When we say short story what is the length of the work of fiction do we refer to? In current times, it should be 1000 to 20,000 words or 5 to 20 pages. However, magazines and contests usually demand 2000-5000 words. So that has become a more popular length.
While in a novel, a writer has time and space to build the characters, setting and the course of story, in a short piece this luxury is denied. One has to bring the focus of readers quickly to the story idea and hold their attention while still delivering a satisfying conclusion. So what things should be kept in mind while writing short stories?
First thing, is to have short, pithy descriptions so that excessive words are not wasted. For example, instead of describing in vivid detail a sunset, one might say simply ‘the sun crept past the horizon, splashing peach hues across the sky.’ While describing a character, instead of giving too many details, stick to one or two important characteristics. ‘An old and bent figure shuffling along’ this gives as much impression as ‘the thin man walking with painful slowness looked shrunken. His back was curved with the burden of age…’ you get the idea. A short story isn’t the place to wax poetic about your ability for description.
The second thing to be careful about is the theme or the idea your story centers on. Choose one and one idea only for one story. Keep it limited to one incident if possible. You cannot fit a long timeline into a story with effectiveness. It may be done but for shorter length, immediate effects and consequences work better. Give your character one problem and center the story around that. It may be resolved or not but it should say something about your story world and character. Too many threads will act as too many spices in a dish and will spoil the art.
Remember even if the length is short, you must not sacrifice the depth of your main character for it. You have to still know your character inside out. So do work on your character. Her past and present. Her hopes and dreams. The more you know your character, the more depth you can bring to your story.
In a story, the final punch is important. So try to achieve a revelation in your ending. Something the reader wants to find out and will race to the end to get. The denouement. The realization. The hit or miss of the goal you have set at the beginning.
For example, in the short story I wrote for Harper Collins India, the heroine Raina finds herself being ignored by her busy neurophysician husband. So, her goal is to find her sense of worth and be appreciated. Can she find those goals with him or someone else? What twists and turns occur before she reaches an important conclusion in her life is the subject of this short read called ‘Right or Wrong.’ It is set to be released in an anthology very soon!
Remember short descriptions, a singular theme, strong characters and tight conclusion. These ingredients and your particular spice, your writing, will help you stir up a savoury and sweet short story dish!