A Short Post on Short Stories…

… linking to a longer one.

Two months ago I put out an open request for topics to be covered here on Storyfix.com.  There were 76 responders, with over a hundred topic suggestions.

The most requested topic was this: short story structure.

Specific questions come in frequently — daily — and almost always I’m able to point toward a post on the topic in question.  Not that I expect (or hope) that anyone will wade through the over 500 posts on this site to find what they want… though, that said, there IS a search bar (just to the right of this sentence) that can help.

So if you’re a short story writer, and/or a short story question-asker… CLICK HERE.

More topics from that list to be addressed soon.

Thanks for your support and readership.



Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

12 Responses to A Short Post on Short Stories…

  1. Larry,
    Wow, that’s amazing! I just looked up your short story article last night as I was working on my next episode (in the zombie series). Once again it was great and helped me move forward in structuring it.
    I’m also still rebuilding my world for the novel that you helped along with your amazing coaching adventure. It made me realize, even above all the concept and theme discussions, that if I don’t know all the rules of the world my characters live in, then I won’t discover some possibilities to how the conflict will play out on the larger stage.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. This was just what I needed. My publishers asked me to write a short story for a collection they’re printing later in the year, and I’ve never written a short story before. I knew I could find help here!

  3. Hi Larry

    I wouldn’t mind a close look at some options for the last quarter of the book. Obviously everything has to be flowing toward the end game. But what if a side task is required to get there? Is there any flexibility or must it all be marching forward with blinkers on?



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  5. MikeR

    I know that, as a kid and even today, I =vacuumed= =up= short stories, particularly in Isaac Asimov’s (RIP) Science Fiction magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s (RIP) Mystery magazine. “Short stories” was the only class that I really enjoyed in high school, perhaps because the teacher was enlightened enough to say, “teach =me= what you love.” (Everyone, teacher and student alike, came away with what all of us genuinely knew to be a truly-special mutual learning experience.)

    Short stories have the marvelous quality of being accessible. You might come away with “suckage” or “wow,” but either way, it’s comparatively quick.

    In a short, a great deal happens by implication – “in your mind’s eye.” And it’s so =concentrated= that you can pick-up the necessary context to relate to the story in just a few sparse sentences. I’m nowhere near attempting that. Yet.

  6. Robert Jones

    Alrighty, let’s play. Because it seems like either this post answered all the questions of the short story writers that email Larry almost daily, or like the subject, their queries fell shorter than anticipated.

    Like Mike, short stories are where I began. I’ve written several in my practice of honing craft. And like any number of writers in search of a meatier forum, once I graduated to the novel, I didn’t look back–or maybe I should say that I didn’t keep up with what was happening in the world of short stories for several years.

    Coming back to them after a long pause like that, one is apt to notice there were changes. Many short stories suddenly were not actual stories. Hell, some weren’t even qualified to be considered a scene. It almost seemed that the publishing world preferred shorts that were anything but a story. A good deal of them were a glimpse, a moment in the life of a character where something important happened. Sometimes the moment was important, other times the moment seemed more like a glimpse into airy nothing. In short (pun intended) I was bored. I needed more than just a superfluous glimpse. I needed emotional impact.

    I think many of the shortcoming here was mainly due to the fact that there are a lot of writers that have trouble with endings (that freeform section for which many seem to free-fall and hope to land on target by luck), and in a forum where importance of the moment needs to be key (even astounding) I found that I was nonplussed more often than I was moved. And this seemed to be the new norm for the majority of short stories.

    Give me either a story, or a character, or a moment that has impact, meaning. I believe a short story, even those that seek to only show us a glimpse, can (or should) build to a moment that caps it off. everything is about that moment–especially in the single scene scenarios–or it isn’t technically a scene. It’s a part of one.

    It’s a struggle, certainly. Isn’t it always? But if we, at story fix, have learned anything about writing concept statements, have studied enough movie trailers, then we understand even a glimpse needs to deliver some deliver key plot point(s), and are meant to intrigue. Then we have already have a heads up, have learned a great deal concerning the type of thought that needs to be instilled in a successful short story. Because no matter what, there’s still a core dramatic thread in the driver’s seat, and strong emotional theme driving character, context, and subtext.

    At least this is how I read the riddle. If it’s anything less…well, why would you want to be?

  7. Sara Davies

    Is there a market for short stories?

    Anyone who has not read “Gimpel the Fool” by Isaac Bashevis Singer is encouraged to do so. But the stories I remember were written ages ago, like Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” And I saw one in an issue of The New Yorker that stuck with me, but that must have been at least 20 years ago – written in the style of a detective novel but illustrating the concealment of life’s mysteries in ordinary objects and mundane events. I have no idea who wrote it or what it was called. Wish I did.

    Who is buying stories now?

    I thought it would be easier to write short stories, but I’ve heard others say the opposite – that it is actually easier to get a novel right? Not sure I believe that. I have tons of short stuff in my files, but I just figured it’s useless, no one cares, no one reads that stuff, no point in making it better.

    The amount of time involved in getting anything right means I can’t do everything. A fact I deeply resent.

    What a hellish week. Hope everyone is OK.

  8. Robert Jones

    @Sara–I think there will always be a market for short stories, but it seems to be a shrinking one. I’ve seem antholgy type compilations that all deal with a particular genre, ghost stories, mysteries, etc….

    I blame publishing companies for stripping short stories down to either a niche market, or flavorless moments of time. If collections of actual short “stories” were made interresting and got a little push behind them, people would buy them. It’s the downside of corporate thinking. A moment in time, single scenes gets well done and sells better than the average short story, it’s the new “pink.” Then, once you’ve written yourself into a corner in that particular market, corporate thinking is to move on and find the next money maker, not return and review the past in terms of what sold in a bygone era–whether that era was a couple of years ago, or five minutes ago.

    Trends are bad. Boom-type periods are just as bad. Corporate assessment of arts and entertainment…total crap!

    I think that if one were interested in short story endings, watching some episodes of the original Twilight Zone, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents (both streaming on Netflix) might be a good place to start. Look for the moment where nothing is what it previously seemed, or is much worse than expected, or turns the story on it’s ear. Can that apply to the single scene scenario? Certainly.

    And to apply this to the previous storyfix post, take whatever the situation/moment is to the extreme. Or, conversely, begin with an extreme and make the content of the story the solution the character has to discover.

    Is there a moral? An AHA! moment, a catastrophe waiting, a punchline, or a point you are building toward? Something important has to happen to, or is caused by, the main character. When I read a short story that I like, it’s a short visit to another world that leaves me something to ponder once I return to my own life.

  9. MikeR

    Two great, meaty comments back-to-back, Robert.

    Goes to remind us why, even though McDonald’s is an internationally famous and successful (sic) company … none of us want to eat there.

    Today, we live, like it or not, in a rather self-infatuated age … in any case, a very “SELF™”-infatuated age … that literally expects everything-of-interest to be PUSHED to them within the confines of a 2″x4″ illuminated screen. School-kids “texting” each other within the same classroom instead of passing paper notes and all-of-that.

    But . . . eternal-optimist that I am . . . I am still confident that the pendulum will inevitably swing the other way. I actually have a =lot= of confidence in “these kids today,” that they are not, in fact, terribly different(!) from us. The short-story is still an incredibly intense medium, and there are still plenty of “old-fashioned(?)” venues that still champion it – The Atlantic, New Yorker, Playboy.

    As (ahem) a (I think, Mark Knopfler) song once said … “when a fake orgasm turns into a real one …” 🙂 There IS a difference. As for me, I want to create stories “of the quality that I always sought to find,” not the freezer-case similes that I might be obliged to accept in a moment of boredom and/or hunger. Short or long, I want them to be what I would “seek out.” (The salesmen can figure out how to sell it … later.)

  10. Sara Davies

    Didn’t they, in bygone days of yore, publish short stories as serials – as episodes, like they have on TV now? So you would keeping buying the magazine to get the next installment?

  11. Bea

    Sara, many novels were published that way (almost all, if not all, of Dickens’s, for example), but I’ve never heard of a short story being published that way. Too short, I think.

    Dickens died while one of his novels–a mystery–was being serialized, and even today what there is of it gets published! And he left very few clues (a few spoken comments to intimates, nothing written) as to how he intended to solve the mystery!

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