Are you writing short stories? If you aren’t, give them a try.
Why? Many reasons: we’ve looked at the many advantages of bite-sized fiction here.
The biggest advantage for me is that shorties bring visibility to novels I wrote years ago. If you want to promote older material in a story too, add a link to that published book in your back matter.
Recently an author told me she struggled with character creation for short fiction: “I lose inspiration because short story characters never seem real to me.”
She asked for some tips.
Short stories: easy tips to create characters
Here’s the easiest way to create a character: use someone from something you’ve published. A major character, or a minor one.
- Use a recent novel. Explore your hero or heroine’s backstory, and create a prequel.
- Find someone interesting from a subplot in your current Work in Progress (WIP): use their backstory.
- Problems. Everyone has problems. Focus on a simple one, as O. Henry did in “The Gift of the Magi.” Ending with twist is optional.
Let’s look at more ideas.
1. Use the simple character creation template: think “trouble”
Here’s my favorite character template from this article on organic plotting:
Name + Age + Occupation + Major Attribute + (optional) Big Problem
Example: Jenny Wethers, 26. Waitress; eager aspiring actress.
Play “what if”:
- A famous TV actor arrives with a lunch date. Since Jenny’s eager, what would she do to get noticed?
- Jenny goes for an important audition: this is her big chance. But…
You don’t need a big idea. Just keep the character’s major attribute in mind, and think conflict. What trouble could Jenny create with her eagerness?
Storyboards are useful for “what ifs”.
What about journals and diaries?
2. Create a character journal: use humor
Conjure up a quick character with a problem. Write their journal.
Bridget Jones’s Diary is an example. Did you know that Author Helen Fielding loosely based her novel on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? Although Austen retellings are popular, Ms Fielding didn’t fall into the trap of a simple reimagining of the story.
Instead of a journal, you could use:
- Email messages.
- Text messages.
- Phone calls.
For example: begin your short story with a text message which means trouble for your character.
Conflicts trigger emotion: what does the character feel?
Which brings to using characters as inspiration.
3. Inspiration: think about favorite fictional people
Staying with Jane Austen, let’s say you’re a fan of Elizabeth Bennet. What do you like about her? Why?
Perhaps you admire the way she refused Mr Collins, in the face of her mother’s disapproval. Can you recall a story from your own life when you stood up for yourself?
How might you use this memory in a story?
Disapproval, anger, and courage are emotions. Fiction is entertainment, so emotions are paramount.
If you’re looking for short story ideas, consider starting with an emotion.
4. Emotions: choose one, and feel it
Emotions trigger your imagination; they’re gold for fiction writers.
Start with this list of emotions, and choose one.
Let’s say you choose disgust. How could you use that in a short story? Maybe your character is a week away from her wedding. Her prospective groom does something which totally disgusts her. What did he do? What will she do?
Keep your short stories simple: beware of too many characters
One of the big challenges of the author who said: “short story characters never seem real to me” was that she developed as many characters for stories as she did for novels.
Beware of this: stick with a small ensemble. Avoid naming anyone without a major role.
So, in summary, we looked at ideas for short story characters:
- Base them on previous fiction you wrote.
- Use a template.
- Remember: emotion.
Have fun creating short stories. Why not write one today?
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.