I covered a bit of how I start stories in my Story Brainstorming blog post last year. When I write short stories, I use that template to get my brain going. Sometimes I start with characters and build from there, other times I start with theme and build the characters to suit.
No matter where you start, writing short fiction can be a little tricky. Many people approach short fiction as if they were excerpts from a larger story, and while that works, if it isn’t written with care it can be unsatisfying for the reader. That’s why it is important to make sure that your short story has all the same elements a complete, longer story would have.
Beginning, Middle, End
Good stories have these components. With short stories, if you leave the ending open, it can feel like you didn’t deliver on your promise to the reader. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but for the most part you want to make sure that your story is complete and can stand on its own.
Your Beginning should set the stage for the story. In story stories, your first line can actually be quite crucial. You want to hook the reader so that they continue reading. There are a variety of ways you can do this and here are some of my favorite examples:
- Start with a question. This could be a question the narrator asks or one that a character asks. “Where are you going?” “Why are you looking at me that way?” The reader will continue reading because they want to know the answer to the question.
- Start with a generalization. All _______ do__________. “The world is an unhappy place for all writers.” A generalization is sort of like a question. A good one will hook your reader and they will want to know why the generalization is true or why it isn’t.
- Start by establishing Point of View. If you have a particularly strong main character, you can use their voice to start the story. This works extremely well if the story is written in first person, but it can work for third person too.
Just like in longer fiction, your middle will likely be full of conflicts and complications that your characters need to overcome to get to the ending. The middle is also where you are most likely establish your story’s ‘inventory.’ Your inventory includes plot points and devices that help move the story along or will help tie up loose ends later. You should always introduce things like plot points, props or other major factors in the first 3/4ths of your story.
If you add them in at the end, the reader may feel cheated. For example: If a magical watch that you never mentioned in the first 3/4ths of the story saves the day at the end, your reader will likely wonder why this watch was not mentioned sooner, or they may just feel like the ending was poorly written. For this reason, make sure anything that comes into play in your ending is introduced in the middle or even the beginning of your story.
For the ending, you’ll want to tie up all your loose ends as neatly as possible. You resolve all the conflict and complications that were built up in the beginning and middle. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it should be one that satisfies your reader and makes good on any promises you’ve made to them through plot.