One of my favourite narrative formats is the short story. This fondness had grown out of my continual battle to complete a story. I had no trouble starting the story, but once I had written about a hundred words or so, I would lose the plot – literally! But after writing a few stories, I think I have finally vanquished my nemesis. So if you like to read short stories and would like to write your own, then read on and discover how you can write an engaging and dynamic short story in four easy steps.
The short story is an artistic product that contains a fixed sequence of words and is known for its particular format: length of words, structure, viewpoint, or tone of voice, etc. It provides a small literary window onto an observed dramatic event or a personal experience.
The short story has a long history, starting off in oral tradition long before writing and the arrival of the printing press. Some well-known forms are Homer’s Iliad, folk tales, fairy tales etc. Many of these short story forms were used for didactic or teaching purposes– such as Aesop’s Fables, or in a biblical context – the parables of Jesus.
Folk or fairy tales were originally designed as subtle social commentaries on exploitation against the lower/middle classes throughout history. Of course, these social commentaries had to be cleverly disguised so as to protect their authors. Feudal lords, kings, and queens were transformed into the fantasy characters we know so well today – giants, evil step-mothers/witches. And the passive captive princess – just an example of their fateful prey. There is more I could say about the dubious representation of gender roles in many of these tales, but for our purposes, we will stick to storytelling.
As folk and fairy tales have been passed down through history, they have been subject to revision, due to socio-political change. Many of The Brothers Grimm tales in the late eighteenth century were censored and re-packaged towards children. I apologize for demystifying or removing the magical aura that surrounds the fairy tale. But seriously, would a prince really climb up a tower with a girl’s long blonde hair??? Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of fairy tales too, but sometimes it is important to know the ‘why behind the what’.
I believe short stories are great narratives for the 21st century as they do not require so much reading time as novels do. They may not provide as much content as the novel, but a short story can exist for the sole purpose of just presenting an idea or a question to the reader.
A story tip to remember. When it comes to the short story: form and content are important!
When you start to craft your story ask yourself these four questions:
What structure will I use? A traditional linear structure with the events unfolding chronologically, (including flashbacks) – or experiment and adopt a more innovative style.
Where will I start my story? From the beginning? In the middle of the action?
Where will I place my story conflict or rising action?
How will I end my story? Will it close with a satisfying conclusion – with all the loose ends tied up or will I defy traditional storytelling techniques and leave the reader wanting more?
You are the creator of this infant literary world – it is up to you!
Personally – I like to challenge traditional storytelling methods.
Overall, form and content are important because a short story is determined by a specific word count. When I was at university most of my creative writing assessments were 1000 words. That may sound like a lot, but considering a novel is 70,000 words plus, 1000 words can be challenging for an author to create an intriguing storyline and a dynamic characterization. But it can be a lot of fun seeing what you can do in 1000 words. Of course, some short story competitions accept stories up to 5000 words.
Remember! A story was never meant to exist in a literary vacuum – it was meant to be read by others. When you start writing your short story, consider your audience and their overall reading experience.
Your task, if you choose to accept it, is to come up with a theme or an idea for your story. Brainstorm your narrative structure. Choose your setting. Pick one character. Yes – only one character!
NEXT BLOG: ‘Digital storytelling’ – Creative Storytelling for the 21st century.
If you would like to read my version of the fairy tale ‘Rapunzel’, head on over to the BOOKS tab, and in my free eBook, Exploring the Narrative World: Writing the Short Story, you will find the short story, ‘The Tale of Ruthie and Grace‘. Let me know what you think?
Grimm, J 1982, Fairy Tales from Grimm, retold by Peter Carter, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York. Available from Google Books. *
Zipes, J D 2002, Breaking the Magic Spell:Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, 2nd ed,
University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA. Available from Amazon Books
* You can find a book of fairy tales at your local library or an eBook through Apple iBooks.