A short story that works is a story which, at the end, makes a reader chuckle, or brings a tear to the reader's eye, or makes the reader's jaw drop open in amazement. In other words, it's a story that generates emotion. The story works in the sense that it makes the reader feel something. The more powerful that feeling or emotion is, the more likely it is that a story might win a prize, or persuade someone to publish it, or cause them to recommend it to someone else - the so-called word-of-mouth effect.
Unlike most books on writing, this one is not going to make any silly promises. It won't guarantee to make you rich and famous in seven days. What this book will do is show you how to write an effective short story. It will do this by providing you with a proven technique for developing your ideas into perfectly workmanlike pieces of short fiction.
Ten good reasons for writing short stories
Here, just to encourage you to get started, are ten good reasons for writing short stories.
1 It’s fun.
2 It doesn’t take long.
3 Through the internet you can now find readers far more easily than a writer ever could before.
4 Modern printing technology means that you can, if you wish, publish your own work in printed form at dramatically less expense than you could even five years ago.
5 If you have ambitions to be a novelist or a screenwriter, learning to master the short-story form will be excellent training.
6 If you do manage to get published in one of the small magazines, you may be approached by a literary agent. This is, believe me, a far more effective method of making contact with them than writing to them direct.
7 There are numerous competitions for short-story writers, some of which offer substantial prizes and have some standing in the literary world.
8 A short story can be about absolutely anything. It can be set in this world or the next, or on a planet ten light-years away; the chief character can be a contemporary English-man or a prehistoric dinosaur; the ending can be tragic, comic, or anything in between. In other words, the author of a short story enjoys total freedom in the choice of subject matter, setting, timescale, final effect, and any other factor that you care to mention. You don’t have to take orders from an editor, producer, or director.
9 If you have a yearning to perform on a public stage, you can give readings of your work.
10 To make a start, you really don’t need anything more than a pad of paper and few pens. Although, these days, access to a computer and some technical skill with same is going to be a great asset. Finally, if you find that you really don’t enjoy this form of writing, or that you don’t seem to be much good at it, you have lost very little. Even if you buy a word processor, you can still use it for other purposes, after you have abandoned your literary ambitions.
Several good reasons for not writing any-thing other than short stories
In my experience, those who have ambitions to be an author often think that they could make a pretty good fist of writing more or less anything: a novel, a film script, radio play, television sitcom; you name it. However, the best advice that I can give you is not to try writing any of those. Not at first, anyway. Here’s why.
You may, perhaps, be toying with the idea of writing a novel. Do you have any idea how much time and effort that will take? I have written about twenty novels, and on average I find that it takes me three hours to produce each 1,000 words of polished, ready-to-print text. These days, most publishers are looking for novels of about 100,000 words or more – which means that a 100,000 word novel will take me about 300 hours to complete. If you are writing in your spare time, as most would-be novelists are, you will have to find six hours a week, every week, for a solid year.
With luck, and much hard work, you may then have a finished novel which you are able to offer to publishers. You will probably have heard that it is much easier to sell a novel through an agent than it is if you send it in on your own. But do you have any idea how difficult it is to get an agent to take you on? One of the agents at Curtis Brown recently revealed that in one year he personally was sent 1,200 manuscripts by unpublished authors. He agreed to take on just two of those authors as clients.