As a romance author, I’ve written quite a few short stories and read even more. I’ve read short stories by industry authors as well as the “classics” by Edgar Allen Poe, O. Henry, Richard Matheson and Stephen King. In addition, I’ve read anthologies of short stories. As an author, I feel that I am in a constant state of learning and try my best to expose myself to a variety of writing and writers.
There was one thing I noticed about the good short stories: they didn’t explain me to death. Nothing bothers me more than a short story that tries to tell me every detail of each character’s back story in the first three paragraphs. It bores me. It bogs me down. Ditto to the over-explanations after each character does something. “She brushed her hair, something that she had done for years and her mother had done before she perished in a terrible auto accident seven years ago with her father on a rainy day.” Too much information at once.
A fellow author of mine asked me how I wrote a short story. Given that I’m no great writing genius—believe me, a woman knows her limitations—I gave them the best advice I could: start in medias res and weave in your back story from there. Notice I said “weave” in your back story” I didn’t say “plop” it on the table in front of the reader like an half-baked cake.
I give my readers all the credit in the world. I don’t try to tell them every single detail about the character from kindergarten on up. In a short story, I try to give you just enough for you to understand the character in the situation at that moment in time.
Think of the short story as a snapshot from a picnic. The children are playing in the background, two women are chatting at a table while a man hands a plate to teenage girl with a sad face. If it is the teen’s story, I don’t need to write you a history of what happened to her in third grade when she lost the science contest, do I? It’s not germane to the story of the teen girl.
But I do have to tell you that in fifth grade, there was a girl who bullied her mercilessly and the teen has just found out that this same girl will be in her ninth grade class when school starts in September. Do I need to tell you the bully girl’s history? I don’t think so, because the story is about the teen girl in the picture at a summer picnic. She is the main character.
Short stories are difficult to write. It seems that there is always more to tell of a character’s life, right? Well, there is. It’s simply not going to be told in that particular story and perhaps you’ll have to fill that in for yourself.
What are your thoughts on the short story? Are they fun to read? Are they fun to write? Leave your opinion in the comments.