The 8 Rules of Shorts


I haven’t written anything new to post since it turned 2013 so I thought maybe a list of things that I read a couple of weeks back on io9.com that struck me.

It’s with regard to short story writing, or “shorts” for, um… short!

I have been rather feverishly working on my shorts recently having given my novel the ‘stew cupboard’ therapy after NaNoWriMo. (‘Stew cupboard’ is my phrase for putting away a story for a while until your ideas thicken and develop and you can attack it again with fresh eyes.)

Previously, I lived in fear of shorts because I abhorred word limits.

In school, I would more often than not, exceed given word limit by at least a couple thousand words! The root of this ailment was my penchant for over-descriptiveness.

But I have since worked my way out, ruthlessly stamping out whole chunks of text describing the size and texture of the heroine’s best friend’s boot button.

But as you can see, from this long introduction that is happily meandering away from its point, I am yet to be cured of rambling nonstop on paper… er, blog.

So without further ado, I give you The Eight Rules of Shorts!

1. Be quick and merciless in your world-building

I think they are talking to me.

Nope, nobody wants to know squat about your hero’s second cousin Twig who walks with a slight limp and loves Oreos, if he has nothing to do with the story. Map making and family tree drawing are best left to the likes of Tolkien, Martin and Rowling. Let the teeny details fly out the window. Just make your world, drop the characters in and tell the dang story!

2. Make the reader believe there is a world outside that of your characters

CONTRADICTION!

Not really. More like, don’t build the world in the story itself, but build it in your ‘writing notebook/word processor’ and then include little descriptions and details here and there along the story. Like the reason your protagonist cannot visit the seaside is because there’s an age old civil war going on in the coast. Nothing to do with her, but happening nevertheless.

3. Give your characters a backstory, a past, an experience that has left them with baggage, flaws and damages.

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You must have heard this one a thousand and one times. Moving on.

4. Dive right in!

No longer does a story begin with ‘Once upon a time,’ followed by an introduction to the characters and a brief plot plan. People just don’t have the patience nowadays.

Get right into the action and spill it all out. Keep the audience guessing as you tell the story, delivering bits of past along the way like hidden rewards in an RPG game.

Telling a war story? Start right on the battlefield.

Writing about thieves? Go straight to the robbery while it’s happening. You can tell the readers that this is a true story about your no-good, conniving brother later on.

5. Experiment with form

Have you read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?

Have you read Pride and Prejudice by John Grisham?

Nope, me neither. But I’m guessing it’ll be a whole lot bloodier than the original. Tada! Fresh concept! So go ahead and explore, the lingo, the style, the voice. Try on several different voices until you can settle on one which will be uniquely yours.

6. Experiment with genre

Only used to SF and F like me? How about rooting around in the mystery novel genre and then mixing up the elements? That’s China Mieville is known for. And it must be working out for him else we won’t know him.

But be warned: playing with genre is not for children. Know your genres and understand them before you try it out.

7. Know the difference between ‘gimmick’ and ‘plot’

Let’s keep this simple:

  1. Gimmick – the ‘ba-boing!’ moment when something comes along and turns your character’s world upside down.
  2. Plot – the consequences of the gimmick, and the journey the character is plunged into because of it. The person who comes out on the other side must have changed significantly.

8. Plot based or Character based? Answer. None but both!

You can’t tell a story that is completely for the sake of the story when writing shorts. People will be all, “Oh, that’s lovely! Look at all the shits I give!”

That said, a recital of the Boring Singular Life of Pip may have worked for Mr. Dickens but not where shorts are concerned. You have the word limit, (shudder) and as such, in order for the story to be plausible quickly, you’re going to have both a story told and have this story belong to someone. Not everything in this story has to relate to your character, but it must help advance the plot.

And that concludes my first post for the year 2013. Here’s hoping there’s lots of writing involved!

Now to the bedroom for comfy pajama shorts and I’ll start working on my own shorts! Get it? Shorts? No? 🙂

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