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How to Write Short Stories

A Simple, Systematic Approach to Writing GOOD Short Fiction

QUICK COURSE DESCRIPTION: In an age where indie publication is common and where previous publications can open commercial publishing doors, the ability generate concise short fiction ideas, and to plan and complete quality short stories at specific target lenths is essential. 

You can learn this skill. 

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Good short stories are a career staple for writers. They give you quick projects that are inexpensive to produce and that become an inexpensive way for you to:
  • keep your current readers happy,
  • experiment in different genres,
  • test new markets, and
  • explore contests, anthologies, and other tools for reaching new readers.
Writing good short fiction is as essential skill in any writer's toolbox.

$67.00

INCLUDES:

  • Eight comprehensive PDF lessons. 
  • Printable PDF worksheets.
  • Diagrams and charts as needed.
  • Demos and short stories (by the author) for dissection.
  • Private Class Forum for lesson work, help, and practice.
  • Permanent in-version access, and all in-version upgrades free.

COURSE DETAILS:

HOW TO WRITE SHORT STORIES

I'm writing the class at a planned speed of one to two weeks per new lesson.

Below is my working outline for what the class includes. The first lesson and worksheet, the forum and classroom are all in place, and class is starting now.

 

Important! This is the SPLINTERS VERSION of the class.


What's a Splinters Version?

It's my first version of any class, built directly to the questions asked to me by prospective students before I put together the outline.

From the questions I receive, I build a class outline that covers all the material requested, and put this into PDF-ONLY format at the fastest pace I can manage -- generally at the pace of one lesson per week, though from time to time lessons prove to require significantly more work than I anticipate, or require more than one lesson to cover entirely.

Once I've finished the class and have caught up on cleaning up other pending Splinters Versions, I'll clean up this one. That make take a while.

BUT, no matter when you bought, students who buy at the early prices get all in-version up grades, INCLUDING the upgrade from Splinters to Revised Final, for free.

I try to write material that is based on fundamentals, and make each lesson's content evergreen, but from time to time, things change. While I'm not expecting any changes in the fundamental nature of good short fiction, I could be wrong.

Hope not. But it could happen. In that case, the new version will be significantly discounted for existing class owners.

But the SPLINTERS version of this class will contain typos, spellos, and things that cause a lot of questions in the forum that require me to add materials to the lesson later. Hence, SPLINTERS.

Also hence the big early discount.

The $97 price for the completed version may stand. I may come in at exactly eight lessons. 

I need to. I have one more class on the runway following this one.

How to Write A Novel.

I have strong incentive to bring this in at the allotted number of lessons.

So what will it cover?

LESSON ONE: How to Think Short: Painless Short Story Idea Creation

There's a significant difference between an idea that will work for a short story and an idea that will work for a novel. 

They're both fiction, they both need IDENTICAL story components.

What ideas for short stories have, however, in a structural "door stop" that keeps them short.

Keeping the idea short isn't the only problem, however.

  • You have to like the idea
  • It has to be a good idea
  • It has to be a workable idea
  • It has to be a finishable idea
  • It has to matter to you
  • It has to matter to your reader

In this lesson, you'll:

  • Learn why Thinking Small is essential to cramming big story ideas into tiny spaces

  • Learn what constitutes Idea Processing, and how doing this can give you short story ideas that don't explode into ten novels

  • Create Idea Pieces

  • Idea-Process your pieces into workable short story starters

  • Discover the meaning and use of Sets, Props, and Gimmicks in short stories

  • Break out your own ideas into the their component parts to make sure you have workable characters, conflicts, and settings

  • Do private story dissection of three stories (including one provided short story) to figure out why they work as stories (or don't)

This lesson is complete in Splinters Version

 

LESSON TWO: How to Plan Short: Fun, Simple Short Story Planning

Writers frequently define themselves as overplanners, underplanners, hopeless planners, or complete non-planners.

Knowing how to plan your work, though, is the difference between starting a hundred stories and finishing none, and starting AND finishing a hundred stories.

It doesn't have to be much of a plan. But if you're setting out to write a 6000-word contest story and you don't want to end up with Yet Another Unfinished Novel, you need to know how to plan short.

So this week, you're going to get my Second Definition of a Short Story, you'll learn to build scenes that work, and then you're going to build eight (yes, EIGHT) short story plans.

Not all of my approaches will work for everyone, but try them all, and figure out which ones work best for you, which ones work with struggle or modification, and which ones don't work at all (yet).

IMPORTANT: Go back to the ones that don't work at all from time to time as you go through this course (and go through it again later) and test. 

Experience and success with past stories can train your brain to think in new ways, and you may discover that processes that didn't work initially have turned into your favorites.

In this lesson, you're going to learn and use:

  • The Six Cookies Approach
  • The Scene-Based Approach
  • The Length-Based Approach
  • The Character-Based Approach
  • The Twist-Based Approach
  • The Setting-Based Approach
  • The Plot-Based Approach
  • The Muse In Circles Approach

Each of these comes with a "live as I'm doing it" demo on the page, followed by a Your Turn with worksheets.

And this week you'le also going to learn to plan story length, and you'll plan a length for the story you're going to start writing next week. (Select one story from the eight exercises you did this week.)

This lesson is complete in Splinters Version


How to Write Short:
 Get the Story You Want at the Length You Need
This lesson is In Progress in Splinters Version


How to End Short:
 Landing Twist, Resolution, and Meaning

PENDING

Contests, Anthologies, Collections: Writing to a Theme

PENDING

Writing Story Time to Length: Five Seconds or Five Hundred Years in 6000 words

PENDING

Spin Off, Spin Into: Creating Good Short Fiction to Market Long Fiction

PENDING

Genre Short Stories: Hitting Fundamental Notes

PENDING

I'm building this class to answer the following questions (this is my RAW question list, not sorted):

All student names have been removed to protect privacy. Student questions are grouped by asker, though:


[STUDENT]
 
I'm a good article writer so I know how to put together a cohesive short piece but short stories floor me because I can't always think of scenes that move the story forward without becoming too long. I wander and flounder when trying to decide what is relevant and entertaining to the reader without bogging the short story down.
 
I always feel like my short stories are scenes rather than stories. They aren't complete enough. 
 
And, finding a twist that is a surprise. setting up a twist is hard and its something I feel inadequate to do.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
My main difficulty is scalability. How do I know what the ideal wordcount should be for the idea I have? Also, if I meant to start on a flash fiction piece, 2500 words of pantsing later, I have a story. Most of the time I have no idea how that happened. At the moment, I just write and get what I get, but I'd like to have more control over the execution and be better able to target wordcount ranges.
 
I'd also like more info on pacing and structuring a story.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
For me, the biggest challenge by far is narrowing down the timeline appropriate for a short story. My mind naturally thinks "novel-esque". I will come up with an idea, which spawns multiple other potential plots and sub-plots, and before you know it I have the potential groundwork for a novel. But, I want/need to write several short stories to build a back-list in between my novels. So when I try to hone in on a specific piece of the novel to write a short story about (or even if I'm simply trying to create something entirely new unrelated to one of my novels) the biggest issue always comes down to narrowing down the timeline enough for a short story. My Muse always wants to provide back story...but how much is appropriate for a short story? At what point in time of my novel-esque idea do I start my short story...how far back do I go to give the reader enough info so that the reader doesn't feel cheated or confused?
 
Basically, any issues related to narrowing down the timeline are the issues I struggle with when writing short stories. Most of the time they will end up being much larger than I had originally planned. So I'd like to obtain the skillset to narrow down that scope/timeline on the short story.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I write a lot of short stories. However, I'm not sure until it's done and I start revision whether or not I'm going to hit my word count target. Often I discover that there's actually too much plot missing from the story and I'll need to double the length before it works. (Running out of steam when I thought it would be longer is less of a problem, but not unheard of.)
 
This is a problem if I wrote it with a call for submissions in mind, where I have an inflexible word count range. During the idea generation and planning stages, how can I a) accurately judge how long an idea is likely to be when finished, and b) create a plan/outline that will keep the story within bounds without leaving it thin on the ground?
 
Writing in spec fic, world building is where a lot of the fun is. Depending on the intended length, though, there may be very little room in which to explore that. I'm afraid of leaving the reader lost on one end or bogged down on the other. To what degree can I expect the reader to figure things out based on small details? What are some tools and techniques for using world building in a way that is fascinating, plot-critical, and concise?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Like [STUDENTS], I also have trouble with finding the right amount of story that will fit into a short story, and keeping it simple enough not to get too long while still having a coherent plot.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I'd love information
- on pacing issues (how, where to add description, where dialog, when to shorten things etc.)
- on how to identify information in the finished draft that's missing and that the reader needs to understand it (self-editing?)
- on cutting sub-plots when a short story grows too much.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Figuring out length. Currently I have one that is "done" at 10K words, with good rounded scenes and great pacing... but it feels like it's too choppy. The story itself may need to be novella-length to be right. (Urg. The problem with pants-ing. Too much feel!)
 
The structural differences between the lengths. I.E. what structures work better for novellas vs. short stories vs. really short vs. flash. Right now I'm winging it and just trying to keep the same (general) structure as the previous story in the same series.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
My biggest problem is pacing and plotting. I have a way to do this with flash fiction and a way to do it with novels, but short stories... I'm kind of stuck. And so I have an idea and I start writing, and then somehow it turns into a novella or something and isn't what I originally wanted it to be.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I have the same problem with short stories that I have with novels. I understand structure on an intellectual level, but when I try to write, everything is just a mess. Part of that is that I'm really bad at knowing what I'm going to write in advance. I can put together a Sentence, but rarely does it survive first contact with the actual writing. So #1 on my wish list is planning and structure. How much to do. When to do it (frex, I know people who mostly pants their stories and then use a 7 point structure during revision to look for plot holes). How to know when enough is enough. Are there story types that benefit more from outlining, and, conversely, are there story types that benefit more from simply freewriting.
 
Another thing I'd like to see covered is whether short stories are actually good practice for novel writing. I feel like the flash fiction I've written has been good practice for short stories, but I don't know if the same is true for longer work. But I also know that I will benefit and gain confidence simply from completing more stories which is a big part of why I want to focus on short stories for a while.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Conflict and character—basically, how do I tell a complete story without boiling over into the tens of thousands of words? I’m a wordy writer anyway, so this is a big struggle for me. XD
 
I struggle with packing “just enough story” into my short stories and I have no idea what level of description, characterization, is acceptable for a piece that’s less than 15,000 words. I’ve written a few pieces of flash fiction and one short story where I somehow “magically” landed on the perfect story that was finished being told in only 3000 words—but that one was most definitely a fluke since I can’t seem to be able to do it again on demand.
 
I’d love to learn how much conflict is too much for my desired wordcount, and conversely, how to avoid having it turn into a plotless mess because I have too little conflict.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I get concepts. I can come up with an idea. How to take an idea to the bare bones necessary and needed for a short story not always easy for me. How to reverse engineer an idea to elements needed and that will make a short a real story? 
 
Figuring what is needed and what is not necessary and the story still is a short but more than flash fiction. Or what elements are missing when a short story does not work. 
 
Like Amy, I intellectually get story structure and understand how they work but putting into practice and figuring why it is not working for me is harder, even tho I have the info, I don't always know how to wade through the trees to the heart of the forest in my own stories. 
 
It is easier sometimes with other peoples stories to widen the lens and observe because I am not in others stories in the same way I am in my own stories. Are their techniques that can help with that?
 
My idea are always complex and turn out more than I intend no matter what I do because it is the way I think perceiving concepts as a whole. 
 
I need usable breakdown techniques and the why behind them. This is a problem in bigger works to for me which is why I have 4 series planned and no real standalone except flash fiction and even those are debatable.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Holly_Think said: ↑
Short stories don't necessarily have to happen in a short span of time. You simply have to understand the process of making time count differently. That's definitely something I can cover.
Great point. While I do generally try to narrow the timeline for short stories, my struggles really go beyond that - narrowing cast of characters to accommodate a short story, narrowing threads/plots/subplots, narrowing amount of backstory (my natural tendency in a short story, especially on first draft, is to ramble a lot about backstory to "bring the reader up to speed" since I am telling a tale in such few words), etc.
 
I have no doubt your class will be helpful for me. I have yet to be disappointed!
 
Off topic - happy to see you back to writing fiction again!!!
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Determining the amount of characters.
Intertwining subplots into the plots.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I've written flash fiction and novels. Now I want to write some short stories, and try to get some published to bring attention to my novels. I had never written flash fiction until I took your course, and it was a great guide to get me started. I would like something similar in regards to short stories. How do I get started and what would be most beneficial for me to know before I write?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Soo.. what kind of mindset do you even approach writing a short story with the intent on it being just that, and not a launching point for something bigger or some side quest to a main quest you're currently writing?

 
[STUDENT]
 
Getting the right amount of foreshadowing--balancing between "this is obvious" and "this comes out of left field what."
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
 "I also have trouble with finding the right amount of story that will fit into a short story, and keeping it simple enough not to get too long while still having a coherent plot."
 
This right here. I always seem to come up with long complex ideas that require a novel-sized work. How do I tell a whole story, and keep it short?
 
My main problem with short stories is that they tend to turn into very long stories (almost novel length.) Maybe it's because I want to have as much detail so that the story doesn't seem to be written in a nebulous space. If they don't grow into long stories, I find it difficult to come up with a scene that can be expanded into a short story with a start and stop point.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I write long. I've written some decent short stories, but I'd love to be able to do it more easily. I really have to work to cut stuff while keeping the essence of the story because my brain complicates everything so much that it ends up needing the length of a novel. So, deciding what to leave in and what to cut out of that complexity so I end up with a short story would be useful.
 
I also would love to be able to write serial stories with cliffhanger endings to "come back to next week". The idea of being able to write a complete short story with a larger story arc is the short version of the mystery series, in a way. I have no clue how to write it, but I have some ideas that would fit that structure.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
1) I don't know what I'm doing. :ToothyGrin: (I wish I was joking!)
 
2) Structure is always something I've struggled with. Especially the condensed structure of a short story, as I tend to over write. I'm more comfortable with novel writing. 
 
3) Outlining. How much is too much? What are the essential bones of a good story outline? Where do you start?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I agree with [STUDENT]  the word that best describes my concerns is scalability. Tighter parameters means less room for error and less space for getting the important aspects of a story presented to the reader. It's not so much knowing what to add in, but what can be left out and still deliver a quality read. How do you take 5 pounds of *stuff* and fit it into a 2 pound bag?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I write short stories to promote my series. So my biggest problem is how to make a short story satisfying in and of itself while juggling these other goals --- sticking close to the tone of the main series, not giving away anything that's in the other books (so, generally, I figure it should start before the first book in the series), and leaving enough open threads that readers are enticed to dive deeper into the novels themselves. I guess that all fits under "idea generation."
 
My second issue is making short stories long enough. I took your flash fiction course and it really helped me...but the anthologies I team up with other authors to create usually require 5 to 20k stories. If I ignore word count, my sweet spot is more like 2k. If I write much longer, the book grows into an actual novel! So I'd like tips on hitting that middle ground. (I'm guessing this is "pacing and plotting.")
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I would like more information on great twists and how to come up with them.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
* How to craft a strong end
* How to tie stories together for a collection (maybe a tone/genre/etc checklist) (not as a series per se, but so that readers won't feel kicked in the teeth, when they finish one story and start another)
* strong worldbuilding in fewer words.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I would like help with -
Story structure 
Plotting 
A satisfying ending
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
"The structural differences between the lengths. I.E. what structures work better for novellas vs. short stories vs. really short vs. flash. Right now I'm winging it and just trying to keep the same (general) structure as the previous story in the same series." - Barbara Lund.
 
That's my problem in a nutshell. Structural differences between different length stories.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Hi Holly,
Thanks for creating this class for us.
I have many of the same questions as the other students, however, [STUDENT] and [STUDENT] both hit the nail on the head for my most important issues: How to come up with great twists and how to loosely tie stories together so they fit into a collection or anthology.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Some questions I have around short stories are: 
1. What would help me understand whether the idea I have for a story is appropriate for a short story or a longer work (novella or novel) - or is there such a set of parameters?
2. Is Algis Budrys's 7-point structure the only form of short story structure? Or the best form?
3. How to create 3D characters and get to know them well within the limits of a short story format.
 
So, I suppose my questions can be categorised into structure, characterisation, and finding an idea that fits the short story format, and not finding out, after I start writing, that the story requires a longer format.
 
Thanks, Holly. :)
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I've really been wanting to try and work on short stories because I keep jumping around from some of my novel ideas and never finish anything. I figure a short story is a great exercise to practice plotting and mapping ideas and actually completing them. But when I come up with ideas for stories, they're sweeping epics that could fill up a couple hundred pages or a whole series. Coming up with a story that can fit into a few pages is difficult for me. What constitutes a good idea for a short story and how do I scale some of my ideas into something that is interesting to read, yet concise? I've been able to come up with short little pieces like articles or blog posts (600-1000 words), but trying to fit a story idea into something like 2500-10000 words is a big challenge for me.
 
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
2. Is Algis Budrys's 7-point structure the only form of short story structure? Or the best form?

==========
Since I had to look up Algis Budrys' 7-point story structure just now to find out what it even was, and since I have been writing and selling short fiction for a bunch of years, I think it's safe to say that his is neither the best way nor the only way to structure a short story. :D
 
It's just A way.
 
Have I mentioned how much I dislike rigid formulas and the search for the One True Way to complete tasks?
 
I use a number of different processes (and no formulas) to create short fiction. I'll be showing you all of them.
 
And why I dislike formulas -- If you do what everyone has always done, you'll get what everyone has always gotten.
 
Experimenting and taking risks means you'll fall on your face sometimes. It also means that you might be able to learn to fly.

-- HOLLY LISLE

============
 
[STUDENT]
 
My difficulty with short stories is the range in word count and knowing when to stop or reign it in. My inclination is to go either really short or really long, so its hard to make a complete story without either doing flash fiction, where I know I can't include anything, or doing a novel, where I can go long. I don't want my short stories turning into novels! 
 
I think, also, that structure is my biggest problem. By the middle of the story what should have been accomplished? How do I know when it's time to wrap up the story? How much character development can I include? How much suspense? I like mysteries and suspense, and I love short stories, but I find it hard to write them into short stories without going too long. I really like patterns, like the three-act structure or a five-act structure, and would love to see something similar with short stories! 
 
I really, really, really want to write horror short stories, and paranormal short stories, and would love if we could have a demonstration throughout the class like in previous classes!
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Sometimes I write short or flash, only to have people ask for the rest of the story. Despite the story being complete in itself. Despite me not really being interested in making it something bigger. Just because the reader doesn't know everything, doesn't mean the story isn't finished. That said, how do you decide when to leave a particular story alone and not go looking to pull any more loose threads versus deciding that a particular story is suggesting more, and figuring out what that more is.
 
 
[STUDENT]
  
1. I used to write short stories. They were published. It’s been a long time. The ideas I come up, I do very little with. Plot. My stories wind up being just the idea.
2. Idea generation. The ideas are few and far between.
3. Structure. The idea sits there, with no development, and it’s predictable.
4. I’ve spent far too many years reading literary fiction, and I’m trying to be arty and meaningful. Ugh.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
For short stories, the biggest things for me are pacing and structure. A serial format, where short stories of 5-15k get broken up to be closer to flash pacing chunks seems common. This is very different than a 6k story. Short short lengths are way more common than when I was young.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Right now, I figure pacing/plotting are my weak points. Somehow that seems to be connected to the problem I have creating characters who DO - discovery seems to fuel all plotlike motion in my stories, and as soon as it's time for my characters to do something with the knowledge gained, I thrash about, directionless and either far too bogged down in detail or haphazardly throwing said discovery up in the air and then running away as quickly as possible.
 
This is as true for short stories as it is for flash and novels - but since I find short stories a better length fit than flash and easier to finish than novels, I bring this up here.
 
[STUDENT]
 
Keeping the story a short story is always difficult for me
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
What genres sell the most short stories?
What genres don't sell any short stories?
What does tightening up the story mean?
In a short story, how much sensory detail would you need?
How would you write a prequel to a romance novel as a freebie for your emailing list? Would you need a conflict? Or could you use the short story to explain characters and back story only?
Other than word count, what is the difference between a short story and a novella/novel?
I was taught that short stories only need 3-4 scenes - is that true?
Which POV is best for a short story?
added 1/15/18: also can you explain what 'show, don't tell' really means, and offer examples because I'm just not understanding this.
Thanks!
01/17/18: symbolism seems to be prevalent in most award winning short stories - is symbolism required?
03/06/18: what is the best way to introduce a character and their description in a short story, or in any story for that matter. thanks.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
My three questions...
 
Short stories are a struggle for me. I like longer ones. Both the reading and the writing. I've managed one Flash and a 25K novella. I think I would prefer the novella size to a short but is that something that can be scaled up from a short or is that it's own work?
 
I am assuming that this book is only going to be for the under 10K story but is that going to be true?
 
I liked a previous question about revising a short story. I used HTRYN on my novella and it works fine but is that the best way for a shorter story?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Endings is #1. They’re either too open or abruptly stop. 
#2 Pacing, but that’s an issue for my novels too.
#3 Showing enough detail to get the reader into the story without it turning into Gone With The Wind.
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I have a hard time coming up with an interesting story problem that doesn't balloon to novel length with just one little addition that I MUST include because that's what makes it awesome. I started your Flash Fiction course, but even that was a challenge--I haven't finished it (I've come up with all my ideas but haven't started the actual writing), but I know for a fact that each of those "500 word pieces) will be at least 3000 words or longer. "Aha, so just start with Flash Fiction and you'll have a short story!" Perhaps. The process of starting those stories was a great exercise in idea development and still trying to keep it simple. But I struggle with knowing how to come up with just the right size of story problem/s to solve, or to find just the right amount of conflict that doesn't require massive character development/arc to resolve.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I'm good at dialogue. My books are always strong with it. When I try to write a short story, however, I can't seem to put any dialogue in it. They tend to center around inner monologues, thoughts, interpretations of what is happening. I tend to have only one character in the story, or perhaps one other, but the stories focus on the feelings. I don't think the stories are dull, which is kind of implied in the 'inner monologues' comment above, but I'd like to mix it up a bit and play to one of my strengths...
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Short stories intrigue me as they need all the key turning points and tight writing - I'd so love to turn my novel draft into a short story and see what changes!
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Pacing and plotting
I am learning about this in HTTS and HTRYN, but I would like to know any important changes that would apply to shorter fiction. 
 
Structure
What is the general difference between the structure of novels, novellas, and short stories, besides the length? Is there a basic or ideal structure that is good to begin with? What is the structural checklist I'd need for a short story?
 
Conflicts
How big a conflict is too big for short stories? What idea or concept is too large for a short story (or a series of them)?
 
Thank you, Holly! I am really looking forward to these new classes!
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Pacing and Plotting
Idea generation
How to build tension without being too lengthy.
 
 
[STUDENT]
Probably duplicating others to a point, but my thought process, my words:
1. Scaling for length -- given a target and a basic idea to drive the story, how to hit that length?
 
2. When to / when not to assume a given knowledge base? If I'm penning an SF tale, how many times do I have to repeat basic science lessons when I do not KNOW the target market or readership (SF&F concepts have become so pervasive that SF tales do sell elsewhere, after all!)
 
3. Is there any one (two? ten? etc.) way to easily move from vignette to STORY?
Respectfully (with a HINT of mischief, usually),
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Anything and everything that you can tell me would be wondrous. I always think about how writing novels would be awesome, and then I come up with story ideas that clearly are meant to be short. I must admit I like short stories: I like the idea of them, I like that a complete world can be developed succinctly, and I love the feeling of wanting more when I'm done reading one (a good one, anyway). 
 
What are my structural options?
 
What makes a good story better/best/great?
 
How does it differ from a novel-- what key things should I be focused on?
 
How to strike a balance between narrative, action and dialog?
 
How to flesh out characters without burdening the reader with extraneous information?
 
How to build tension and develop twists?
 
How to work with a theme through multiple stories without becoming boring or redundant?
 
How to know when a story is done?
 
Finally, pretty much every point, concern and question posted before me by everyone else.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
Sometimes I write short or flash, only to have people ask for the rest of the story. Despite the story being complete in itself. Despite me not really being interested in making it something bigger. Just because the reader doesn't know everything, doesn't mean the story isn't finished. That said, how do you decide when to leave a particular story alone and not go looking to pull any more loose threads versus deciding that a particular story is suggesting more, and figuring out what that more is.
 
Related to the above:
 
I think there's a difference between ended, finished, and done. You talk about it a little bit in the flash fiction class. But a lot of short fiction I read (even from big names that everyone would recognize), and some that I write, feels more like a novel excerpt than a self-contained story. It doesn't finish, it just ends. Is there a no-fail technique for wrapping up the ending without entirely killing it, but without leaving it feeling like it's hanging?
 
On the other side of the coin, sometimes short fiction just wants to be short fiction. You have no more ideas for this world. You don't want more ideas. You just want it to be done and you don't particularly want to leave any open loops that you can come back to later, or that your readers will assume will be another story eventually. Aside from telling people, no, this is just a short story and I won't be revisiting it, are there any techniques for making short fiction feel entirely satisfying without leaving open hints an possible future expansion?
 
In some ways these are almost the same question. But not quite.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Jumping off of what [STUDENT] said above, what about when you have multiple ideas for short stories all set in the same world? Not a novel, just a "set" of short stories that are connected because they're in the same setting and may have the same main characters (or may not).
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
1 -Every "short" story I've ever tried to write mutated into a series, so I'm definitely one of the people who wants to know how to create a complete short story that stays short.
 
2 -I would love some kind of plotting guide or explanation on how plotting for a short story differs from plotting from a novel - tried googling it, but haven't found a satisfactory explanation.
 
3- How to balance the whole "showing vs telling" thing in a shorter space. I've read a lot of short stories that rely more heavily on telling than showing, but I'm wondering if there's a way to balance both to keep the story moving and keep it immersive.
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
1. Tips and tricks on how to estimate how long a particular version of a story idea will be when written and how to adjust that story idea for different desired word count ranges. I know this probably varies to some degree based on the writer, but it would help to have a place to start from which I can then adjust as I learn more about my specific writing idiosyncrasies. So, I suppose this would be looking at how to "prune" an idea back that's too big or how to flesh out an idea that's too simple so it fits into the estimated word count you want rather than the one it just magically ends up as (e.g. short story instead of novella or 10k instead of 20k). Or perhaps this would be more about how to avoid common mistakes that take your idea from short story length in your head to novella/novel length on paper? I'm not quite sure how to phrase this since I'm still learning how to write short stories in the first place. You're much better positioned to know what it is I'm trying to figure out here. I basically just want to gain more control over the rough length my story ideas come out as in first draft.
 
2. The differences and similarities in writing short stories compared to writing novels. I've heard some writers say that short stories are more about conveying a particular emotion or are centered around a pivotal turning point for a character and showing the fallout of that moment, where novels are much more expansive and about immersion in a world/life. I haven't written short stories very much since I naturally tend towards novels, and so it would be nice to get a better understanding of exactly what the similarities and differences are between writing the two. If I have the right perspective to begin with, perhaps that will help me avoid some of the most common mistakes.
 
3. I'm not really sure about my third issue, but I suppose it would be related to writing short stories that involve characters or worlds from other novels you've written (e.g. previous MCs, secondary characters, etc.) Basically, how to do this well so that new readers and older readers enjoy it, how to make the story complete in itself, and how to avoid the most common issues that pop up with this type of story... Something like that maybe.
 
Also, thank you for doing this class too! I spent the whole voting period checking to see if this one was in the lead or not. 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Yes, thanks, Holly, for taking on this class too! They're all good class ideas, and I especially look forward to this one.
 
1. I like structure. It helps me organize ideas within the story and keep up the pace. You offer some structural guidelines in the Flash Fiction course, and there are dozens of resources on novel structure. It's difficult to find structural guidelines for short stories, and compressing a novel structure doesn't seem to work right. Expanding a flash fiction structure introduces too much slack and lack of direction. I am definitely looking into that 7-point structure, too. I need to know what boxes need to be checked by what percentage of the way through the story.
Edit: Darn. The 7-point structure is basically another name for what I already use for novels and have found to be overkill for short stories. 
 
2. What level of planning and worldbuilding works for short stories? What is the sweet spot between what you need for a flash story and what you need for novel?
 
3. How do you make a story "satisfying"? The short stories that have stuck with me are both complete unto themselves and brimming with captivating ideas. They don't feel like they lose anything by not being a novel, just like a good home-cooked meal doesn't lose anything by not being a 12-course tasting menu. There's no feeling of, "That's it?" There's no feeling of bloat. You can read something complete and reflect on new ideas in the span of a lunch break.
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I'll try to be brief, in short, that is my problem. I thought I was writing a novel but instead I could have several short stories come from it. Have I written, (I would like to say finished, but honestly not) a novel or a bunch of short stories that tie together?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Structure: controlling story length with structure
 
Pacing and plotting: balancing scenes with sequels to keep the story moving forward smoothly and not choppy
 
Concise narrative, important details without overdoing the description, telling vs showing
 
Addendum: I would like to write some short stories related to my novels / novel world to entice readers to try my novels, or extend the reader experiences between novel releases in the same series.
Last edited: Jan 18, 2018
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Figuring out about how long of a story you'll end up with from an idea, and if you're aiming for something shorter than that, how to take an idea you really like and trim it down without feeling like it's losing too much. Usually my ideas end up growing and growing and reach way beyond being a short story.
 
If it's possible, how you'd take something that would be longer and that doesn't have any clear stopping points, and break it into multiple short stories that each feel complete in themselves, while still forming a larger whole.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I'd love information
 
- on pacing issues (how, where to add description, where dialog, when to shorten things etc.)
- on how to identify information in the finished draft that's missing and that the reader needs to understand it (self-editing?)
- on cutting sub-plots when a short story grows too much.
Well, yeah! You've hit some of the points I need info about. Especially the "when to shorten things."
 
 
My main problem? Summed up in three words: I write LONG. Always have, and can't seem to break away. My solution is to practice writing Flash Fiction. Over and over, until I get shorts I'm happy with. Until they are real stories. Anyone have a tip or two or three on how to shorten and tighten and still arrive at a story that has a beginning/middle/ending? Holly, I really need this class.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
My troubles are similar to everyone else's; I have trouble scaling an idea to an appropriate size. I like James Scott Bell's take that a short story is the fallout of one shattering moment. But even that gives me troubles because the word "shattering" throws me. I think theme and continuity are probably some of the more important aspects of the short story. People expect novels to be a bit meandering and cover more thematic ground, but I think short stories are really expected to make a point. I'd really like a way to hone my point; especially if I'm not positive what my point is. Unfortunately, "the sentence" doesn't usually cover that.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I write long. I've written some decent short stories, but I'd love to be able to do it more easily. I really have to work to cut stuff while keeping the essence of the story because my brain complicates everything so much that it ends up needing the length of a novel. So, deciding what to leave in and what to cut out of that complexity so I end up with a short story would be useful.
 
I also would love to be able to write serial stories with cliffhanger endings to "come back to next week". The idea of being able to write a complete short story with a larger story arc is the short version of the mystery series, in a way. I have no clue how to write it, but I have some ideas that would fit that structure.
Click to expand...
 
My problem exactly. I don't think short. I can't seem to come up with ideas that are self-contained and won't explode with too many characters, subplots, etc.
 
I can't tell you how many classes I've taken or books and articles I've read on "How to Write a Short Story." Most of the time, those books/articles/classes are only "How to Write Fiction." I keep hoping someone will provide the key that will unlock my brain with an "Ah ha!" moment.
 
It's extremely frustrating because I used to be a regular reader of genre magazines: Analog, the occasional F&SF, Ellery Queen, and Alfred Hitchcock. Recently I've bought a couple of anthologies with the intent of reading a bunch of shorts so I can somehow absorb how to write one by reading what I want to write. Only too many of these don't seem to have a plot. Like someone else said about the stories they write, they don't seem finished. They seem like an introduction to a story or something.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I find that many of the “short stories” I come across are actually vignettes, or cut off scenes (oops! Thinks the writer, if I go longer, it’s not a short anymore!) or not an actual short story. Or they’re actually *novellas* if they’re in a collection. 
 
While I’m sure that there are contemporary competent short story writers out there, I would tend to go back in time when the short was king, and read Saki, O Henry, etc. IMHO.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I have trouble finishing a short story and pacing.
  
 
[STUDENT]
 
I don’t necessarily write long. I used to, then I overcompensated and now think I write sentences that are too compacted and could use more explication.
 
I’m OK with writing “long” short stories but struggle on the shorter stuff. 
 
I think it would be really cool if you can show how to develop an idea for varying lengths—some magazines and anthologies are fine with 6,000 words, others for 2,000 words. I’m not sure whether you should come up with a “simpler” idea for 2,000 words or accept that you’re only going to be able to show a smaller slice of that narrative in your mind.
 
Also, endings! Endings are important for everything, but feel especially important in short stories. It might be what I’m reading (lots of literary realism for a class), but I notice that a lot of short stories stop short of a “resolution” of the problem the character faces, allowing us to realize what the protagonist needs but not allowing the character to realize it. An ironic ending, I guess. I’m thinking of Denis Johnson’s The Largesse of the Sea Maiden.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I probably used up my wish list earlier, but I thought of another one. 
How to revise a short story without it feeling overworked. Specifically, how to identify if the story is working, and how to fix broken stories with the least possible rejiggering in order to keep the life and movement in the story. I think short story revision may be a little different from novel/novella revision since most are tight enough that you can hold the whole story in your head at one time.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
My main difficulty is scalability. ... At the moment, I just write and get what I get, but I'd like to have more control over the execution and be better able to target wordcount ranges.
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I'd love information
- on pacing issues (how, where to add description, where dialog, when to shorten things etc.)
- on how to identify information in the finished draft that's missing and that the reader needs to understand it (self-editing?)
- on cutting sub-plots when a short story grows too much.
 
Guidance on all of those things would be great, particularly identifying information that's missing from the finished draft that the reader will need to understand the story. I've traditionally had some trouble completing short stories as well, so some ways to make a good ending and give it some oomph would be nice, but I've gotten better at that since working on the flash fiction course, so it's less of an immediate concern for me now.
 
[STUDENT] ↑
 
Another thing I'd like to see covered is whether short stories are actually good practice for novel writing.
 
That would be an interesting set of lessons too, since I'm toying with the idea of writing some short stories to help myself figure out some stuff for the novels I'll eventually write, but for me that would be a bonus, not a core class component.
 
 
Holly_Think
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I probably used up my wish list earlier, but I thought of another one.
How to revise a short story without it feeling overworked. Specifically, how to identify if the story is working, and how to fix broken stories with the least possible rejiggering in order to keep the life and movement in the story. I think short story revision may be a little different from novel/novella revision since most are tight enough that you can hold the whole story in your head at one time.
 
There can never be too many questions, as long as they're in place before I'm ready to start building the class.
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Another question I had with short stories regarded theme: short stories are thematic, but how do you do theme in such a short piece without being totally on-the-nose?
 
Also, how might you do research into good places to submit short stories too, if you choose to submit over self publish—although the market is limited, it would be nice to know how to research good fit publications for a short story in a timely way.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
How do you control character and story arcs in a short story?
How many lose ends can you leave in a short story?
Can a short story be turned into a series?
What is the difference between a short story and flash fiction?
Is there a difference in the planning of a short story?
Can short stories come from novel length stories?
Is the formula the same for a short story no matter who the target audience is?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
Can short stories come from novel length stories?
Can you elaborate on this one. Because I have dropped history or 'fairy tale' style stories inside my novels and was about to answer yes. But I suspect you mean to turn a longer story into a short or to pull a short story out of the longer novel.
 
Update on my question by the way. This may be outside the class but if you teach story control then it may work for novellas as well. But my 25K novella is likely going to need to expand or drop subplots. (This one I will likely expand.) But the question about story control remains. So the best ways to keep a short(er) story short(er)?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
How to avoid adjective/adverb diarrhea without cutting so much you wipe out your "sufficient scenery".
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Pricing. You have talked about pricing before, but this may be a good spot for estimates just for short stories... by market? by word count? by series (as in, I'm going to write 10 of these, then put them together so individually they should be $x and together $y).
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
How can we use short stories as a vehicle to get ourselves in front of new readers?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Packaging: 5 flash makes a suitable book, how many short stories?
 
Also pricing.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
How to come up with short stories for themed anthologies?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
How to write stories for contests or for other tight deadlines in genres you don't know well, because sometimes writers are either asked to write a story to a theme, or they jump into a contest, or they want to submit to an anthology. Is there a trick to writing a great story on a short turn-around time in a genre that isn't 100% in your roundhouse? (I fear the answer might simply be, "Write and pray," but I thought it was worth asking anyway.)
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
How to show a relationship form and grow between characters without it feeling like they were just shoved at each other. Is that something that works well, or at all, in a short story? (I have this in mind primarily for romance, as often times in short stories everything feels rushed and underdeveloped, but I think it could apply for other types as well - friends, mentor/protege, rivalry, etc...)
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Hi, are you talking novella length or under 10K words?
 
Character development in a short amt of space and then I would really like to know about how to get in anthologies with other authors. 
 
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I probably used up my wish list earlier, but I thought of another one.
How to revise a short story without it feeling overworked. Specifically, how to identify if the story is working, and how to fix broken stories with the least possible rejiggering in order to keep the life and movement in the story. I think short story revision may be a little different from novel/novella revision since most are tight enough that you can hold the whole story in your head at one time.
 
My need builds on this a bit, and might more appropriately be part of the revision classes. I'd likes some help knowing when to give up. When further revisions of the story are not going to do me any good because the underlying story, while a good story, is not something that people want to publish. I've got stories that sold as initially revised, but I've got a story I feel invested in that I can't seem to sell for money or love, despite telling it at least three different ways over the years I've picked at it.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Here goes:
I have a world that is featured in two novels (unfinished, unpolished and/or unpublished.)
I have written at least one short story concerning two women in Roman-era England that was published in a Wiccan newsletter.
 
Ideas seem to pop up for short stories as I'm working on my novels (ex. a short story about an elf who was killed in the novel by the villain.)
 
So, my issue? Do I draft the short story and place it in my "to be written" folder (when I create said folder) or do I write short story about this person to give me a break?
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
Most of my concerns with writing short stories have been addressed in the questions already asked, topics already noted.
 
Perhaps a different take -- regarding showing versus telling. I find I use telling more in short stories to help with length constraints. So I would like to know more about when it's best or more appropriate to use telling while writing short stories, any information about using telling vs showing when writing short stories.
 
Also, I'm not sure if this is appropriate here, but I'll toss out another concern I wrestle with -- length versus price point when self-publishing short stories or collections of shorts. What price to set and whether number of words, length of story determines price, any information about this aspect.
 
Thank you!
 
Oops! I see similar questions popped up while I was writing this message. So I'm not the only one wanting more information about pricing.


 
[STUDENT]
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I have the same problem with short stories that I have with novels. I understand structure on an intellectual level, but when I try to write, everything is just a mess. Part of that is that I'm really bad at knowing what I'm going to write in advance. I can put together a Sentence, but rarely does it survive first contact with the actual writing.
This is my biggest problem as well. I understand the Sentence but it's hard to write from. Like Amy mentioned, I think maybe it's just a matter of learning more about structure.
 
Also:
Getting past beginnings - I love writing opening scenes. I don't get bogged down in the middle so much as I get bogged down right after the opening. Sometimes I set myself up with story worlds/problems that feel impossible to resolve. What happens when you come up with a story idea/opening that excites you, but you have no idea what you want to say or how to make it move forward? 
 
Word lengths/story requirements - I'd love to know what each length needs. What's the structural difference between 2-3k and 8-10k? Is there room for a subplot? How much goes into each of those lengths?
 
Backstory - I've written short stories that feel like mostly backstory, but also I'm working on an 8k story right now with very little backstory. It's there, but there aren't really any flashbacks at all. Does a story have to have flashbacks? Can it be mostly flashbacks? So I guess I'm asking, how do I deal with time in a short story?
 
Another problem I have is starting out on a story and suddenly it feels like it will never end. Is there a trick for getting a feel for a story before you write without actually outlining it first? Or are there boundaries you can set up to keep the length contained as you're writing?
 
Getting stuck in general - one thing I've been really really curious about lately is how much time a story takes to "cook." Is there such a thing as starting a story too soon? I.e. Before your right brain is done with it? Is there anything that can hurry along the process without making it frustrating or feel forced? 
 
I'm so excited for this class.
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
I've pants'd two "complete" (50K words) NaNoWriMo novels. They both have interesting elements that I'd like to extract to make something(s) shorter. How do you deconstruct already-kinda-done worldbuilding to retain only the essential elements for a shorter story?
 
 
Holly_Think
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
Hi, are you talking novella length or under 10K words?

I'm covering short stories and novelettes in this class. 2000 - 17,500  words.
-- Holly Lisle
 
 
[STUDENT]
 
This is a comprehensive thread. My topic request has already been posed, and posed quite early. But I wanted to put in another vote for it.
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I can't always think of scenes that move the story forward without becoming too long.
And especially
 
[STUDENT] said: ↑
I always feel like my short stories are scenes rather than stories. They aren't complete enough.
This is my problem...sort of. I *can* create a complete story. However...it's just a long running scene. I don't know how to make the story span over the course of days or weeks, broken down into scenes that feel fully realized to a reader.
 
Later, Holly_Think said: ↑

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