Writing a short story is vastly different from writing a novel. Many short stories literally are what it takes for me to even get warmed up! Certain things you need in writing, such as character development, scene setup, narrative descriptions have to be tossed out so quickly and so sparingly that the reader often has very little time to get a feel for what’s going on.
I remember Omni magazine had a short story once about an executioner in a future world that had degenerated into the middle ages. The peasants believed that the executioner was really a machine, who was paid his weight in gold to go into the king’s prisons and kill off all the condemned. In reality, he was a man wearing armor. And he encounters a Gump, who turns the tables on him.
I don;t know how many words it was, but it was one of those stories you don’t forget. The setup was delivered in the actions of the executioner, and there was no character development, no theme or lesson, until the Gump took control of the man’s futuristic armor and made it crush and behead the executioner.
So – how to write a 4,500 word story? You’ve got almost no time for setup, backstory, or glimpses into character history.
What you want to do is very carefully craft the back history into people’s dialog and narrative actions. Much of my short story dealt with back story and character history in the actions and words between Ernie and Cary. The entire social climate and history of the Island was dealt with over Ernie being a lobster pirate, and how they treated Ruthie.
And I got it all in there in just a couple of paragraphs.
With short stories, this is really a case of thinking on the fly. “How can I make this one short sentence do double duty?”
It’s really a case of using a lot of subtext in almost every sentence. In hindsight, I’ve almost got enough going on in The Island to make a 110 page movie script out of it.
Another short story I’ve read was a rather boring one, about a man who is renting a flat in London, and finds a Griffin resting on the roof just outside his window. Almost all of the story is about the man – whose name ironically was Griffin – talking to the mythical beast. It was interesting, but really nothing happens. You knew all along the man would get up the next day and the Griffin would be gone.
However, that story is a good case study. If I remember, you gleaned as much from what was not written as what was written! Now, if the Griffin had done something unexpected, like eat the man at the end of the story, then you REALLY could have packed it all in there. You could have had the man realize all along that the Griffin was going to kill him, and the conversation could have turned along to the man trying to convince the Griffin not to without actually saying so.
If you’re trying to keep the story under 4000 words, then you need to conceive a single scene. There’s no movement past that scene. the short story of the sled dog rider with a single dog who crashes his sled, and is stranded is a perfect example. There was no narrative break. You just saw the dog sledder trying to call the dog over so he could survive the night, and the dog avoiding him. And when the POV changed to the dog, then you knew the man had died.
Here’s your assignment: What if… Come up with a story, what if it, and write it. Set Scrivener to write at 4,500 words. Give yourself a 2 hour 15 minute limit. No editing. Just write.
When it’s done, you may edit it, but you may not go past 5,000 words.
Next week, write another.
If you decide to post it here, be aware – you retain all rights to it. It is copyright (date of creation) your name all rights reserved. I have no rights, implied or otherwise to your story.