First true short story, around 7500 words

Astro Pen

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I have written hundreds of flash fiction stories up to 2000 words and also 200 page novels and novella. However I think it is time to try a full short story or two between 5000-8000.
Flash and novels are obviously totally different though both enjoyable forms to write. But the more I look at it getting my head around the popular short story length the more it appears a new game to learn.
Do you guys have any advice on writing at that length? Questions of pacing and the level of character development for example. How do you approach this 'middle length', if you do?
 

Valtharius

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Interesting question, my approach has been to just write until there's nothing left to add. But that's how my first complete short story turned into my first complete novel so I might be the wrong person to ask.
 

alexvss

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I've been writing a lot of short-stories lately, and I slush for a magazine that publishes short-stories. Although you said you wrote hundreds of flash fiction pieces, so you're clearly a more experienced writer than I am (I'm still in the dozens), I'll try to convey some knowledge anyway.

I tend to frown on short-stories that (mostly because of the author's lack of experience) read like "mini novels". They have massive worldbuildings. They start with a made-up quote telling how the world was created by incestuous gods. Then, the story cuts to an orphan kid in a farm. Don't do that. These people just don't get short-stories, they're trying to fit a novel within 7,500 words.

That put, write a story with a well-determined time period, preferably one single event in the live of the main character. It doesn't have to be a major event, as many succesful short-stories are about mundane, day-to-day things; just don't write about the MC's whole life, from birth till death by old age. Of course, the event may lead to his death, or something worse..

The ending doesn't have to end all things. It will will only end that single event. And the story doesn't have to be closed-ended. The best stories have ambiguous endings that remain in the writer's mind for years. I believe that it was Argentinian author Cortázar that said that you write a short-story in three steps: 1) write a story with beggining, middle, and end; 2) cut the beggining and the end; 3) whatever's left is your short-story.

You should start with a strong opening line. I'd advise you to start right in the middle of the action (or in media res) and don't explain it. Just let it happen and the writer will get what's going on, i. e., don't pull a flashback to explain how the characters got that, it will ruin everything. Apex Magazine's editor-in-chief Jason Sizemore wrote a neat blog post on openings.

The ending must be as Aristotle said: unexpected and inevitable. Unexpected because the reader must fell from his chair (figuratively or not). Inevitable because the reader will scream, "Of course!". Think about Poe's The Black Cat. To write an ending like that, the development must lead to it. So, every scene in the middle must take the story more towards its ending. If it doesn't, you should remove it.


Notwithstanding, watch this guest lecture by Mary Robinette Kowal:

Now that you're out of excuses, go write. (totally not stolen from a well-known podcast).
 
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JS Wiig

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I’m very analytically minded (degreed engineer, yeah I know) so I have things broken down into units. A scene is 1500 words—500 beginning, 500 middle, 500 end. I like the three act structure.

So for a 7500 word story I would do five scenes, maybe one or two scenes for the beginning, three scenes for the middle, and one or two scenes for the end.

But that’s just me of course.
 

ckatt

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don't pull a flashback to explain how the characters got that, it will ruin everything.
I've long agreed with this advice. However, I've recently begun to question how true it is. A lot of stories being published in the pro-market magazines (by a lot I mean at least one per issue) start with an in media res scene that lasts about a page. Then they have a brief info dump to fill in the back story. Sometimes it is a flashback in a single scene, but usually it's a quick succession of facts explaining how the character got to where they are.
Yet the advice not to do this has been floating around a long time I think, yet the editors of Clarkesworld and Asimov's and the like don't seem to mind.
 

alexvss

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I've long agreed with this advice. However, I've recently begun to question how true it is. A lot of stories being published in the pro-market magazines (by a lot I mean at least one per issue) start with an in media res scene that lasts about a page. Then they have a brief info dump to fill in the back story. Sometimes it is a flashback in a single scene, but usually it's a quick succession of facts explaining how the character got to where they are.
Yet the advice not to do this has been floating around a long time I think, yet the editors of Clarkesworld and Asimov's and the like don't seem to mind.
Yeah, I've noticed that too. And it bothers me :LOL:
 

alexvss

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I've long agreed with this advice. However, I've recently begun to question how true it is. A lot of stories being published in the pro-market magazines (by a lot I mean at least one per issue) start with an in media res scene that lasts about a page. Then they have a brief info dump to fill in the back story. Sometimes it is a flashback in a single scene, but usually it's a quick succession of facts explaining how the character got to where they are.
Yet the advice not to do this has been floating around a long time I think, yet the editors of Clarkesworld and Asimov's and the like don't seem to mind.
Although the editors of Clarkesworld and Asimov's don't mind 'second-scene infodumps', F&SF's new editor does. They updated their guidelines recently. Among other tips, they talked about how doing that would make your story a hard sell.
 

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