Short is Beautiful

Writing for Children Blog | craft
April 14, 2016

By Jan Fields

The main problem with short stories for most writers is that they're short.
When you're given from 100 to 1000 words to build a story, it can seem like
a daunting task. For many, attempting it results in one of the following:
* A scene or event with no plot.
* A character study with no plot.
* Something with a plot, but all telling with no scenes.
* Something done with dialogue only like voices speaking in limbo.

All of those can be interesting and even well written, but have little
chance of selling since most markets, even those requiring incredibly tight
word counts, actually want to see a plot. But how do you do a plot in 100
words? It's madness!

Or not.

Plot happens when a story has a building structure of action leading to a
resolution. With a plot, you have a prompt, a response, consequences, more
response, and (eventually) resolution. So how do you do that in only a few
words. Here are some tips.

1. Start late. Get into these super short stories as late as you possibly
can. Usually right at the point where the prompt occurs: the
event/experience that forces your main character into action. And don't tell
us everything that came before either. Just know it yourself (because it
will help you create believable characters/dialogue in your few words) but
don't tell it to the audience. We'll create our own back-story if you make
us love the characters and action enough.

2. Showing is important, but show only those things that matter. Your
character's hair color doesn't matter unless the plot demands we notice. For
instance, if it changes from brown to purple during the actions of the plot.
Clothes don't matter unless they're going to affect the plot. Decor doesn't
matter, unless it affects the plot. So don't give us specific detail SIMPLY
for the sake of specific detail. Instead, give us the specific detail that
is relevant.

If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!

3. Transition fast.
Often you can transition from one scene to another in
one word -- "later." At the most, a couple words usually suffice, "the next
day" or "when he got to school" or "at Grandma's house." Transitions matter
because they keep us oriented, but they don't have to be long or draggy.

4. Make dialogue crisp and purposeful.
In real life, we do a lot of "noise
making" when we talk. In short stories, we can't do that. No "hi," or "how
are you," or "I'm glad to be here." Instead, make the dialogue matter to the
plot. In a short story, it all matters or it gets ejected.

5. Kick out loiterers. Stories tend to fill up with characters who don't
matter. Stray brothers and sisters who are just there because the story is
based on your kids and you happen to have three of them. School friends who
enter the story only to say a line and disappear. Characters can be clutter
and you cannot afford clutter in a short story.

6. And when you're certain you've pared down as much as you can, then go
through the story sentence by sentence and rewrite every single one to lose
"one" word
. You can lose one word from virtually any sentence. And honestly,
you usually discover that the version without the extra word is stronger
than the version with it. Plus, you may discover that you can actually
remove two or three or even more words from some sentences. That can end up
skimming a nice chunk of word count right there.

If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!


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