Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Introduction to Short Story Writing

by Tom James

Welcome! I hope many of you find this article a pleasant introduction into the world of short story writing. Below we’ll explain some of the key elements you need to focus on while writing to produce a piece that is interesting and engages your readers. Happy learning!

What do you envision when you hear the words “short story”? Perhaps the first thing that strikes you is that it’s ‘short’. But a short story can come in all sizes; there is no definitive length that will determine the point where your short will suddenly turn into a novel. So what are the basics of writing a short story, and how do you know if yours is getting too big?

The key word here is “Focus”. A short story is centralized around a main theme or message that the author is trying to convey through the words. Short stories are not really designed to encompass a world of minute detail within the limited span of its pages, so every word really must count. When writing a piece like this, you must consider: What is the underlying point of this story? What emotions does it hope to stir in its readers? With those questions in mind, a good first step would be to start scribbling down your ideas. Let’s make an example.

Let us say we want to write a short story about a boy and his dog. First I need to ask myself, “What would the point of this story be?” So let’s think. I want the reader to empathize with the boy’s childlike love of the dog. Perhaps they themselves will think back to their own childhood with fond memories of the family pet. I want them to ultimately feel happy reading this story, and become emotionally attached to the boy (and the dog, too). Perhaps a running theme through the piece would be the trusting innocence of childhood.

So, I now have some ideas on the basic themes I want to follow. This is the most important part out of the way. Now let’s focus on the characters. I want two main characters in my story: the boy and the dog. A good tip here is to try to have as few characters in your story as possible, as they will need to be fleshed out and have a real importance to your story, otherwise you will spend too much time on them and the story will unnecessarily drag. Think of your characters’ personalities, their temperament, what makes them happy or sad. Try a little exaggeration with this, but don’t go overboard. The purpose is just to make important elements of the story stand out like signposts, directing your readers to a particular conclusion.

Take more notes as you think through it. Here’s what I have so far. My first character, the boy, is a bright young chap, full of youthful joy. He is active, energetic, and loves to play with his dog. The dog is a young collie; she too has the energy of a pup, and loves the attention she receives from the boy. She would happily follow him anywhere he went, and the two have a penchant for exploring and getting up to mischief.

The actual plot is one of the least important aspects of the story, as strange as it may sound. But that is not to say it isn’t important at all. A good plot will consolidate all the different things you’ve brainstormed and give life to your characters, making it absolutely essential to have. Now, the plot of a short story can be hard to keep small. You might be enjoying yourself so much that

you keep adding to it! But if you can, try to avoid this. Remember I mentioned “Focus” earlier? This is where it comes into play. The plot should ideally be focused on a pivotal event in the life of your characters, an event that has meaning to them. This will also lend purpose to the story, and the underlying message or point you are trying to get across along with it. Also imagine you are your character in that event; what are you feeling? What lessons are you learning from this situation? What will be your characters’ greatest memories from this? Think carefully about these questions, and then put emphasis on the answers as you write.

Give it a go. The tips I’ve given should get you started, but there is always more to learn. My last piece of advice: know how to lay out the beginning, middle, and end of your writing, so that your plot flows smoothly and has a valid conclusion. If you’re unsure about this, there are many resources online that can teach you. Happy storytelling!

Tom James

No comments: