THE SHORT STORY – MORE DETAILS
Since you have to write tight and concise, the story must be done in such a way to convey all the necessary details to get across your point, cram everything you want to say within the demanded word count, and still make it something someone would want to read. This isn’t as bad as it sounds.
For me, it’s just a matter of following my usual method which I’ve described endlessly in these pages. However, for those of you who don’t want to read through my previous blogs, I’ll ‘splain it once again. I know where I want to start and where I want to end. Everything else in the middle is a total surprise. That’s if I’m writing fiction. Now, what did I say in the last article on short stories? There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end. Yup, the pattern is right there. Since I already know two parts of it, all I have to figure out is the middle. In my creative process, that comes naturally. The trick is making it come together in the right word count.
The big hang-up between short stories and novels is word count. With novels, you have the freedom to write to your heart’s desire until the story’s finished. If it’s ridiculously long, you’ll have to pare it down into something marketable. Even then, there can be a lot of leeway. If it’s too short, you either have to shoot for a novella or it may be time to beef up the story. With a short story, things are more restricted. You can certainly come in under the word count if you finish saying what you need, but you can’t go over too far.
A lot of anthologies ask for between four and five thousand words. That works out to between twelve and fifteen pages double spaced in twelve point typeface (if I remember right). To get the story into that restrictive limit, I’ve found a basic formula that helps me.
I’ve mentioned several times that there should be a beginning, a middle and an end. With that in mind, I’ll write the story with three major scenes in mind. A beginning scene, a middle scene, and the slam bang scene at the end. The beginning scene introduces the main character or characters (usually two at most), the bad guy, and sets up the main plot. The middle scene puts the character (s) in the main conflict and has he/she or them beaten down by the bad guy. In the final scene, he/she or they rise above all and resolve the conflict.
Not to confuse you more, but that’s just a simplification in my head of how the story is laid out. In print, the actual story will be a series of scenes like mini-chapters, or groups of scenes that block together in my head to make the beginning, middle and end. In the rough draft, I may have written three original scenes or ten, but in the editing process, I’ll have condensed and combined or even broken apart into the final product to get the best flow. The finished story may have five, six scenes, or even two. When you set out to write your story, either keep those three parts in your head as you write, or outline them if that’s your formula. When it comes out in the wash, you may have any number of actual scenes, from one to who knows? We’ll talk more about number of scenes next time. The point is to organize the story into bite-sized chunks. That makes it easier to write and helps you keep organized.
This formula does not work quite the same for non-fiction, at least where plot is concerned. A non-fiction story should still have a beginning, middle and end. The difference is that instead, there should be an aim, a platform, or some kind of message (moral) to the story.
For me, when I sit down to write a short story, it’s like I’m writing chapters of a novel, except I’m not going to continue. Regardless, the story just flows out. I’ve been able to do it for some magical reason and my word count usually comes close to the ballpark every time. It may be over by a hundred words, maybe slightly under, but it’s never far off. Editing will take care of the rest. Why I can do this, I have no idea.
Next we’ll go into a few more mechanics. Until next time, happy writing!