You will know if your short story is good or bad if you learn about in media res, feature ambiguity, leave your reader wanting more, have a thematic argument, include plenty of detail, and strive for truthfulness.
Once you have finished your story, you might want to consider submitting it to our Letter Review Prize for Short Stories. You might be our next big winner!
Start In Medias Res
Short stories are short.
So you’ve got to get lots done in not many words.
So how are we going to achieve that?
When writing a novel, you may want to start slowly, with low tension, and ramp that tension up over time.
But you just don’t have any time in the short story. They’re going to stop reading in a couple of minutes.
Consider starting in medias res. This is a latin story telling term which means ‘in the middle of things.’
Another writing principle to consider is starting as close to the end of the story as possible.
Get the audience hooked from the first sentence.
Not every story needs ambiguity, lets be clear.
However, the best stories I read often feature some element that isn’t totally nailed down, totally watertight.
The short form rewards ambiguity.
It’s hard to make a completely self-contained story in less than 3000 words. Sometimes you can’t wrap up all the loose ends.
Short stories, films, and poems which have endings which offer room for interpretation can be mysterious, compelling, intriguing, and award winning.
Leave Us Wanting More
The best stories leave you wanting more.
You want to spend more time in the company of the characters.
You want to find out more details about the setting.
You want to spend more time reading the wonderful prose of the writer.
Enjoying their turn of phrase, and their observations and point of view.
Think about how you can make your story such a rewarding reading experience that your audience will be left wanting more!
This one is a little bit more complex, and can take years of trial and error to understand and master.
A thematic argument is the ‘message’ of the story. It’s what the story appears to be ‘saying’ to you.
The message might be that we need to be kinder to each other.
Or it might be that racism or violence is bad. War is hell.
Think about what the themes of your story are. Write a list of everything that comes to mind.
Then make a list of the comment that you would like your story to make.
Then find ways to make that comment via your narrativization.
Good stories are detailed, and precise.
We suspend our disbelief because we belief.
We belief because we are being told something that looks and sounds real.
It looks and sounds real because of the level of detail.
Writers often think that their stories are more accessible when they feature less detail.
That by removing the detail more people will be able to relate.
Strangely, the reverse is true. The more specific you are about your world, the more the reader can relate.
Think about the tremendous level of detail in your favorite novel.
This has been touched up on in the section above.
Verisimilitude is the degree to which your world reflects the real world.
How convinced we are that what you are describing could actually be real.
Good stories feel ‘true’.
This is a confusing concept because a piece of fiction is by definition a lie.
This is a great contradiction at the heart of fiction writing.
Hemingway said that a good story feels more true that truth.
Look to craft characters with believable motivations, who look and sound like real people, and aim to describe the world as you really see it, and you will be well on your way to telling the ‘truth’.
So there you have it! Some concepts to consider while writing your short story. Once your story is complete, it might be time to send it out into the big wide world! Remember to check out Letter Review’s Short Story Competitions.