Thoughts on short fiction

Thoughts on short fiction

Gwynn Scheltema

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.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on short fiction

  1. Pingback: Does Size Matter |
  2. Silly question: how do you tell apart short fiction, short short fiction, and a short story? Is there a range of word limits or something that sets off each one?

    For me, about 750 words is short fiction — but I’ve often been asked to submit 250 words to tell a complete story, especially in arts magazines where the images take precedence unless there’s a critical or historical piece involved.

    1. There are forms of short fiction that range from just 33 words (trifextra) to up to 15000 in some literary journals. Increasingly popular are micro fiction (100 words) and post card fiction ( 250 – 1000 words). I feel another blog coming on… stay tuned.

  3. Wow – what a great breakdown of the elements of effective short stories. I’m working on two at the moment, so I will go down this list for each before entering them into contests. Thanks, Gwynn!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *