With the shortest day of the year around the corner, I thought I would write today about short fiction. I began my writing journey writing short stories and poetry and in many ways , I think the two are alike.
Here are some of my random thoughts on writing short fiction. Interestingly, the same perspectives can be applied to writing poetry.
- Short stories are like poems in that they steer the reader into reading the piece more than once, and the reader finds something new on each reading.
- A “mainstream” short story can be about anything: a mood, a character, a setting, even a flashy writing style. A genre short story is about an idea. The fictional elements—character, plot, setting, etc.—are only there to dramatize the idea.
- One idea is enough for a story. Two is more than enough. Three is too many.
- The more extraordinary the idea, the more ordinary the language. For experimental writing choose everyday events. The stranger the idea, the more real the world must seem to be.
- Know whose story it is, who is telling the story, and why.
- The short story is a controlled release of information. Never rush or compact it. The fewer the words, the more air it needs to breathe.
- Symmetry is more important than plot. A short story must make a pleasing shape, and close with a click. Repetition is good for symmetry but must be used sparingly, like salt.
- One world only. Dreams are out of place in a short story.
- One POV is enough. Two is more than enough. Three is too many.
- Go easy on character descriptions. Nobody cares what your characters look like. They only need to be able to tell them apart.
- Leave stuff out. It’s what’s left out that makes what’s left in do its work more effectively.
- Withhold as much information as possible for as long as possible. When the reader knows everything, the story is over.