Even if you are a confirmed Indie author, as I am, you may feel the desire to write short pieces and submit them to anthologies, magazines, or contests. Writing a short story is an excellent way to explore in detail an idea that is inspired by your longer work, but that you don’t have room to include there.
If you are writing a series of speculative fiction novels set in a world of your creation, writing short stories is a good way to develop that world. You also have the opportunity to develop characters you can use later.
Once you submit your story, it will be up against many entries, so you must make yours as unique as is possible.
Anthologies are usually themed. According to Wikipedia:
The themes explored in the films might be “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”
Analyze the theme and try to think creatively—think a little wide of the obvious tropes. Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme and then go for it. As an author, most of my novels have been epic or medieval fantasy, based around the hero’s journey, detailing how their experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood, and love of family.
These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing.
To support the theme, you must layer
- character studies,
- allegory, and
These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc.
The theme is introduced, either subtly or overtly, at the first plot point. In a really short story, this must happen on the first page. Many times, we are given a specific word count we cannot exceed, so lengthy lead-ins are not possible.
When writing a short story, it helps to know how it will end. I suggest you put together a broad outline of your intended story arc. Divide your story arc into quarters, so you have the important events in place at the right time. If you try to “pants” it, you might end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story that may not be commercially viable.
When you assemble your outline, ask yourself
- What will be your inciting incident? How does it relate to the theme?
- What is the goal/objective? How does it relate to the theme?
- At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
- How badly does he want it and why?
- Who is the antagonist?
- What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
- What happens at the first pinch point?
- In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
- Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the turning point to change everything for the worse?
- At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?
- How does the underlying theme affect every aspect of the protagonists’ evolution in this story?
In my own writing life, too much background info has been my greatest challenge. Writing short stories has helped me find ways to write more concisely. What is important for the reader to know? What is just info for me? Knowing what is important in my own work is difficult because it all seems so important.
Short stories follow a single thread in a character’s life. Each word must advance that one story thread. Work that wanders all over the place will be summarily rejected, and the editor will most likely not give more than a stock rejection.
Having your work beta read by your critique group will help you identify those places that need to be trimmed down. I have close friends who see my work first and who help me see what the real story is before I bother my editor with it. My beta readers are published authors in my writing group.
Because I am a wordy writer, I always have to keep in mind that info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere have no place in short stories because every word is precious. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the theme of the story and how it drives the plot.
Credits and Attributions:
Wikipedia contributors, “Theme (arts),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theme_(arts)&oldid=848540721(accessed July 29, 2018).