Writing Lessons from Short Stories

Anyone who has met me or frequented this site has probably guessed that brevity is not my greatest strength. I have a habit of over-thinking things, which means I like to dig down deep into ideas and places and people, clawing beyond the foundations into the bitter, dark, twisted, glowing dirt in the underbelly of their existence…

I forget where I was going with this.

So, I prefer writing novels, where I can dig down deep. Not many of my short pieces survive. That said, being forced to write something outside of my comfort zone always improves my writing, and I suspect you could use it to improve yours too.

Try to Cut Everything

You Are Just A Guest used to weigh in at 8,000 words. A critical eye reduced that down to 5,000 by cutting redundant scenes and extraneous description that slowed down the narrative. Now I couldn’t tell you what I cut because I can’t remember it; it wasn’t pulling it’s weight.

But every character, scene, even sentence needs to have a good reason two good reasons three good reasons for being there. If it can’t, then it’s got to go.

Giving Clues to the Reader

You’ve not got a lot of room for deep and exhaustive characterisation, description or backstory. But skipping that will leave you with two faceless dialogue puppets in a white room; who cares about that? But you can do a lot with a little.

For instance, the narrator for The Homeless Hero had a falling out with her mother over something that happened in their past. Most readers probably know all about it except I never once explained it. I used a few lines scattered throughout the story and let the reader put it together. They fill in all the blanks, giving me room in my word count for the story.

It’s a Great Place to Experiment

Before writing The Homeless Hero I had never written from a female perspective before. The notion scared me a little bit. I was worried I’d end up writing a man in a woman’s body or, perhaps worse, a stereotype or a cliche; something nobody would believe in.

But a short story is a much smaller environment and so it’s ideally suited to experimentation. Trying my hand at a female perspective boosted my confidence and helped me explore places and thoughts I can use again in the future.

You can get my short stories from Amazon now, as well as all other major ebook stores.

What have you learnt from short stories?

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