Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Writing Short Fiction Part II: How (Characters)

Okay, so I think it's time for another little blog series, this time on writing short fiction. A subject dear to my heart. I have written dozens of short stories and spent seven years as an editor of short fiction. If short stories are something you're interested in writing, hopefully I'll have some useful information. Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them!

How to write a great short story!

Photo by Julien Tromeur
I once took a class from Orson Scott Card in which he compared writing short stories vs. novels to taking a boat across a lake. When writing a novel, you can take a rowboat across the lake. You can stop and fish and enjoy the scenery and paddle around all day. When writing a short story, you get into a speedboat, start the engine and race to the other side of the lake as fast as you can.

Short stories need all the same elements as a novel in order to make it truly a story and not something else. (See my last post). But you're going to handle those elements quite differently in a short story than you would with a novel.

First of all, your story needs characters. In a short story you are (probably) going to have only one main character. Maybe two. But that's it. You're going to stick with just one viewpoint throughout the story (unless you are writing in the omniscient viewpoint). Your main character should be the person the story is about. The person most deeply effected by the main conflict of the story. You don't have room in a short story to introduce a lot of secondary characters. Of course, their will be secondary characters, but you won't spend much time developing them.

In a short story, your main character needs to be someone readers can relate to at once. They need to feel an almost immediate connection with the character in order to care about what's happening. That means you need to choose your characters actions, dialog, and descriptions very carefully in order to pack the most punch into the shortest space.

To achieve this (in my opinion), you need to get to know you're character inside and out. You need to know him or her so well that you can convey the character's personality to the reader in just a few sentences.

The short stories I love the best are the ones with the most memorable characters!

Next time we'll discuss the importance of the setting in a short story.


ali cross said...

I love you for this series! (Well, I loved you even before this but ... well, thank you for writing this!)

I'd love to write some shorts to compliment my Desolation series and while I did a good job on my first one, I think it might have been a fluke. I'm definitely going to be re-reading these when I get ready to write the next one!

Jackee said...

Yay! I've been thinking of writing a short story. Thank you for this series! It will help a ton.

I admire great short stories because I feel they are so hard to do. I haven't been that brave yet. Thanks, Angie! <3

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Yep, you need to know the characters very well so you can be efficient in use of both direct and indirect characterization. No words to waste!

Good series.

Rocky said...

Yep, characters are definitely a big part of whether or not I like the story I'm reading.

Do you think you need to know your short story characters as well as you know your novel characters?

Carolyn V said...

I love a good character driven plot in any kind of story. ;)

Thanks Angie! Have a great weekend!

Angie said...

Thanks, Terry. Rochelle, for the main character yes, secondary characters no. Although the reader won't get to know the character as well as in a novel, but if you do your job right, they will still love the MC.

Jolene Perry said...

Short stories are so hard for me! lol.
I almost always want to write more.
OR - I end up in a position where I have hardly anything, and that doesn't work either, lol.
It's an art I'm still working on.

Shallee said...

I haven't written short stories in a while, but this is some great advice about characters in stories! Something that I always had trouble with in short stuff. Thanks, Angie!

T. M. Hunter said...

It also helps to write short stories as part of a series...because then your long-time readers already know the character almost as well as you do. :-)

Angie said...

Good point, Todd!

Melanie Goldmund said...

I always have the sneaking feeling that my main characters are too much like me to be great or memorable or even interesting. :-)

Angie said...

No way, Melanie! All the great characters come from inside us. I'm sure yours are terrific!