What makes a good short story can often differ from a novel. They’re shorter, so the impact needs to be made much quicker. Shorter doesn’t mean easier.
Start Your Story With A Bang
Get right into the thick of it. This works with novels as well, but with short stories it’s essential. You don’t have a lot of time. Suck your reader into the story right away.
Here are a couple of examples of good short story intros. These excerpts are both from the short story collection Trouble In The Heartland.
“Tonight we’ll escape, you and me, baby.”
A great introduction to the short story “Dry Lightning” written by Dyer Wilk.
“Love’s a funny thing. Any poet worth a damn’s spilled their share of ink trying to draw a cage that’d capture it.”
This is one of my favorite openings from the story “Mansion on the Hill” written by Chris F. Holm.
These introductions don’t really tell you anything. That’s what intriguing about them. There’s no characters, there’s no scenery. There’s just a person’s thoughts. And that’s all you need. A good short story has the ability to hook onto your reader from the opening.
Suggest Different Parts Of The Short Story, Rather Than Elaborate
Again, this deals with the number of words you have at your disposal. A traditional short story normally ranges from 1500 to 3000 words. This could be a single chapter of a novel. You need to remember this.
Describing someone’s past should be no more than a mention of it. Give the reader an idea of who they are, but don’t describe it in great length. The story can’t stop advancing. Every word matters.
Here’s an example from Flannery O’Connor‘s short story, “A Stroke of Good Fortune.”
“You would have thought that after two years in the armed forces Rufus would have come back ready to eat like somebody from somewhere; but no.”
There’s your backstory on Rufus. In one sentence Flannery tells us that he spent two years in the armed forces and that he’s a picky eater. Then she moves on.
That is good short story writing. Of course, Flannery O’Connor is one of the greatest ever. Follow these guidelines, don’t waste any words.
The Ending Of Your Story Is Extremely Important
When your short story is completed, the reader should be left thinking. Maybe it was open-ended, maybe the main character ended up dying. There should be a compelling final sentence. The “Wow” factor.
I’ll use another example from the “Trouble In The Heartland” collection (which you should check out, if you’re a fan of crime fiction, and Bruce Springsteen).
This story is titled “Nebraska” and was written by Paul J. Garth. The short story tells the tale of two lovers in the fashion of Bonnie and Clyde. They’re on the run, after murdering a woman and stealing her car.
“They were heading home, she knew, even if they didn’t know exactly where that might be.”
They’re on a long stretch of highway, with blood on their hands. Nowhere to go, no home, but their gut feeling tells them that the dark path they’re on is fading in the rearview mirror.
I hope these tips help you create a memorable short story. Good luck, and feel free to comment any questions, or suggestions that you might have. I’ll be happy to answer them.