for characters. Because we understand their origins and feelings.
4. Develop characters
The character development seems to be reserved for longer stories. However, many of the best short stories develop characters well.
For example, in the Murakami and Munro examples above, the protagonists go through transformations. Doree confronts a traumatic past at the scene of the accident and is present in a way that she could not do before. In Murakami’s story, cinema faces the pain that he has finally bottled due to the betrayal of his spouse.
In short stories, characters often make important discoveries about themselves and others. If you know the initial situation of your character, ask:
[Find prompts that help you flesh out your story in easy steps in the Now Novel dashboard.]
5. Compact and connect
The best short stories often condense and combine things – the lives of the characters and key experiences, topics and events – effectively. This enables us to “travel” in less time with the growth of a character or an unfolding idea.
In his introduction to M is for magicNeil Gaiman writes:
Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other thoughts and dreams. They are trips that take you to the other side of the universe and can still be back in time for dinner.
Neil Gaiman, M is for magic (2007)
Linking events together is the key to a good short story. No words should be wasted.
Example of a concise connection in Murkami’s short story “Kino”
Take Murakami’s story linked above, for example. When the cinema tells his aunt that he saw mysterious snakes in his bar, she says:
“In old legends, they often help lead people. But if a snake leads you, you don’t know if it is leading you in a good or a bad direction. In most cases it is a combination of good and bad. “
“It’s ambiguous,” said Kino.
“Snakes are essentially ambiguous beings. In these legends, the biggest and smartest snake hides its heart somewhere outside of its body so it won’t be killed. If you want to kill this snake, you have to go to its hiding place when it is not there, locate the beating heart and cut it in two. Certainly not an easy task. “
Haruki Murakami, “cinema”.
Later in the story, in the scene where the cinema realizes how wounded he was by his wife’s infidelity, he thinks:
If I should have felt real pain, I suppressed it. I didn’t want to accept it, so I avoided facing it. That’s why my heart is so empty now. The snakes have grabbed this point and are trying to hide their cold beating hearts there.
Murakami connects the aunt’s puzzling words about cinema situation. His aunt’s story gives him a metaphor that helps him see and describe his feelings.
6. Use short stories to practice
Unlike a novel, a short story isn’t that big of a commitment. So you can use short story writing to focus on something you want to learn. How to create an interesting world, for example. Or how to create the perfect, shocking turn.
George R. R. Martin gives this advice to aspiring fantasy epic writers:
Start with short stories. After all, if you started climbing, you wouldn’t start Mount Everest. So if you start with the imagination, don’t start with a series of nine books.
Brian Rowe, “5 quotes from George R. R. Martin to make you a better writer”, available here on medium.
If you have a clear idea of what you want your short story to do, you can write a more purposeful story.
7. Take risks
Another joy of writing short stories is that you can take bigger risks. Pulitzer winner Anthony Doerr puts it this way:
Short stories are wonderful and extremely challenging, and the joy of it, because I only need three or four months to write, I can take more risks with them. It is less invested in your life.
Anthony Doerr, in Off the page: authors talk about beginnings, ends and everything in between, ed. Carole Burns, p. 107
If there is a strange concept that piqued your curiosity, a certain type of character or POV that you always wanted to try, use a short story to play language games and have fun. You may be writing the best short story you can imagine.
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