What Ingredients Needed to Cook a Good Short Story—part One

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Treat for The Senses

Finished dishes can look amazing – especially if a top chef has lavished time and effort on them. But although the colors, tastes, textures and shapes all blend together to provide a treat for the senses, the chef has not used paranormal skills to create the feast. All he has done is use ordinary ingredients plus a little experience and easily following cooking techniques.

Short Story Writing

The same is true for short story writing. You may not be able to re-create every nuance of the haunting prose of highly experienced writers that only comes with years of practice – but there is no reason why you cannot write stories that are technically competent, containing all the right ingredients in the correct amounts and in the correct order.

Ingredients Needed to Cook a Good Short Story

In order to cook a good entertaining and profitable short story – one should need the following ingredients:

You need a single narrative thread. Because the space in a short story is so limited perhaps as little as 850 words to 1,200 words – there is not time to explore the stories of several different characters or at how your main character reacts in a series of different environment. You would need to stick to one storyline and do not deviate from it.

You need a short timescale. All the best short stories are tightly focused on one storyline covering no more than a few days. The most gripping yarns recount events happening to your hero in a few crucial hours.

You need only one mood, pace and style. A short story should have the same feel throughout. It should not start as an emotionally packed tale of grief then suddenly switch to knockabout comedy. It should not speed up and slow down erratically or switch from a tightly written story with short, punchy sentences and simple vocabulary to a flowing, languorous piece of prose oozing baroque expressions and overblown imagery.

You need brief descriptions. A short story is not the place to show off your descriptive skills. Long descriptions kill the pace and divert the reader’s attention from the plot. Always aim to get the maximum effect with the minimum number of words.

You need minimum background information. Only give the background information that is relevant to the plot. The trick is to maintain a good balance between keeping information tight and giving enough relevant facts about a character so that the reader can visualize him.

Additional Ingredients Needed to Cook Your Short Story

You need at least four characters or less. Think how difficult it is to remember all the names of people you are introduced to at a party. That is the problem the reader has if you populate your stories with a huge cast of characters. Two is an ideal that allows you to use dialogue as they talk and react to each other. Three is great for eternal triangle tales but four is really the limit.

Avoid sub-plots, hidden morals or sub text. Keep it simple. Tell the story in the most direct form possible and do not try to be too clever or erudite. The plot is of paramount importance so do not allow anything to interfere with the swift and smooth telling of the narrative.

Avoid lengthy run-up or wind-down. The most common reason why short stories fail to grab the reader is that some fiction writers waste those precious first few sentences in setting the scene. Instead of getting the story off and running, they hold everything up by having an unnecessary description of the weather or the town where the story is taking place or the main character’s mood, his appearance and his family. What you need is to get into the plot right from the first sentence.

You need taut and punchy dialogue. There is little point having an enticing title and an attention-grabbing intro if every time your main character speaks he sends your reader to sleep. Dialogue has to be fast-paced, exciting and dramatic.

You need as few points of view as possible. A short story tells what happens when the main character faces a certain set of events. View those events through his eyes and his eyes only. Do not start viewing the action from another character’s perspective. When a story works well, it usually has a single viewpoint with the reader imagining himself as the hero.

Bonus Ingredients for Your Short Story Fiction Writing

In your story show it that the main character is facing up a conflict. Whatever the conflict is: low key or highly dramatic – it must put your main character on the plot. It must worry him. It should force him into acting in extreme or unusual ways and should pose a moral or physical dilemma.

Your plot will start at the point of conflict. The plot should begin when the main player faces his dilemma and it should end when the decision has been taken and the threat has been neutralized by him.

You fiction writer avoid resolving the conflict that is happening in your story by yourself. Let the character resolves the conflicts. And do not let him off the hook by having a lucky twist of fate rescue him from his impending doom. A good fiction is about how human beings react to challenge – about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.


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