Writer’s Corner: The Craft of Short Fiction

I’ve recently been working on two different anthologies for my classes, as well as planning two, or possibly three different anthologies, that I want to put out through WordCrafter Press next year, so it’s not surprising that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the writing of short fiction. While writing short fiction presents many of the same challenges as writing book length fiction presents, such as avoiding passive voice, using the correct tense and the right POV, and avoiding repetitive language, it also seems to present challenges for the writer, which are more prominent and more noticable in a short story.

Below is a list of what I see as the top four challenges of writing short fiction. A short story in which these challenges are met and mastered can be a delight to read, but when the writer misses the mark or doesn’t tackle these challenges skillfully, the result can be a story that doesn’t feel complete, leaving readers feeling unsatisfied.

Top 4 Challenges in Short Fiction and How to Handle Them

  1. Abrupt ending: I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read recently that start out wonderfully, promising a killer story all the way to the end and then drop the ball, leaving me wondering where the story went wrong. I think many times authors are at a loss as to how to wrap things up, and with short fiction, where word counts must be taken into consideration, they try to end too quickly, instead of taking a little more time to tie up the details of the story. – To avoid this, take the time you need to wrap things up in your story in a way that will be satisfying to the reader who has stuck with you this far. If you can’t give your story a satisfying ending within the required word count, perhaps it should become a longer work, because there is nothing more frustrating than to read an engaging story that you are really into, only to be disappointed at the end, so this is a biggie.
  2. Shallow, underdeveloped characters: In short fiction, you have a limited space in which to introduce your characters and make your reader care about what happens to them, so it is important to come out of the gate with a good strong voice that grabs the reader’s attention at the very beginning and continue with that all the way through. Making your characters interesting is something you need to do with fiction of any length, but with short fiction, you need a strong voice to bring character traits to the forefront in a succint way. Passive voice in a short story can result in a lack of interest in the reader, causing them to put the story down without taking time to get to know your characters or get into the story.
  3. Head hopping: This is always a problem when it occurs in any length work of fiction, because it tends to pull readers out of the story when they realize that the viewpoint they thought they were in, is really that of a different character. Short fiction isn’t really long enough to use multiple POVs, so it’s difficult to figure out how this even happens, but it does. The author needs to pay close attention to who the narrator is and be sure to not wander into the view point of a different character.
  4. Excessive wording: It’s important to realize that a short story is just that – short. Don’t waste space with unnecessary wording that isn’t needed. Write succintly. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible. While it’s important to paint a vivid visual image for the reader, don’t include details which are not relevant to the story in some way. World building, character development, and plot must all come together in a short amount of space, so choose your words carefully.

I love a well-written short story, and I read a lot of short fiction. When it’s done right, a short story can be every bit as engaging as a good novel. Don’t you think?

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