Desiree Villena is a writer at Reedsy, which connects writers with self-publishing resources and professionals. She also writes her own short stories.
Please say hello, Desiree Villenna.
I’m more of a novel at heart, but I read dozens of short stories every week. My consumption is diverse, ranging from space operas in Alpha Centauri to domestic realism limited to a tiny kitchen. Some of these stories are ideally suited to my interests and touch on the subjects and tropes I seek in novels. Others, however, feel like unexpected gifts have fallen into my lap – the kind you end up loving, though you would never pick them out yourself.
Where can I find all of these stories? I am a judge for Reedsys writing competition. Each week, short story writers from around the world send 1,000 to 3,000 words of fiction in response to a series of prompts. This is where judges like me come in. Together we will evaluate entries for everything from plot to prose until the best story in the group comes out to claim the crown.
Few of us judges are professional editors, but weekly story judging has improved our instincts in judging short stories. I think I speak for all of my fellow judges when I say that this process has also sharpened our senses for the craft and gives us all eagle eyes for what makes short stories work.
Here are five lessons I learned from this experience.
1. The most important part of any story is the beginning. In literature, as in life, first impressions can be hard to shake. If you’re a short game writer, you need to astound readers from the start – you can’t count on a fascinating cover design (or have to overcome a potentially misleading image). And that means creating a convincing opening.
I’ve found that the best indicator of the overall quality of a story isn’t its climax or its conclusion – it’s the beginning. A strong start activates the reader’s instinct for storytelling, just as a delicious aroma stimulates the appetite. These tantalizing opening lines say: watch out. You have good plans.
2. Strong beginnings can sometimes save misshapen stories. Unfortunately, writers sometimes waste the potential of a beautiful opening. But in my experience, this initial intrigue can earn you some legible benevolence even if the story dissolves a little. In the extreme, the halo cast by a perfect beginning can remove all sorts of flaws, making unsatisfactory endings appear refined in their ambiguity and long passages being redefined as nuanced and philosophical.
Of course, you should make an effort to make your story consistently strong. However, if you want to put a little more effort into a specific part, invest at the beginning.
3. Style is more important in short stories. When it comes to novels, I’m more style independent. As long as the writer’s voice does not weigh on understanding, what they say is far more important to me than what they say. Even flat, colorless prose can be an effective vehicle for a colorful plot or a memorable protagonist.
As a short literature reader, I have increasingly adjusted to the importance of a distinctive, aesthetically pleasing treatment of language. in the a shape as compressed As a thousand-word story, the lines between style and substance feel blurred – there is no room for negligence in the writer’s expression.
4. However, good style is genre-dependent. Knows
This “good” style doesn’t have to mean Nabokovian grandeur or Hemingway-esque minimalism. It just means that the prose conveying the writer’s ideas complements them in a way that seems thoughtful and intentional. Different types of stories, of course, require different treatments.
A story aimed at young readers can be nimble and cute, full of short sentences, snappy dialogand splendid onomatopoeia. In the meantime, a piece of mature historical fiction could be captured in its language and reserved, filigree with historical phrases that give it a touch of authenticity. As different as they are, both are examples of carefully crafted, appropriate literary styles.
5. Shorthand makes it easier (and more rewarding) to take stylistic risks. The formal restrictions placed on short game authors can exacerbate stylistic problems, but also make it easier to take great risks.
Some of the strongest entries I’ve come across as a judge violate established writing guidelines. I’ve seen second person stories, stories written entirely in future tense, and even stories that are far more meaningful overall than shown. Somehow they all worked, and not just worked – they won.
If you’re looking to bet on a controversial narrative choice, your next short story is the perfect chance. Even less adventurous readers will find unusual narrative techniques in short form more palatable. In the meantime, those with avant-garde sensibilities will greet you for your daring. Even after all the stories I’ve read, there’s nothing I admire more than a stylistically ambitious story told with conviction and verve.
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