The Art of the Short Story

I’ve been writing short stories pretty frantically for a few months now, and I’m beginning to notice a few trends in my process:

  • Start at the End: I’m finding that when the “eureka!” moment hits for a story, it centers around how the story will end. Not necessarily a cliffhanger but an important moment of psychological transition or development for the character.
  • Center on a Compelling Image: For “Animal Control” this was a pair of white X’s in the center of an asphalt road. For “Sympathetic Magic” it was ancient cave paintings. For “Student Body” it was a small white woman dressed in a black face costume. For the one I’m working on now it’s a little boy dressed in a white dress. There’s something about that compelling image that has to be sustained in the reader’s consciousness – from beginning, to middle, to end – so that when the reader finally encounters the imagery it resonates. Carry a notebook with you everywhere and write down images or thoughts as you work, exercise, even watch TV … trust me, you will forget them later if you don’t capture them now.
  • Create an Outline: I started a new job recently and I’m finding that drafting an outline before I begin writing a story saves me a ton of of time. I can sit down in the coffee shop and be very productive, even if I’m not really in the mood to write, by cherry picking one of the most fun scenes – no matter where it falls chronologically in the story.
  • Experiment with POV: Over the last six weeks I’ve written stories in first person, third person limited and the dreaded second person POVs. Switching POVs helps you find out which is more fun and can help you stumble upon your voice.
  • Get Objective Feedback: Preferably from a professional editor but if this isn’t possible then join a critique group. Never listen to your spouse … they love you too much to tell you what you need to hear.