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By Bhalachandra Sahaj

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Hi everyone!

Do you agree with the opinion that a writer is someone who writes only novels? Meaning that anything else—poetry, short stories—is less important or distinctive. I’ve heard such opinions from different people before, and I think this contention is incorrect. A writer cannot fountain with novels all the time—there is always something to write in periods between Big Writing.

Usually, this “something” goes for short stories. Writing them properly is true mastery; a shorter format often implies that a writer has to disclose his or her ideas in a denser, more concentrated manner than if he or she were writing a novel (because ideas lying in the basis of short stories are by all means not less grandiose than in bigger formats). A well-written short story has as much literary value as a novel—Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” is an accurate example of this statement. So, if you are about to write a short story, here are some hints and tricks that will help you write a decent one.

  1. Bad stories rather often have one common feature: their characters act like triggers making this or that event happen. Don’t be like that. Your characters should have principles, beliefs, or whatever driving them towards committing one action or another. Their decisions should be justified by their motivations—not by your will as a writer seeking to make the plot’s ends meet.
  2. Cut everything unnecessary. The following is what usually goes for being superfluous, and thus can be deleted from the story: descriptions of characters moving from point A to point B; dialogues regarding something obvious; descriptions of actions and behavior of a first-person character; metaphors and comparisons; characters retelling what happened to other characters (if you have already described it earlier). Sometimes you can use these, but only if it is really needed for the story.
  3. Pay attention to the correspondence between settings and the overall mood of a story. Simply speaking, you shouldn’t write a comedy in post-apocalyptic decorations.
  4. Although it is preferable that your characters have “inner drivers” causing their actions and behavior, you don’t need to describe every nuance of their psyche in every situation they find themselves in.
  5. Paint with larger strokes. Small details are okay sometimes, but it is easy to get lost in them. Metaphorically speaking, don’t lose a forest behind trees.
  6. A good short story should have its main conflict resolved in the end (did I mention that a story must have a conflict? There is no point in writing one to describe a character’s regular day; you should always put a problem in front of your character, and then he or she should solve it).
  7. Be consistent. If in the beginning of a short story it’s autumn, make sure readers feel it. From time to time, mention rain, heavy clouds, soggy wind, and other attributes of fall. This rule works for anything else you write.
  8. The most often mentioned rule: show, don’t tell. “The moon was shining” is a poor excuse for a description. “The moon’s pale light flooded the room” is better. “It was deep night, but in the moon’s pale light, he could see each detail of the bedroom” is even more beautiful. Experiment!

(and by all means, do not forget about active voice)

I hope these small tips help you write a good short story. Good luck!

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