Question from the e-mail: You give lots of tips about writing long fiction, but do you have some for those of us who still like to write short stories?
Answer: I used to have a list of tips for students, when I taught short story writing. Haven't done any for years, though. See below:
Twelve Tips for Wriitng Short Stories
1. A short story should be short. The longer your story is the more difficult it will be to sell.
2. A short story should be fast-paced and never boring. A short story needs to move quickly and take place in a short length of time.
3. A short story should be written in scenes and all scenes, if at all possible, should be from a single character’s viewpoint.
4. A story plot should contain an Objective (the main character’s goal), Obstacles that stand in the main character’s way, and a clearly defined Outcome, that results from the characters actions (not from coincidence!).
5. A short story is about a main character who wants something and whether they get it or not. If there’s no problem, there’s no story. Some central problem should face the central character and how the main character solves that problem is what the story is about.
6. A short story should have a theme, some grain of universal truth that becomes the central theme of the short story.
7. The Protagonist (main character) should be someone whose motives the reader will understand, whose mistakes the reader will forgive, and whom the reader will identify with and root for.
8. Action and dialogue should rise as the story progresses. Scenes should build upon one another to increase the reader’s involvement. Action should be believable. Dialogue should stay on the point.
9. A short story should have a bleak moment, just before the crisis, when it looks as if the main character will never get what he or she wants.
10. The crisis should be realistic and the reader should be experiencing both tension and suspense as to the outcome.
11. The resolution should explain everything, and tie up all the loose ends. It should be satisfying to the reader, even if it is not a “happy ending.”
12. Dialogue in a short story should always move forward and be about the point of the scene. Small talk has no place in dialogue.