Whether you are working on your next novel or writing short stories for the sake of writing short stories, there are a number of things that can make the process of writing them a bit easier.
1. Pick a Topic That You Find Interesting
First, pick a topic that you find interesting. You may already have a topic in mind, and if so, good. If, however, you are looking for ideas, they are all around you. You can find them in the news, from personal conversations with others, from overhearing someone else talking about something, or even from the enormous number of writing prompts that you can find by doing a simple search on the Internet. The key is to care about the idea enough to explore it as a short story.
2. Find the Short Story Within Your Story
Next, find the short story within the story you have. If you are a writer who works primarily on longer stories, knowing what constitutes an idea that can be addressed at a short story length can take a little bit of work. A good rule of thumb is to pick a moment that is near the most interesting part of the story you envision. Ideally, there should be as few characters involved as possible and a sense of tension between or within those characters. Once you’ve figured out what you can adequately portray in the span of a short story, start writing.
3. Let Editing Be Your Friend
Let editing be your friend. This helps you in multiple ways. For one, it gives you permission to write the first draft however you want. To paraphrase Sean Connery’s character William Forrester from Finding Forrester: “The first draft is written with your heart, the second draft with your head.”
It’s important to understand that editing is a huge part of writing any story, let a lone a short story. In your first draft you should feel free to experiment with your ideas without self-imposed limitations. The second draft, however, will be where you shape and craft what you wrote in your first draft.
4. Read As Many Short Stories As You Can
Finally, one of the best ways to work on short stories is to read as many of them as you can. Try reading a few a week or perhaps one a day. As you read different types of stories, you will be subconsciously gaining insight into how that short space can be used in a variety of ways.
Personally, I read heavily across many genres, from microfiction by Ana María Shua to the mind-bending stories of Ted Chiang to the quieter stories of Grace Paley or James Alan McPherson. I also love reading classic, heavily-anthologized stories like Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” William Faulkner’s “Rose for Emily,” and Charles Chesnutt’s “Baxter’s Procrustes.” Seeing how other authors have used the limited space of a short story to tell stories that have deeply affected us is, besides the act of writing itself, the most important thing you can do.
One exercise you could try if you are looking to understand the value of using a particular word count to express a story idea is to play with it in different forms. First, write it as a short story (1,000 to 8,000 words), then as flash fiction (500 to 1,000 words). If you’d like to experiment further, see if you can write the same story as microfiction (less than 500 words), and if you want an even greater challenge write it as either a 100-word story (drabble) or a 50-word story (dribble).
Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is to keep writing. Who knows? Maybe one of these stories will ignite your creativity in a way that sustains you through these times.