Writing tips

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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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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Writing advice from famous authors

It’s a new year and you’ve made new writing goals. Will you begin/finish your book this year? What writing goals do you have? To help you reach your goals, I’ve rounded up important writing advice from famous authors. Take what you want, ignore the rest:

Writing advice from famous authors: Ray Bradbury

Writing advice from famous authors

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned to and sent rambling.

You must write every single day of your life.

Read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, ad let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.

You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.

I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.

I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.

May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories—science fiction or otherwise.

Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days.

And out of that love, remake a world.

Writing advice from famous authors: Elmore Leonard:

Making a publishing decision? The publishing industry is in the midst of turmoil. Those cart tracks have expanded to four-lane super highways. Anyone who wants to be published nowadays can be. Writing advice from famous authors

  1. Begin writing before you put the coffee on.
  2. Never open a book with weather.
  3. Avoid prologues.
  4. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  5. Don’t use a an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
  6. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  7. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”.
  8. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  9. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  10. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  11. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Readers won’t skip dialogue.
  12. Keep it simple.
  13. You have to have fun at this, or it’ll drive you nuts.
  14. Don’t worry about what your mother thinks about it.
  15. It’s very, very important to have a style or sound to your writing.
  16. Writing is rewriting, constantly rewriting.
  17. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Writing advice from famous authors: Seth Godin

We are always looking for more time to write. How can we do it? I can't say it any more eloquently than the Reader's Digest:Writing advice from famous authors

  1. Lower your expectations.
  2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.
  3. Pay for an editor.
  4. Understand that a non-fiction book is a souvenir.
  5. Don’t try to sell your book to everyone.
  6. Resist the temptation to hire a publicist.
  7. Think hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York.
  8. Your book cover matters.
  9. If you have a real publisher, invest in a few things.
  10. In case you skipped it, check #2 again.
  11. Blurbs are overrated.
  12. Blog mentions matter a lot.
  13. Bookstore talks and book club interviews by phone work.
  14. Consider the free PDF option.
  15. Show up in places where people who don’t usually buy books spend time.
  16. Most books that sell by the truckload sell by the caseload.
  17. Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book.
  18. Bookstores are run by absolutely terrific  people.
  19. Writing a book is a tremendous experience.

Writing advice from famous authors: John Steinbeck

Writing advice from famous authors

 

Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is probably why it is freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theatre, it doesn’t exist. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it give trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Well, actually that’s about all.

I know that no two people have the same methods. However, these mostly work for me.

Writing advice from famous authors: David Ogilvy (Advertising master)

Writing advice from famous authors

How to Write

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Source: The Unpublished David Ogilvy (1986)

Writing advice from famous authors:Pixar

Writing advice from famous authors

The following first appeared in this blog here. I’m re-posting it because of its relevance.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2.  You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
  3.  Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4.  Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5.  Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6.  What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7.  Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8.  Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9.  When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10.  Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11.  Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12.  Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13.  Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14.  Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15.  If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16.  What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17.  No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18.  You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19.  Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20.  Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21.  You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22.  What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Source: http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html

I hope you have enjoyed these tips and that they will make a difference to your writing.

What tips do you have to share?

Mine are B.I.C. and F.O.K. (Butt In Chair, Fingers on Keyboard)

Blessings,

Cheryl

 

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