There is magic in a great short story. Short stories can capture your imagination like nothing else, and in as short a time as your morning coffee break. How do you write a great short story that moves someone in just a few pages?
We’ve gathered 5 world-famous authors on just that! Here’s 5 authors on the craft of short story writing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald on Coming Up With Great Short Story Ideas
Find the key emotion; this may be all you need know to find your short story.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote masterpiece short stories such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and “Winter Dreams.”
His number one advice for coming up with great short story ideas is to focus on a key emotion you want to explore. Using key emotions in your short story writing is one of the best ways to grip your reader and have them feeling satisfied after reading.
You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. The best short stories focus on one key emotion or theme and say something unique about it. Examples of key emotions are: love, despair, hope, anxiety, and a whole array of other strong emotions.
The key is to choose something you have personal experience on (I mean, who hasn’t had anxiety or felt love before!). Find something in your life and speak on it. The three best ways to come up with a great short story idea are:
- Pick a key emotion and build your story from that. Examples: love, dread, hope, dreams, jealousy.
- Find an experience in your life and build a story with that in mind. Take a scene or character from your life and start the story based on that! This is a wonderful way to write powerful stories that may even help someone not feel alone.
- Ask “what if” questions to find a cool, unique plot and setting. Brainstorm hypotheticals to find new worlds and questions you can explore in your short story. Example: “What if we went to mars only to find an alien civilization already there?” “What if a wealthy aristocrat fell in love with a woman who loathed him?”
Stephen King on Writing Short
And the real short stories, that really good writers are able to do, are like an art of miniaturization.
Stephan King doesn’t need any introduction. But what does the art of miniaturization mean?
A good short story is just that: short. How can you pack as much meaning into as few words as possible? For example, how can you say something impactful and new about dealing with grief? This is a great way to think about the craft of short story writing. But Stephen King uses the word “art” here intentionally, this can be very difficult to get right.
The key is to have the idea of miniaturization on the back of your mind while you write your short story. “How can I make this line shorter?” “How can I get to the point faster?” “Is this part of the story essential or necessary for the whole piece?” Thinking in “miniaturization” terms will help your short story writing tremendously. A good way to do this is by writing with a fountain pen or typewriter where every letter counts. Another great way to work on miniaturization is to write a single line several times making it shorter each time.
Edgar Allan Poe on Focusing Your Short Story Narrative
A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.
~Edgar Allan Poe
You can see a theme here. A great short story must be focused. You want a key idea, mood, or emotion that you will shine a light on to give your reader a unique perspective on love, politics, loneliness, or whatever else it is. You want your reader feeling satisfied after reading your short story, and the only way to do that with the limited length of your story is by focusing it down into a specific mood or idea, or a specific place and person.
“And every sentence must build towards it.” An amazing line by one of the greatest short story writers in history. You don’t need to stress about each and every line (there are revisions!), but you want to try to pack as much as you can in each line and have each sentence be a meaningful part of the whole. First make sure you have something written down! And then, reflect on each sentence as to how it relates to the central theme or pull of your short narrative.
Raymond Carver on Vivid Descriptions
It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.
Raymond Carver is one of the greatest American short story writers responsible for “Where I’m Calling From” and many more great American short stories.
Carver compares the short story with a poem. In a short story, you have more freedom to have poetic descriptions and sentences than in a novel, and you should take advantage of this! Many of the greatest short stories read more like poems than a novel. With the ability (and quality) to be concise with the narrative and the language, using vivid and almost poetic descriptions is a great way to make your short story more impactful and fun to read.
Tips for Writing Vivid Poetic Descriptions:
- Use the five scenes: Imagine you are there, what do you smell, hear, feel, see?
- Use vivid verbs that do not require an adverb.
- Use words that relate to your key emotion, mood and theme.
- Capture the heart of your reader. Use strong, poetic language.
- Read your favorite writers and poets to see how they do it. (Any of the authors on here would do well!).
Ray Bradbury on Consistency in Writing Short Stories
Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.
You can write a short story in two hours. Two hours a day, you have a novel in a year.
What’s most important is to write! Short stories are one of the best ways to improve your writing talent, and should be seen that way! Every writer wants to work on their best selling novel, but what happens often is that a great short story will turn into a novel, especially if it has more to say.
The best thing you can do is read short stories and write short stories (while keeping in mind some of these tips). The quality of the language and narrative structure should become increasingly natural to you from reading and writing short stories from great authors.
Also read 5 Contemporary Short Stories That Will Inspire You and 5 Fun Story Tools To Inspire Your Writing for more inspiration for your next short story!