Short Fiction Challenges: 4 Savvy Tips To Master Them

Do you write short fiction? I’m a Gemini with a short attention span, so I enjoy writing short stories; you can write a story in an afternoon.

However, as with everything, short fiction presents challenges.

If you’ve tried writing short fiction and found it wasn’t your jam, that’s OK—it’s challenging to write short stories and novellas. You haven’t got the space you have in a novel. It can seem claustrophobic.

Most challenges are easy to overcome, if you remember that you’re not writing a saga: you’re giving readers an experience.

Short fiction: the experience is everything

My favorite mantra for short fiction is: one problem, one solution. The vital question I ask my students is: what do you want readers to feel?

The genre indicates the experience readers want. In romance, readers want to experience the passion your main characters have for each other. In a horror tale, readers want to experience… horror. (My favorite horror tale remains Casting The Runes, by M.R. James.)

If you keep the thought of “experience” in mind, writing short stories becomes fun.

Let’s look at some tips which will help you to write short fiction with panache.

Short fiction: the experience is everything

1. Theme your stories: it makes them easier to write

In the second tip, below, I suggest you write two or more stories at once. Batch them, if you will. This becomes easier if you focus on writing collections. Each collection has a theme.

Writing collections makes it easier to bundle your short stories too. You’ll publish each story individually, then once you have five to ten stories on a theme, you can collect the stories into a single volume and publish that.

Tip: even after you publish the bundle, your stories will still be available individually. Each story acts as a gateway to your fiction; a taster, if you like.

Your theme might be:

  • Special dates, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, or summer holidays etc.;
  • Your main character (think Sherlock Holmes);
  • Settings: a city or town, or a resort;
  • Historical peoples or a historical period—Viking stories, Victorian or Edwardian era stories…

2. Write 2 or more stories at the same time (open loops across the stories)

We’ve discussed open loops:

“Open loops” are also known as the Zeigarnik Effect—they exploit your readers’ primal desire for closure. When you open a loop, you’re developing both curiosity and anxiety in your readers.

When you write short stories (or novellas) on a theme, write two or more at the same time. This makes it easier to create open loops across the collection: you arouse readers’ curiosity, so they’re more likely to read other stories in that collection.

Open loops are essential when you’re writing serial fiction, but do remember that they’re useful in ALL fiction, including short fiction.

3. Tie it up: the ending is in the beginning

I’m a huge fan of the “Save the Cat” strategy of open and closing images.

Let’s say you begin your story with your main character in his car, driving to… Whatever: a pleasure resort, a meeting with his ex, running away from something…

You close your short story with your main character in his car once again—he’s a different person in some ways from the person he was at the start of the story.

When you use the opening/ closing image strategy, you’ll write a satisfying story: readers will feel they have closure.

4. Write the words any way that works: by scene, by character…

Struggling to write?

Stop that.

Do whatever works to get words onto the screen. Outline, don’t outline, whatever. Just write the words.

Trust yourself. Yes, I know this is hard, in the beginning. It gets easier. Over time, less faith is required because you know the words are there, you just need to start writing.

Trust that your creative self knows what it’s doing. Imagine something—whatever pops into your mind—and write it.

Try the strategy of batch writing we mentioned in the second tip; it’s freeing.

Short fiction: it’s fun to write and profitable too

A novel tends to be a gamble. You can spend months writing something, then sell three copies in six months.

Alternatively, you can write a short story in a few hours, publish it for $2.99, and find it’s not only selling, but also leading readers to your other fiction.

Master short fiction which sells today

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