So you have decided to write a short fiction story to submit to the MoRe Prize, where Ellen Hopkins will have a chance to read your work, and you could possibly win a prize, but you have no idea where to start at? You came to the right blog post, friends, because I am here to share Casey’s Super Top Five List of Writing a Short Story. The items on this list have been refined over the years—but feel free to use some, none, or all to jump-start your next new short story!
1. Figure out who your characters are.
One of the most important parts of a short story is the characters–they are the people who will make your reader fall in love, follow, and care about your plot line. Consider making a character map for your main characters (the questions on the one listed below were found by my high school theater arts teacher years ago) in order to make them feel more “real” to the readers.
Ask yourself these questions for each main character:
xiii. Favorite color
xv. Favorite foods
xvi. Drinking patterns
xix. Something hated?
xxi. Strong Memories?
xxii. Any illnesses?
xxiii. Nervous gestures?
xxiv. Sleep patterns?
This list is not an end-all to the questions you can ask yourself about your character, but it’s a good starting point.
2. Figure out what the plot of the story is.
Not sure what the character is going to be up to throughout the duration of the story? Develop the answers to these three questions completely, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of what is going to happen to the main character.
What does your main character want?
Make sure the answer to this question is not superficial. The answer should be deep and thoughtful, for example: “to slay the dragon” would not be enough to work with, but “to slay the dragon while keeping my no kill rule” is more than enough.
What battles will the character have to face throughout the story?
You do not have to think of outcomes to these battles yet, but begin to think about the different types of battles (physical, mental, emotional) battles that your character will have, and how they will relate to the reader.
How will the story end?
This needs to be a specific choice—preferably one that is not predictable—so that you can begin to think of how the battles will interact and overlap with each other to lead to this specific ending.
3. Make time to write.
You are a college student, and it can feel impossible to find time to write down your own name, let alone an entire story. (Trust me, I understand you.) However, it is so important that you set aside time each day (even if it’s only a half an hour on your bus-ride home) to write and perfect your craft.
4. Try not to edit until the story is complete.
It can be hard to finish a story when your brain is still focused on an issue three paragraphs back—but try your hardest not to backtrack. Get it all out in one go, then take the time to re-write and re-focus yourself (and sometimes the characters) after the first draft is done.
5. Kill your darlings.
I know this is a phrase that many people repeat, almost incessantly, to the point where no one is quite sure what it means or who it is from originally, but it is important to kill your darlings, or “you have to get rid of your most precious and especially self-indulgent passages for the greater good of your literary work.” (For more information on who really said that we must ‘kill your darlings’, check out author Forrest Wickman’s blog post titled “Who Really Said You Should Kill Your Darlings” over at slate.com).
Now you are set to begin your journey through a short story—and trust me, it can be a brutal, but rewarding one. And, when you finish, make sure you submit to the MoRe Prize!
Good luck and keep writing,
Copy-editor of The Mochila Review.