• Ordinary people. Extraordinary romance.

    Ordinary people. Extraordinary romance.

How to write a short story www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

How to write a short story

What is a short story? Before you can begin writing, you should be aware of the parameters and purpose of a short story. Per Merriam-Webster, a short story is:

an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot

How long is “shorter than a novel”? A short story runs between 1,000 and 7,500 words. Anything under is flash fiction, anything over tips into novellete or novella territory.

“Dealing with a few characters”—how many is “few”? 7,500 words doesn’t allow you to dig deep into your character’s personality, background, etc. You’ll want more than one character to create conflict, but not so many they become shallow and cardboard-y. I suggest staying in the 2-4 range.

“Concentrating on the creation of mood rather than the plot.” Again, 7,500 words doesn’t give you the freedom a novel would to create multiple sub-plots and layers. Stick to a character in a situation in a short time frame to give the story justice.

Why you should write short stories

How to write a short story www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

Ramdlon / Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but my writing time is precious. Even when I worked full time, I couldn’t afford wasting time on plots that fizzled, unfamiliar genres, and waiting for readers to discover my books. By writing short stories, you can by-pass those problems.

In writing short stories you can:

  • Tell a story in a short amount of time. Your investment is limited.
  • Write more stories. We all have ideas we want to write “someday”. Why not write them now?
  • Write outside your genre. Have a space opera idea? Want to dabble in horror? Writing short stories gives you the freedom to explore different genres.
  • Be challenged. Concisely telling a story in a limited amount of words makes you a better writer. Every word choice, sentence and paragraph has to contribute to the story. By refining this skill in short stories, you’ll write a better novel.
  • Make it easier for readers to discover you.
    • You’ll appear on the “new release” list more often.
    • Readers like to see multiple books by an author, proving their professionalism and staying power.
    • You never know which one will be your breakout story.
  • Give your reader a taste of your writing style by offering a free sample (for example, sign up for MY newsletter and get the 1st of my alien series).
  • Expand your fictional world with backstories and prequels. Does a secondary character have more to say but maybe not enough for his own novel? Does your protagonist have an interesting history that doesn’t affect the current story but could lend itself to a short?
  • Offer a collection or series without spending years between books.

What sells?

Erotica, romance, and mystery are the top sellers, but don’t be afraid to explore other genres.

How to write a short story

Elements of a short story

Keep it simple. A short story should consist of:

  1. A character
  2. Wants something (her goal)
  3. Someone or something stands in her way (conflict)
  4. There are complications (tests and ordeals)
  5. She faces her final ordeal (payoff)
  6. Win or lose, she’s changed (resolution)

Let’s look at these elements in more depth:

1. Your character

Who is she? Your main character is the one who makes the decisions that drives the story forward. She’s the one who will be most affected by the story events. Additionally, she will change through her ordeal and be a different person than she was in the beginning.

2. The character wants something

Or, she wants to avoid something. This is her goal and it has to be strong enough she can’t shrug it off and go after it tomorrow. Whether it’s to keep her family together, stop the terrorist, or keep the dog from peeing on the rug, the goal has to be immediate and compelling.

  • What does she want?
  • Why does she want it? Look at her motivation, both internal and external.
  • What is she doing to get it?

3. Something or someone stands in her way

Most often, this is where your villain comes into play. She wants to stop your main character from getting her goal. Maybe she wants the same goal. Maybe she wants to stop your protagonist because she’s in the way. Remember, your villain is the hero of her own story. Don’t make her evil for the sake of being evil.

4. There are complications

You don’t have the space for more than two or three challenges. Your protagonist should not win them easily, if at all. Each failure should be worse than the one before, ramping up the tension and casting doubt in your reader’s mind. One of the complications should come from your protagonist’s internal battle and stem from her primary flaw. Did her self doubt prevent her from acting quickly enough to prevent a disaster? Conversely, did her self confidence make her rush in, triggering events that led to something bad?

5. She faces her final ordeal.

This is the payoff, the event that all others have led to. Beat down by past failures, your protagonist doesn’t want to go on, but she can’t turn back. Calling on the lessons she’s learned, she faces the bad guy, who hasn’t changed (his fatal flaw). Despite all odds, your protagonist battles and wins. Or loses. Either way:

6. She’s changed

The ordeals, challenges, obstacles, and trials she’s experienced have changed her. She has the tools she lacked in the beginning. She’s at peace with the story’s resolution.

Other short story elements

Let’s look at the specific elements of a short story.

  1. The Hook. You’ve no time to talk about the weather, her reflection in the mirror, or anything that doesn’t move the story forward. Set the mood and setting in the first paragraph and raise a question in the reader’s mind. Hit the ground running.
  2. Get into the conflict right away. If your protagonist overhears the details of a terrorist attack, she should do so on the first page, not after moaning about her job and lunch with her friends.
  3. A short story should be a snippet, a snapshot of a character’s life.
  4. Set the story in as few words as possible then get on with what’s relevant for that moment.
  5. Every sentence should lead to the climax, the payoff.
  6. The climax has to be strong. This is the big, black, all-is-lost moment. Make your reader wonder how she’ll survive.
  7. Choose your POV. You don’t have the story time to hop between characters. If you do, make sure it happens at a natural scene break.
  8. Develop your character through tropes or one or two traits. Does she bite her nails from nervousness? Shout at the television? Kneel down when she talks to children? You can paint an accurate portrait with a few strokes.
  9. Use 5-7 scenes. 7,500 words divided by five scenes equals 1,500 words per scene, six pages to delve into the six elements above. Write the first scene as the set up, the middle ones as the ordeals, and the last for the climax and resolution.
  10. It might be easier to plot the story by starting with the last scene and working your way toward it. What has to happen before the final conflict? Before that?
  11. Less is more. When in doubt, cut it out.

In conclusion

Try writing a short story. Invent a character, put her in a situation not to her liking, give her a reason to get out of it, someone who doesn’t want her to succeed, and see what happens. You may have found a new outlet for your creativity!

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn!

This post is part of January’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a monthly blog hop between many, many talented writers who share posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, and anything that an author would find helpful.

If you’d like to learn more or be included in the hop, go here.

Blessings,

Cheryl

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Cool things I've found. www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

I love, love, love finding cool, interesting information. The internet is an endless resource, surprising me over and over with things I never knew. Some I can use in my writing, some it’s just fun to know. The cool things I’ve found on the internet this week include:

Cool things I’ve found, writing related:

Plotting for Pantsers. 

Cool Things. If you're a pantser, not a plotter, you'll be interested in this article that describes an easy 3 step process to (gasp) outline your book. www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

An article that describes a way for a pantser to have some (gasp) control of her book? Yes!

Book marketing on a budget. Blogger Jen Beach offers eight tips and how-to’s on how to market your book on little or no money.

How to repurpose your blog content into social media content. Blogger Brian Appleton offers tips within tips on how to reuse your blog content for social media. I’m all for working once and getting multiple exposure!

Cool things I found researching my WWII book, Brilliant Wreckage:

Lava lamps didn’t exist until 1963. I wanted to place one in the movie theater in Elmwood, the fictional town in my book. One always sat at the ticket booth of the Kent Theater, where I saw movies during my childhood. Alas, I’ll have to find something else to add color to the scene.

Scrabble the board game was invented in 1938 but didn’t become popular until 1952 when the president of Macy’s played it on vacation then wondered why the store didn’t carry it. Because the game wasn’t widely available in 1945, when Brilliant Wreckage takes place, I changed the game Annie and her future mother-in-law play to Monopoly.

cool things I found on the internet. www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

Workers lost their jobs in WWII because they couldn’t prove they were born in America. Mike, the father of my heroine, Annie, lost his job because he did not have a birth certificate. In the wake of paranoia about German spies, some companies would not keep you on the payroll if you couldn’t prove you were born in America. In a time of home births and the lack of paperwork, some lost their jobs.

Other cool things I’ve found:

Lincoln’s lost speech.

Cool things I've found. www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

From Wikipedia:

The speech known as Abraham Lincoln‘s “Lost Speech” was given at the Bloomington Convention on May 29, 1856, in Bloomington, Illinois. Traditionally regarded as lost because it was so engaging that reporters neglected to take notes, the speech is believed to have been an impassioned condemnation of slavery. It is possible the text was deliberately “lost” owing to its controversial content

Trees that eat things. No, not people. Rather, trees that have grown up and engulfed inanimate objects like bikes, cars, and benches. Too bad they’re not on a time lapse videos!

The most badass Norwegian ever. Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) was one tough cookie. Nordic athlete, explorer, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, his life was so big, you’d have to make THREE movie about it. From attempting to reach the North Pole to saving millions of Russians from starving after WWI, he was a busy, busy man.

I love to share these tidbits I find on the internet. I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

What cool thing did you discover this week?

Blessings,

Cheryl

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creativity killers

It’s #ThrowbackThursday, and we’re looking back to a post from 2009. How do you spark your creative process when you’re stumped?

The creativity killers have invaded

creativity killers

The creativity killers have invaded, and I’m stumped on how to spark my creativity. I’m at an odd place in my writing – too close to the end of one book to be interested in it (no surprises left) and not far enough into another to know what the characters are doing. Plus, it’s summer, and my attention has been pulled toward vacations, sunny days, and a four-day work week.
What to do, then, to spark the creative side of my mind and get back into the swing of writing?
Not plotting. Not goal, motivation and conflict.

We’re going back to old school, folks.

Hand writing. It’s an exercise called Morning Pages, and it’s the brainchild of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. The premise is to set aside a specific time every day and free write until three pages of 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper is filled.  No plotting, no stories, just whatever comes into your head and DON’T REREAD.  The thought is deeply buried problems will be revealed as well as the solutions.  After a specific period of time (I was given seven weeks.  I’ve made it through three days so far)  you’re to reread all your writing, circling the items you want changed and underlining action steps.  More often than not, the solutions are tucked away within your gripes.

Now, I haven’t read the book yet, and I’m taking the exercise from someone who participated in a class a decade or more ago, but it sounds like a solid theory.  I’m willing to give it a try.  So far, the writing has swung between griping about not having enough organization in my life and lists of ways I could organize it.  See, it’s working already.

Off now to put in my pages for the day.

Good luck on yours.

***2018 Cheryl returning****

p.s. I’ve since purchased The Artist’s Way.

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