Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stories for Sendai Blog Tour

Hi all! Today I have the honor of welcoming J.C. Martin to My First Book. She's here on a blog tour to market Stories for Sendai, a charity anthology where the proceeds will go to the victims of Japan's tsunamis. So please click here for more details.

In the mean time, here's J.C. on writing short stories.


Big thanks to Misha for hosting a leg of the Stories for Sendai Blog Tour de Force!

As some of you may know, Stories for Sendai is a charity anthology containing twenty uplifting and inspirational short stories. Despite many major publishers being reluctant to publish short story anthologies, claiming that they just don’t sell, they have remained alive thanks to the efforts of smaller publishing houses.

Personally, I adore short stories. They are short enough that I can complete one or two stories on my commute to work. While a novel is one long story from beginning to end, a collection of short stories gives me lots of different stories for the price of one book—now how awesome is that? Plus, most writers I know of started their writing career with short stories before they wrote full-length novels: Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway...Edgar Allan Poe is famous predominantly for his short stories.

Short story writing can be an art form in itself; because of the restriction in length, every word needs to count, to deliver maximum impact. While I have written a number of short stories, with a few in print, I don’t profess to be an expert in the art of writing the short story. However, I am willing to share with you what I know.

By classic definition, a short story is a work of fiction that can be read all in one sitting. The actual definition, by word count, is shady, but anything below 7,500 words is safely in short story territory. Any longer, and it strays into the gray limbo of the novelette...

Unlike novelists, short story writers do not have the luxury of a generous word count to indulge in much back story and world-building. This does not mean that there is no character development in a short story—far from it. Rather, the challenge is to be able to convey this change in as few words as possible.

Most of the following advice can be applied to writing fiction of any length, but I feel they are particularly important in a short story:

Leave out unnecessary details

Have you ever noticed that in a well-written short story, you very rarely read a description of the characters, yet somehow get a vivid image of what they look like in your mind? In a way, a short story is a more interactive read than a novel. We rely on the reader’s imagination to picture the scene. There is no room to wax lyrical about wavy blond hair, striking blue eyes or dimpled, chiseled jaws. Let the reader cast their own actors in the story. By all means, include a feature if it is integral to the plot, but omit all unnecessary descriptions—leave them to your readers’ rich imagination.

Start close to the end

A novel could involve a series of different events, but a short story revolves around just one key event. So start as close to the thick of action as possible to grab readers’ attention, and end it at the earliest logical point.

Have a beginning, a middle and an end

Follow the basic steps of a story: have an inciting incident (call to action), a climax (turning point), and a resolution. A graph of the action as your story progresses should follow a bell curve. Many short stories have an open ending, for readers to draw whatever conclusion they wish. That is fine, as long as there is some attempt at a resolution.

Show, not tell

Short stories, more than any other form of prose, requires a lot of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’. Infer what is going on rather than coming right out and saying it. This helps draw the reader into the story, put them into the thick of action rather than making your reader feel like an outsider looking in.

Stick to only one or two scenes

Since a short story centres around just one event, it should not involve anything more than one or two different scenes. If you find your story moving from scene to scene to scene, perhaps it would work better being expanded into something longer, like a novella or novel.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to bear in mind when writing a short story. What else should you consider? Have I missed anything important out?

Once again, thanks to Misha for hosting this, and thanks to everyone for reading! Stories for Sendai will be on sale by June 30th. For more details, including purchase links, the blog tour schedule and details of an awesome prize draw, click here!


  1. It seems like once I left college, I left short stories. But I am working on a very short story at the moment. I came across a call for submissions based on a picture. The short story, including the title, must be exactly 200 words, no more, no less. That will definitely force you to really consider your words!

  2. Writing short stories are hard for me. Thanks for this!

  3. Helen: Yes, those droubbles (200-word short stories) and drabbles (100 words exactly) are tricky! Great way to whet your creativity!

    E. Arroyo: Glad you find this useful!

    And Misha, thanks so much again for having me! :)

  4. This is really helpful. I'm plotting out a novella and I don't know how to pace it. Thanks!

  5. I love Stories for Sendai! All the authors that contributed to this are amazing. And thanks so much for the advice on short story writing. I wanted to try my hand at it this weekend but was confused on how to start. I like how you point out that I should just take a bigger story and maybe start at the end and just revolve around one scene. Gotcha...my mind can grasp that. I feel so inspired :)

  6. Great post JC! Love your take on short stories, and will definitely be getting your book when it comes out. Congrats! :)

  7. Thanks for the post!

    I don't write that many short stories, but I have done a few--this will be helpful in going back over them to find out what I need to change. :)

  8. Great post. Learning about short stories is really cool.

  9. Great tips for short story writing. I've heard many people believe short stories are harder to write than novels because we can't ramble hehee.

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  11. How helpful. I admit, I've never been very good and short stories but one of my critique partners has had tons published in mags both online and physical.

  12. I love short stories!! Stories for Sendai is an awesome initiative!

  13. I've only written short stories so far, and your list is awesome, J.C.

    To me a good short story is one where there is some change: in the character (s), circumstances, or whatever. I love short stories where characters evolve, where they come to a moment of epiphany...those are the toughest to write, and I can't say I've written many of that kind.

    Thanks again for letting me be part of Stories for Sendai, J.C., and Misha it is great to be back on your blog!

  14. Erin - Plotting is a good idea. The last time I tried to write a short story without plotting, it turned out more like a novelette--too long for most places to accept!

    Michael - Glad you found this helpful, and aw, you used the L-O-V-E word! Thanks! :)

    Amy - Don't forget to email us a copy of your receipt to be in the running for prizes! :)

    Golden Eagle - Looking forward to stopping by your blog! :)

    Devin Bond - Thanks. I enjoyed writing this post as it made me think carefully about what makes a good short story.

    Lynda - I may be the other way round. I'm not much a rambler, and seem to struggle to hit novel length with my longer works! :)

    Becky - Sounds like your CP would come in very useful when you need a short story critiqued!

    Trisha - You get 19 awesome short stories in the STORIES FOR SENDAI antho! I'm sure you'll lvoe them!

    Damyanti - I must say I LOVED your contribution to the anthology! Very good point that short stories must show a change over the course of the tale.


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