3 Easy Ways to Keep Short Fiction Short

This was part of a response to a free audiobook of one of my short works (about 12k) words, which you can listen to for free below. The comment was concerning how to keep short fiction short.

Writing short fiction is really a different beast than writing long fiction, and the skills are a different set. If you want to limit length, here are a few easy things:

1) Limit the scope. A few locations, or one, rather than many. A few characters, or even one, rather than many.

2) Keep it to one plot. “A” story only, no sub-plots. Expose the conflict quickly and make the resolution simple to achieve.

3) Tell the story more through prose than dialogue.

HP Lovecraft wrote stories with NO dialogue, and Garamesh and the Farmer is the length it is because I do most of the work in prose, simply summing up the plot points, rather than showing them indirectly through dialogue and character interaction. It is not wrong to “tell” instead of “show” in this way.

That being said, don’t be afraid to write longer stories, either. Pick the style that highlights what you want the story to do. Short stories are usually light on character development for obvious reasons. If you want deeper characters, that’s usually going to come through dialogue, which means more pages.

You can also consider using first-person perspective for short fiction, since that will help you describe the events quite succinctly and will also feature “dialogue” of the narrator through the narration itself, letting you put more personality into the story in a small amount of space.

For help designing a great, consistent creative process, check out THE KEYS TO PROLIFIC CREATIVITY:

3 Comments

  1. I’ve always been a big fan of films set in a single or limited location. The Thing, Air Force One, really anything that keeps the action going within the confines of a single location. It works well with fiction writing too; one of the Dark Tower novels, I can’t now remember which, took place almost entirely on an AI-controlled train speeding headlong towards the doom of everyone on board. I really liked that. Not that Dark Tower is short fiction, of course, but it’s just an example of how limited locations can sometimes aid narrative.

    Short fiction seems underrated. Everyone’s looking for the next epic, sprawling saga while so many seem to have forgotten the joy that can come with digestible stories that get straight to the point and resolve quickly and decisively.

    • Focus! When you put limits up, you can focus on things that matter. The Thing is a great example, but there are so many other horror movies that are exceptional because they limited their sets (or budgets) and had to focus that much more on everything else.

  2. Giuseppe Cimino

    Point 1 and 2 are the reason why I like writing short stories
    Keeping it simple can be healthy for both writer and reader

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