January has been a busy month for short story contests. Mash Stories offers an on-going flash fiction contest. Writer’s Digest offered a short, short fiction contest earlier this month (and , Simon and Schuster held a fan fiction contest, Baen has a near-future science fiction contest, and the Chicago Tribune has a short fiction contest open until January 31, 2016.
This week, I’m participating in the 10th Annual Short Story Challenge offered by NYC Midnight. It’s tremendous practice.
Here are three tips I use for writing better short fiction.
1) Pick one main event. Streamline the story so that everything points to that one event – even after the climax, the story finish still points to that one event. The plot can be as simple as cooking dinner or as complex as sky diving from a space elevator. Don’t stuff in extra details. Often, the beauty of a short story is rich characters, full of depth, but a plot that exists within a small space and lower word counts. Short stories, even though a different experience than writing novels, are great practice in streamlining.
2) Limit characters. Pick one or two. Don’t name anyone else. If the main character is on a crowded bus, blur the extras by providing little-to-no information about them. Include only the details that are necessary to move the plot forward for the main character. Character naming is similar to adopting a stray dog. Once it has a name, it wants to stick around in the readers’ mind.
3) Limit Point of View. In short fiction (whether flash fiction – 1,000 words or less – or a novelette – up to 17,500 words), there is a limited amount of time to hook the reader. Begin close to the inciting incident, but keep it simple. Story creators often want to keep all the viewpoints, include the antagonist’s reasons or mention the main character’s last love interest. Don’t obscure the great words with superfluous ones. Increase tension and interest, limit readers’ knowledge to only what the main character knows. Pick one character that is central to every situation, jump in that head, and stay there.
Just remember: first drafts don’t count. Get the story down. Get the words out. Don’t worry about rules or tips or editing. After that first draft, go back and edit it into shape. And whatever happens, keep writing. Your uniqueness enhances our own.
What are some tips you have for writing better shorts?
I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
(All views expressed in this post are that of the author and not necessarily that of The SFR Brigade.)
Bokerah Brumley is an award-winning writer from West Texas. She is the Publicity Officer for the Club while simultaneously addicted to Twitter pitch contests, writing contests, and social media, in general. She has too much planned for this year, but is doing it anyway. She lives with her husband, five home-educated children, three dogs, and two cats.
'Dogwood Sprocket' by Bokerah Brumley
A SciFi Steampunk Romance Novelette Available for FREE in "Seasons: A Multi-Genre Story Collection."