Have you ever jumped into a new hobby hoping to be an expert from day one?
I have. Didn’t take time to learn the basics, ignored the fundamentals, and started without a real foundation.
You can guess the results—fall-on-my-face failure.
I didn’t allow myself to be bad as a beginner and eventually learn and grow. I was going for expert status from the get-go.
And I suffered the consequences.
I see beginning fiction writers do this every day.
They want to start their careers by writing a novel, before learning the craft.
A book is not where you start—it’s where you arrive.
So how should a fiction writer begin? How about learning how to write short stories, or flash fiction, or anything shorter than 400 pages?
Start on your full-length masterpiece without any training, practice, or knowledge, and we both know how that’s going to turn out.
Learning how to write a short story is the perfect place to begin.
It allows you some quick wins as you finish a few and gain momentum as a writer—all before trying to tackle an overwhelming book project.
But there’s an art to writing short stories—they’re vastly different from full-length novels.
To get your feet wet as a short story writer, follow these steps:
1. Read as Many Great Short Stories as You Can Find
Read hundreds of them—especially the classics.
You learn this genre only by observing the best. See yourself as an apprentice. Watch, evaluate, analyze the experts, then try to emulate their work. Soon you’ll learn enough about short stories that you can start developing your own style.
My recommendation? Learn how to write a short story from Bret Lott, a modern-day master. I’ve actually had one of my short stories chosen for one of his collections, so I had the privilege of interacting with him in his acquiring editor role.
After reading at least a dozen short stories, you should start to catch on to their structure and style. That should ignite your imagination so you can produce one while you’re reading dozens more.
Remember, you won’t likely start out with something sensational, but the tools you’ve collected will push your confidence to the limit. You’ll be on your way.
2. Tell the Story—and Leave Everything Else Out
Extraneous details will destroy your effort.
Short stories are, by definition, short—so stick to only vital information. As you’re writing, ask yourself:
“Is this setting/description/dialogue crucial to my plot?”
When in doubt, leave it out.
You want your reader to glide through your story.
3. Cut, Cut, Cut—Like Your Story’s Life Depends on It
Because it does.
When you’ve finished your first draft, your work has just begun. Once you’re happy with the basic story, now it’s time to examine the writing itself, sentence-by-sentence and word for word.
Tightening nearly always adds power. Declare war on needless words. Make every word count.
Slash like this:
Jim walked in
through the open door and sat down in a chair.
The crowd clapped
their handsand stomped their feet.
I call this becoming a ferocious self-editor. Learn to tighten, and you’ll learn how to write a short story that captivate your reader.
What’s Your Story?
Every story has the potential to change the world. Give yours that chance by learning how to write short stories, so yours won’t be left gathering dust in the attic of your mind.
You’ll know yours has potential when you can distill the idea to a single sentence. For instance, here’s one of mine:
An estranged son visits his lonely mother before his planned suicide, unaware she is planning the same, and the encounter gives them both reasons to go on.
In the comments below, give me the one-sentence essence of your short story.