I am not an expert on short stories. I’m not an expert on anything to be honest. But I am a short story writer, one who’s been published in some fairly spiffing places, and one who teaches writing every so often.
It occurred to me earlier that I don’t really give any advice here, so this post should change that. It’s not comprehensive. Lots will disagree with me, I’m sure. But this is what I think. I hope it helps. And if anyone’s got any of their own I’d love to see them – so do leave a comment.
Here are my tips for anyone wanting to write a good short story or piece of flash fiction.
Start where the story starts, not before. If I was telling you about a fantastic hotel room I’d stayed in I wouldn’t start by telling you about booking the tickets to get there (unless the story was about booking the tickets and ended in the room).
Take out everything, every word, every sentence, every character that isn’t absolutely necessary.
Similarly, only use the right words. Sometimes people do just ‘sit’. Or ‘run’.
Make sure your characters are believable. What they do, or the situations they find themselves in, may be unlikely and fantastical but the way they react to them has to be something that readers will believe.
Be suspicious of anything you think is clever. The story comes first, the story’s what people should notice, not the writer.
Write for you, but spare a thought for the reader too.
Don’t overdo it. Big words are fine if they’re the right ones. Same with descriptions.
Say what you want to say in the simplest, and most effective, way possible. In other words: get to the point.
Aim to be brilliant.
Don’t expect it to be easy. Or quick. Be prepared to work hard.
Don’t be afraid of rewriting. In fact, embrace it; it will make your stories better.
Don’t expect to get it right the first time. You have total control of what can be changed. (I often find also that if a story wants or needs to be changed, then it’ll let you know.)
Trust your instincts. If you suspect something’s not working then it probably isn’t.
Don’t be afraid of putting a story away for a while. Sometimes stories, and your head, need space.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Nothing’s wasted. It’s better to try something new and fail (and perhaps learn something) than to play safe all the time.
Most importantly: BE BRAVE. You have an imagination, use it. Write the story you want to write, write what you think’s good and interesting, even if that means not sticking with the norm. Different, if done well, can be brilliant.
And read the greats. See how they do things. See why they’re the greats.
Talking of greats and of advice…