THE SHORT STORY – WRAPPING IT ALL UP
Going back through some of my published short stories, I found that the final scene count varied. The Walk Home had four. The Basement had seven. Don’t Mess With A Snorg had five. Fun In The Outland had six. In those examples, all still had the same basic three elements consisting of the beginning, the middle and the end.
Let’s consider the end, or the outcome of your story. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to leave the reader with a smile on their face? A tear in their eye? Leave them hanging? Whatever that might be sets your path. Compacting that path is the trick. That’s one reason you can’t clutter the story with too many point of view characters, too much description, and too much narrative.
Though this wasn’t a short story, per se, I once did a term paper for a college class. I forget the actual subject, yet I remembered the process. Go figure! The paper had to be so many pages, so many words, just like a short story. I had a subject with several parts to explore. I found one of those parts easy to research and came up with a lot of info. When it came down to writing the report, the words flowed out. Before I knew it, I’d gone way over the page and word count, yet what I’d finished was just one piece of the puzzle and still had to address the rest of the parts that needed to be combined to make the Big Kahuna. I could’ve ended up with a novelette for a rather mundane term paper, except I didn’t have near the inspiration for the other parts.
That anecdote applies to your short story. Don’t get caught up in a scene and forget about the big picture. You have a goal, the ending to get to. Don’t get lost in the middle and forget that you have a limit, or lose your direction and fizzle out. If it becomes all that important to keep going, I strongly suggest you forget about the short story and turn it into a full-blown novel. Follow your muse!
To me, the whole point of writing is because I love to write, to create and to follow my muse. That should be the same for you. Unless you are under a contract, or are being somehow forced to write this short story, don’t let it hold you back. On the other hand, if you just get carried away with a huge scene, but lose direction when it comes to wrapping up the rest of the story, time to back away and let it sit until you figure out what’s going on. You can always pare down the over-long scene. That’s called editing.
Let’s look at the opposite extreme. Say, you write your short story and you say what you have to in a lot less words than you expected. Your goal was four to five thousand words, but the story is five hundred. Is that bad, or did you just accomplish your goal too soon? Look at what you have. Does it have all the elements you wanted or did you just get in a rush to finish it? Can you expand any of the narrative or dialogue? Does it need to be? Let someone else read it. If they like it and they’re not your mom or a close friend or underling, maybe it’s okay. Just remember the well word cliché, Don’t fix something that isn’t broke!
Finally, it’s time to find somewhere to get it published. If you already have a word count, then I’m assuming you have a place to submit. If not, start looking. The only thing I suggest, which I’ve mentioned before and I cannot emphasize enough, never EVER pay to have your story published! EVER!
Until next time, happy writing!