How to write a great short story!
|Photo by Julien Tromeur|
Short stories need all the same elements as a novel in order to make it truly a story and not something else. (See Part I). But you're going to handle those elements quite differently in a short story than you would with a novel.
Today, we'll talk about the plot! In order to be an actual story, you must have a plot with a conflict and a resolution. Without those things, you don't have a story at all. Your main character needs a problem, something standing in the way of what he wants. The story is about him (or her) trying to solve the problem and either succeeding or failing in the end. Same goes for novels. But in a short story, you must focus on only one problem or one main storyline without subplots like you'd have in a novel. (See the boat metaphor above.)
You want to start your story right at the inciting incident, the thing that drives the character into action, or maybe even a little bit after the inciting incident. I think it's fun to read a short story that begins with the zombies breaking down the door!
Then the action must proceed fairly quickly to the climax. That means in short fiction, the conflict will be less complex, but no less compelling, than in a novel. Both characterization and setting details must also drive the plot forward. No problem, right?
Finally, you must have a resolution. The story needs to feel finished, not like it was just a first chapter or an excerpt from a longer work. There's nothing wrong with excerpts, of course, but you shouldn't try to pass it off as a short story. Even if you intend to write a series of short stories about the same character, each story should have it's own complete story arc, so the reader feels satisfied in the end.
That, in my opinion, is what makes a great short story great. You get the complete story experience in a short space of time. They are exhilarating to write and to read!
In case you're interested, check out Part I, Part II, and Part III