20 Tips For Writing a Captivating Short Story (Part 2)

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by Mindy Halleck

[Continued from part 1]

11. Start in the POV (the head) of your main protagonist. It’s best to use their name right in the first sentence to establish them as the POV character, the one readers will identify with and cheer for. As soon as possible let readers know their approximate age, gender, and role in the story world.

12. Establish the 4 W’s: who, what, where, when. Reveal setting (time and place) within the first few paragraphs as well, to situate your reader and sidestep confusion. But avoid starting with a lengthy descriptive passage.

13. Use close POV. Get personal with your protagonist and tell the story from his or her point of view. In a short story there is no time or space to get into anyone else’s viewpoint. Even your narration is your POV character’s thoughts and observations. Don’t encroach as the author to define or explain anything to the readers. Let your POV character carry the story.

14. Show, Don’t Tell! Don’t use narration to tell your readers what transpired—put them right in the middle of the scene, with crafty dialogue, action and reactions. Skip past transitional times and trivial moments. Just use a few words to go from one time and place to another, unless something important happens during the shift.

15. Show your character’s inner and outer reactions. To bring your character to life on the page, evoke all five senses, not just sight and hearing.

16. Every page needs conflict and or tension. It might be obvious, like a disagreement, or inconspicuous, like internal bitterness, anxiety, etc., or unrequited love. Think Sense & Sensibility.

17. Use dialogue as conflict! When it comes to dialogue, snub those warnings from your computer that announce “WARNING! Improper English”. Read your dialogue aloud. The best test is to have a friend read it out loud and you just sit back and listen. Does it sound natural? Does it add conflict, reveal character or simply sound like their sitting down to a hum-drum cup of tea? Cut the tea unless it’s a vital ritual or the murder weapon. If you don’t have friends to read for you, then record yourself and play it back. Most smart phones have recording apps. Make your dialogue as authentic as possible. Each character should express themselves differently. Use contractions, fractional sentences and one-word answers, slang words, disruptions, silences, and cagy replies. Lots of attitude and tension create conflict in your dialogue and on the page.

18. Go out with a bang. Like your first paragraph, your ending paragraph needs to be unforgettable, and also satisfying to your readership. A surprise twist is often nice, but it needs to fit in with all the other specifics of the story. You don’t need to wrap everything up in a neat package, in fact, short story endings can be vaguer than for novels. But do reveal a sense of resolution for the satisfaction of your reader. And be certain the protagonist/hero solves his or her problem or is victorious via their own bravery, willpower, and ingenuity, not through coincidence, luck or liberation by another character.

 

Now that you’ve done all this work, it’s the revising stage.

19. Hook them in with an opening that sizzles and zings. Your first sentence and paragraph should rouse interest and raise questions that beg to be answered. Write and rewrite your first line, first paragraph and first page. They need to be as attention-grabbing and intriguing as possible in order to take hold of the reader’s attention and make them want to read the story.

20. Toss out those darlings. LESS IS MORE! Short stories require restraint and tight editing. Trim any long, complex sentences to expose the essentials, and make every word count. If a sentence or line of dialogue doesn’t advance the plot or the character, cut it. Use strong, evocative, explicit verbs and nouns and cut back on adjectives and adverbs. For example; “She slowly walked through the market.” Consider, “She wandered”. Or instead of “He ran as fast as he could to the car”. Instead, “He rushed”. Remember, every component of a story should have some consequence or relevance later. If it doesn’t, cut it. There’s no room for fluffy long narrative in a captivating short story.

 

 

Mindy Halleck is an award winning author who lives in the Pacific Northwest. In 2015 her short story, A MOTHER’S CONFESSION won first place in the Writer’s Digest Fiction Writing Contest, and another of her short stories, THE FRENCHMAN, won first place in the Edmond’s EPIC Fiction Writing Contest. Check out her blog for more of her articles.

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