This hijacking comes from Angeline Trevena. I'll just turn things over to her and let her tell her own story.
The Long and the Short of It
I’ve always been a novelist. I never really understood how you could manage to develop character and plot in just a few thousand words. I needed pages and pages and pages. But then I started seriously having a go at writing short stories, and found how much enjoyment I had being truly ruthless with my editing. When you find you have to cut 800 words from a 5,000 word story, that’s a significant chunk – there’s killing your darlings, and then there’s butchering them.
Through my exploration of the short story form I have been amazed at just how different a discipline it is. A writing friend of mine asked me recently if writing short stories was just a matter of ‘making the middle a lot shorter’. The simple answer is no.
Drop your complicated subplots. In a novel you have the time to reveal back stories and deep rooted motivations for all your characters and their actions, but in a short story you may only have a chance to touch on them. It’s better to keep things simple with a single, compelling plotline supported by a small cast of strong characters. Drop in hints, but let your reader fill in the rest for themselves. Remember, you can say a hell of a lot with a simple smile or raised eyebrow.
Always opt for plot and character development over description. If it doesn’t matter what colour your character’s hair is, leave it out. If it is important, reveal it in an action, or through dialogue. It’s the development of your character that is vital. Readers want to see them make a journey, see them change. Your reader still wants to come away satisfied.
Make your dialogue and setting work twice as hard. A character can reveal dislike for another by refusing to call them by their preferred nickname, or the placement of a photograph can reveal how painful or happy the memory it represents is. Look for how much you can reveal in small, simple ways.
Only describe what you need to. Let your reader imagine what the street looks like, or how big the lake is. You can point their attention in the direction of what’s important, but leave the colouring in to them. If it doesn’t advance the plot or reveal character, it doesn’t need to be described.
Dialogue is probably your greatest tool. Not only is it the most effective way to explore plot and character, it can also be used to control the pace of your story. And be ruthless cutting those speech tags. If you keep your cast small it’s easier for you to do without them, they only serve to slow things down. But make sure your readers aren’t left confused about who’s speaking.
Always read your story out loud. Whether you read it to a friend, your cat or just your bathroom mirror, reading aloud forces you to slow down, allowing you to pick up on things you would have missed reading in your head. You will hear issues like repetition, awkward rhythm, and clumsy syntax (word order). You’ll be more likely to pick up on your spelling and grammar mistakes. If you have someone to beta read for you as well, all the better.
And when you’re trying desperately to get back down under that word count, remember, even if you just cut one word from each sentence you’ll be making a big difference. Your short story should end up slick and compact, while still giving your reader the satisfaction they want.
Angeline is a published fiction writer, poet and journalist living in Devon, England. She lives above a milkshake shop with her husband and her cat who both serve as sounding boards for all her story ideas. She has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen and really isn’t sure what she’d do with her hands if she didn’t.
You can follow her on her blog at http://angelinetrevena.blogspot.co.uk or check out her work on her website www.angelinetrevena.co.uk
Do you write short stories? What suggestions might you have that are not included here? What do you struggle most with when trying to keep the story short?