Love to write short fiction but struggle to plot a short story?
You’re not alone. A novel gives you freedom to go off on tangents; a short story or novella doesn’t. Many authors find corralling their story a hassle. I do too. I’m a wordy writer, so I’ve had to learn to stick to the point in short fiction.
In How To Plot A Novella: 3 Tips, I suggested:
If you were writing a novel you’d have time to write leisurely scenes, expand on minor characters, create a subplot or two… in a novella, you need to stick to the point.
Sticking to the point applies in spades when you have just a few thousand words to tell a satisfying story.
By the way, are you wondering how long a short story might be?
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: anywhere from a thousand words (flash fiction) to 10,000 words. That said, any story’s length is up to you. You’re the author.
To make it easier to develop a good short story, let your initial inspiration be your guide.
Short fiction is SHORT: remember your initial inspiration
What’s your initial inspiration for the story?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. For me, it often comes from a piece of art—anything from an advertising image to a movie poster or a billboard. (Commercial images are designed to evoke emotion. More on the importance of emotion in writing fiction below.)
Maybe even from a dream. If you wake up with an image of something in your mind, your creative self might be trying to tell you something.
Perhaps you can’t get a person out of your head, whether the person’s someone in real life, or a fictional character. If the character’s fiction, rather than writing fan fiction, write a short story.
A BIG tip: when using fictional characters for inspiration, be careful not to infringe on anyone’s copyright. Use the emotion you feel, rather than the original work. For example, if you love Harry Potter, rather than writing about a boy wizard, sit with your feelings for few minutes. Chances are good that immediately, or later today, you’ll get an idea for a character (not resembling Harry) or for a story.
Let’s look at some tips to help you to plot a short story in 60 seconds.
1. Use your emotions: day dream to encourage your creative self to provide an image
Treasure your emotions. Emotions are amazing; they trigger your creativity and will inspire you if you encourage it—and you should, because that’s what authors do.
When you’re hit by a strong emotion, allow yourself to feel it. If an image arises in your imagination, chances are good that your creative self has just gifted you with the nucleus of a story.
Here’s a quick exercise for you to try.
When you’re looking for an inspirational image, the emotion doesn’t matter. You can use the irritation you feel when someone cuts you off in traffic; the love you have for your child or for a pet… Bestselling author Stephen King often mentions using an emotion to evoke characters; he used his high school experiences to create Carrie.
Feel the emotion; an image will arise in your imagination. Relax. Day dream. Then start writing your story and remember the emotion and your inspirational image.
2. Try to write short fiction in a single session, if possible
Although you can write fiction anywhere, at any time, and in ten-minute sessions if that’s all the time you have, try to write the first draft of a short story in a single session.
Late at night or early in the morning can work. Late, because you’re tired and images will arise if you close your eyes and follow an emotion. Stumbling out of bed before the rest of the household is good too—you’re close to your REM dream state; your imagination is active.
Forget spelling and grammar. Get as much as you can onto the page.
One of the big benefits of writing short stories is that stories teach you to day dream them into life. If you find yourself overthinking fiction (it’s deadly), write short stories. The practice will help with all your fiction.
3. Circle it: use an opening and final image
If you’re a fan of “save the cat” fictional structure, you’re aware of the opening and final image.
Using a related image for opening and closing short fiction works well. It wraps up your story; readers are satisfied.
For example, let’s say you introduce your story with your main character in her car, during a powerful thunderstorm. Lightning strikes a tree at the side of the road; she’s terrified.
In your closing scene, the character’s in her car again, but it’s a bright, sunny morning. She’s relaxed and happy; she waves at someone she knows on the sidewalk as she drives past.
Have fun when you write short fiction. Just follow an emotion and pay attention to images arising in your mind. You’ll “plot” your short story in seconds.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.