Any amateur writer would know that the most daunting thing for a writer is to transition from a flash fiction format to a short story format. I mean it is easy to pen a flash fiction because a lot of details can actually be left to the reader’s imagination. You can also omit detailed character sketches and at times you can even leave out names, etc. Flash Fiction focuses mainly on the story itself so coming to the point in the most direct manner is the key to penning a really good one. But, that is not so in the case of short stories.
Like most amateur writers, I too started my journey of writing stories with flash fiction. However, I was pretty soon drawn to the allure of penning a lengthier version. But that was easier said than done. I admit that initially, I was quite stumped. I often wondered, “How do I take this 100-200 odd word story and lengthen it into a 2000 or 3000-word tale that someone would want to read?”
I admit, I made quite a few mistakes initially (still do at times) but I stuck it out. With each critical feedback that I received, I was that much more resolved to improve. Gradually, as I gained more confidence in my writing, I started experimenting with genres. I purposely wrote on topics that did not come easy to me like romance and humour. I am still learning, still evolving but I can proudly say that I believe I am moving ahead in the right direction.
So, what is it that I did to transition from flash fiction to short stories? What were the key things that I kept in mind? Well, honestly speaking I kept five things in mind – the plot, the setting, the characters, the narrative and the ending (in that order).
The plot – Since short stories give us more leeway in terms of word count so before penning one it is vital to come up with a good plot. I must admit that plots come to mind a dime a dozen. But, for me, the most challenging thing was to craft a broader outline and then refine that to fit into the central idea of the story. Why is this important, you could ask? Well, honestly speaking you can get away with a weak plot in a drabble or a flash fiction story but not so in a short story.
To give you an example, consider a story written around a strong woman protagonist who was adopted at a young age. Now she is on a search to find her roots. How would you go about this story?
The plot here would be the woman’s search (remember the search has to come to a satisfactory conclusion in the end). Hence, you need to introduce – how did she learn that she was adopted? Who told her? Who are the different people in her life? Why does she feel the need to search for her roots? What propels her to do so, etc.?
The setting – The next most important thing that I keep in mind is the setting. Where is my story taking place? Where are all my characters being played out? Is it a park, an institution, an office, a house, etc.? The setting of a story actually defines how the story is going to progress and what characters will need to be added to make it more believable. I try to restrict my stories to a single or a few settings. This helps me write a taut story. You can, of course, incorporate more settings if you are confident that you will be able to do justice to them and to the story.
To continue the example above (an adopted woman looking for her roots), the settings in the story could be her house, an orphanage/adoption agency etc. Where exactly does she learn about her adoption? Where does she go to seek answers? What places does she visit in the process, among other things?
The characters – The next thing I find vital is the addition of strong characters to the story. I try to add only those characters that fit the story and contribute to it. I learnt this the hard way and like most amateur writers, I too was prone to adding more characters.
It is important to provide a detailed background sketch of the character(s) so that the readers can identify with them. This takes up space/word count in a short story. So now I try to introduce my main character and then build the story around him/her by adding only those characters that will add value. Another important thing I keep in mind is to make my characters interesting. So, I pay attention to giving my characters certain qualities or quirks like a dimpled smile, a debonair attitude, shy gentle eyes, etc. I noticed that doing this helped my reader identify more with my character. The distinctive personas that I gave to my characters endeared them more to my readers.
My main focus is to make the character linger in the memory of the reader even after they have finished my story.
The narrative – This for me is the most important thing. The narrative in my story has to flow smoothly. This means injecting my story with emotion via vocabulary, dialogues and other grammatical tools such as figures of speech. Any story must move at a swift pace in order to hold the interest of the reader. The dialogues incorporated should be colloquial (using commonplace, everyday language) and relevant to the story. Hence, I try not to ramble.
As amateur writers, we are often given to using long-winded sentences. We tend to over describe a scene which in turn makes our story boring. The reader of a short story is looking for a compact and fast-paced narrative. Remember the idea is to transport a reader from their reading nook into the world of your story. So, it’s best to not overemphasize or over describe something. In my stories, I try to allude to a few things, imply some others and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination. I try and write a story that makes the reader feel a part of it.
Another important thing that I have learnt is to avoid redundancy at all cost. I learnt to avoid this not just in repeated phrases or sentences but also in the essence of the story. A lovely piece of advice that I received on Penmancy when I started contributing short stories was to avoid using repetitive – “he said”, “she said”, “he replied”, “she answered” etc. These can be used initially to start a dialogue between two people but once the dialogues have been introduced, you can skip them or use them intermittently. Repeated usage tends to confuse the reader and detracts from the flow of the story.
Another thing I try to incorporate is to break my story into smaller paragraphs. To connect one paragraph to another I often use connectors like – she added further or he continued, etc (this is also thanks to some fabulous feedback I received on Penmancy).
The ending – a lot of amateur writers come up with good ideas for stories but lose focus as they near the end. It’s a classic rookie mistake (I would know as I too made it in the past), one that can be avoided by literally sticking to the script. Remember, a story has to tie up all the loose ends neatly in the end. So, the plot and the narrative have to segue into an ending that satisfies the reader. This can be accomplished by ending the story in a number of manners like – having a happy ending, ending it on a cliff-hanger climax, giving it an unexpected twist, etc. But the ending needs to complete the story in the reader’s mind. That is important.
Above anything else one thing that I always do when I pen a short story is – TO HAVE FUN. Short story writing should never be a tedious activity. Don’t write for the sake of writing. Write to satisfy your soul. Write to purge your soul on paper. Most importantly, write because you want to write and not because you have to write.
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