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Parts of a Short Story

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The first question many students may ask when setting out to write a short story is how long is a short story supposed to be? Short stories have a fairly broad range of lengths, between 1,000 and 7,500 words.

If you are writing for a class or publication, your teacher or editor may give you specific page requirements. If you double space, 1000 words in 12-point font covers between three and four pages.

However, it is important not to limit yourself to any page limits or goals in the initial drafts. You should write until you get the basic outline of your story intact and then you can always go back and adjust the story to fit any set length requirements you have.

The toughest part of writing short fiction is condensing all the same elements necessary for a full length novel into a smaller space. You still need to define plot, character development, tension, climax and the falling action.

Short Story Point of View

One of the first things you want to think about is what point of view would work best for your story. If your story centers on one character's personal journey, first person will allow you to show the main character's thoughts and feelings without having to spend too much time demonstrating them through action.

Third person, the most common, can allow you to tell the story as an outsider. A third person omniscient point of view gives the writer access to the knowledge of all the characters' thoughts and motives, time, events, and experiences.

Third person limited has full knowledge of only one character and any events tied to him.

Short Story Setting

The opening paragraphs of a short story should quickly depict the setting of the story. The reader should know when and where the story is taking place. Is it present day? The future? What time of year is it?

The social setting is also important to determine. Are the characters all wealthy? Are they all women?

When describing the setting, think of the opening of a movie. The opening scenes often span across a city or countryside then focus in on a point involving the first scenes of action.

You could also this same descriptive tactic. For example, if your story begins with a person standing in a large crowd, describe the area, then the crowd, maybe the weather, the atmosphere (excited, scary, tense) and then bring the focus into the individual.

Short Story Conflict

Once you develop the setting you must introduce the conflict or the rising action. The conflict is the problem or challenge that the main character faces. The issue itself is important, but the tension created is what creates reader involvement.

The tension in a story is one of the most important aspects; it's what keeps the reader interested and wanting to know what will happen next.

To simply write, "Joe had to decide whether to go on his business trip or stay home for his wife's birthday," lets the reader know there is a choice with consequences but does not elicit much reader reaction.

To create tension you could describe the internal struggle Joe is having, maybe he'll lose his job if he doesn't go, but his wife is really looking forward to spending time with him on this particular birthday. Write the tension that Joe is experiencing in his head.

Short Story Climax

Next should come the climax of the story. This will be the turning point where a decision is made or change occurs. The reader should know the outcome of the conflict and understand all the events leading up to the climax.

Be sure to time your climax so that it doesn't happen too late or too soon. If done too soon, the reader will either not recognize it as the climax or expect another twist. If done too late the reader might get bored before it happens.

The last part of your story should resolve any questions left after the climactic events take place. This could be an opportunity to see where the characters end up sometime after the turning point or how they deal with the changes that have occurred in and/or around themselves.

Once you get your story drafted into a semi-final form, try letting a peer read it and give you some feedback. You will most likely find that you became so involved in your story that you omitted some details.

Don't be afraid to take a little creative criticism. It will only make your work stronger.

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