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5 Tips to Writing a Short Story

Short stories have been around for a long time, probably from the first time a group sat around a campfire and traded exploits. The stories might have been partially grounded in facts, but they also probably took off into the realm of the teller's fictional ideas that were floating around in his head. 

These days short stories are as popular as ever, thanks to the internet and electronic media that allows us all to read a story while we're waiting at the doctor's office or for the kids to get out of school, or even as a way to enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet while we have lunch.

Luckily, writers are still turning them out because they can seem like a good way to keep the creative juices flowing and to get something finished. They can also be a good way for a writer to introduce himself/herself to the reading world or to introduce characters that might take part in a full fledged book later, or to further show characters who have already had a book of their own.

Here are a few tips to consider if you want to join the ranks or work on a short story:

1.  Use a single idea or theme.  Short stories can quickly get away from you if you come up with too many ideas. Don't leave a plot point hanging.  A short story needs to tell one incident.  It can be several scenes but don't make it too long. Short stories range from 100 words to 10,000, and there is lots of room in the middle there.  Know who your audience is and go for that number.

2. Come up with good characters. You can't afford to scrimp on the characters. The story may be short, but the reader still wants to be entertained, or to think, or to learn something. If that is being done through a character, make them count. Even if you don't put it all out there for the reader, know that character yourself as the writer so that you can make him/her shine on the written page for the reader.

3. Provide a rich setting for your story. You won't have a lot of time and words to waste on describing it, so look for ways to make it come alive.  If your story is set in the winter in Minnesota, make it cold and forbidding or make that lodge warm and comfy and a great respite from the outside howling wind. Bring your reader into the setting in ways other than just long sentences of description.

4. Tell the story simply through action and dialogue. Again, you don't have many words to waste so get right into the plot and then move it quickly along to the ending. Don't bring in so many elements that you leave the reader wondering about them. This is a short story, keep it simple -- and short.

5.  Make your ending memorable.  Think of ways to leave your reader thinking, smiling, laughing or crying.  Make the story count with your ending. The great thing about a short story is that you can leave it with a question. Consider one of the most enduring short stories, "The Lady or The Tiger." It ended without knowing the fate of the hero. Who came through the door he was to open? That tale published in 1882 still draws readers.

If you're not certain about whether or not you can write a short story, try writing one.  You don't know if you can or can't until you try it, and again, the best part about a short story is that it can be done quickly.  Maybe the format will be just what you need to keep your writing, or you may find that you have a real talent for it.  Many writers started making money through writing short stories. Maybe you can too!


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