When not writing awesome short stories, Jeanette Stampone frequently serves on our judging panel. With a wealth of experience picking winners and providing feedback to authors, here’s Jeanette’s top 7 tips for writing awesome short stories.
The most important part of any short story is whether it connects to me, as a reader. I want to feel something. I want to laugh out loud or cry actual proper tears – snot and all.
A short story has a number of ways it can end. The author may choose a twist or something very simple and poignant. Above all, the ending should leave a lasting impression. I love stories where I find myself thinking about them long after I have finished reading them. Those are generally the ones which have a strong ending.
Of course, there should be a great beginning too! I often decide by the end of the first paragraph whether I am going to enjoy the story or not. If not, I sometimes just stop right there. The beginning should suck you in. It could be through a humorous scene or something that shocks the reader. Referring back to point 1, I want to feel that emotional connection immediately – there should be something to compel me to continue reading.
Sounds obvious, but any story requires strong characters. With a short story, there is not a lot of time and space to gradually develop the characters so the author needs to quickly show the reader what they desire, what drives them. Spend less time on scene descriptions and more time on what is actually happening. Use their senses as much as possible to allow the reader to connect to them, to feel what they are feeling.
I like to be able to easily read a story. I am not keen on long fancy words or flowery descriptions. I want to be able to understand what is going on, to be able to visulise it in my mind. I don’t want to have to refer to a dictionary to look up words I don’t understand. The language should flow well and there should be little effort involved in the reading process.
Great short stories contain a problem or something to be resolved. This is what keeps me reading, keeps me hooked until the end. I want to find out whether the problem will be solved. Tension doesn’t have to involve strong physical scenes, it can be something emotional too.
It doesn’t matter whether it is realism, fantasy or sci-fi, I still want to believe what is happening. Everything needs to make sense and follow a pattern. If plots are too over the top, I lose that connection to the characters.
Jeanette’s advice features in Needle In The Hay’s guidebook How To Write A Short Story In 7 Days. (Smashwords Link) and is part of our 21 Day Short Story Writing Course.