Short Story “Rules”

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form] I know, the very first thing that pops to mind is that all rules are made to be broken. Maybe so, but where’d we be as a society? Exactly, pretty fucked. But, this pertains to writing, not life. So, yeah, go ahead and break some of the rules some of the time, but not all the rules all of the time.

Writing a short story isn’t as time-consuming as some make it out to be. It’s not as simple as grabbing a keyboard and pecking away either. There’s an art, finesse, if you will to writing a short story. First, there are a few rules – I know, what the fuck, right? – that one should follow when writing the short story. Keep in mind that ‘should’ is used loosely.

1.     Use few characters: There’s not enough room to go for more than two or three. If it’s more, the reader may get lost or confused. Maybe even both. Besides, limiting your characters will allow for you to better control the point of view and male your writing balanced. Balance is good.

2.     Be picky: Would you rather date a three or an eight? Face it; you’re not good-looking enough for the nine and, well, that ten is just a dream for you anyway. If you get an eight, take it! I digress, because that’s not even what I’m talking about here. Jeez man, stay on topic. Your writing should build on your character development or action. If it doesn’t do either, get rid of it. William Faulkner advises writers to “kill their darlings.” No, not literally! What the hell’s the matter with you, you psycho?

It refers to the parts of your writing that YOU think are the king shit of writing –  the absolute best thing since letters and a keyboard. You should be objective (if you need a refresher between subjective v. objective, see Google). If you really like those parts, you can’t be objective. This is where a good editor may step in and say, “Does that need to be there?” If your answer is just, “Well, yeah,” then it can easily be removed. Have a short ceremony, a memorable séance, or whatever it is for you to say adios. Remember, if it was that good, it would have stayed. Maybe create a ‘Writing Notes’ document and cut and paste that “best writing ever” to that document and save it in a folder titled, ‘Some Day.’ As in some day this shit WILL work, but it’s just not today.

3.     Limit the time frame: No, I’m not referring to the time it takes you to write. You’re writing a short story so having an elaborate time frame just isn’t very realistic. Sure, you can jump a bit using a scene break, but it’s unrealistic to attempt to cover the life of a character in fifteen to twenty-five pages. Less of a time frame allows you to focus more on events, detail, and characters included in the narrative.

4.     Make the reader feel: I’m shaking my head at you right now because we both know exactly what you’re thinking. I’ll give you a moment to pull your sick mind from the gutter. Okay, time’s up. Back to work. Standard rules of storytelling still apply from our days in high school. There should be plot structure: exposition, conflict, action, climax (we all like that), and denouement or resolution. Here’s simplification: Something has to happen, period. You get this with conflict and resolution. The beginning and the end are most important. Start with your event and end with a twist. It’s the basis to a good short story.

5.     When in doubt, break those silly rules: Remember when you were back in college and “experimented” as you called it? Same goes in short story fiction writing. If breaking any of the rules allows you to better tell your story, then damned be those stupid rules. Be creative. Be exciting. Be mindful that telling your story is still the most important thing. Be honest with yourself. If your innovative way doesn’t work, scrap it.



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