Short Story Tips

I’m experiencing serious problems with two short stories I’m writing. One is for younger readers, 9 to 12 year olds, and the other is for readers in their late teens. The problem is the same in each story, which tells me something. The problem is actually me, or the way I write — not the story itself.

This afternoon I set about researching tips for writing short stories in the hope that the problem can be fixed. Lots of the information I’ve read today is common sense and most of it I’ve read before. Having said that, I feel a writer can forget the basics when attempting to put together a strong story. And it’s also possible to get caught up in what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Nothing really helped me until I came upon Short Story Writing Tips by Short Story Group (website appears to have disappeared). There are five tips, but I will only quote one of them:

Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn’t mean what is the plot line, the sequence of events or the character’s actions, it means what is the underlying message or statement behind the words. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.

This simple paragraph helped me to realise that the themes of my two stories have been lost in the telling. The story is fine, the author (that’s me) has lost sight of the theme. That’s the problem! That’s why I can’t fix them!

Now, armed with this knowledge I’ll be able to revise my stories again and this time, hopefully, get them back on track.

2 thoughts on “Short Story Tips”

  1. Theme is something which sometimes is only obvious after you’ve written the first or second draft. We get a whisper from a character or a lump of dialogue or a really good plot idea. For me its rare that I say I want to write a story which is theme based.

    I know getting my beta readers to comment on theme also helps me clarify what I’ve put down (intentional or otherwise) and it is ALWAYS a brilliant rewriting tool to bring it into focus. The Christmas story I wrote several years ago was such a better story for one of my beta readers (who isn’t a writer) saying she felt the story was about mother-daughter relationships and the grief inherent in them when dynamics change.

    Do you find you have recurrent themes in your stories? I know I have a penchant for time travel, for love and loss, the inequalities of power and so forth.

  2. Yes, in short stories I see a theme regarding oppression coming out quite regularly. It’s not intentional, I suppose it’s how I look at the world in general and that comes through in my writing.

    For longer pieces I usually plan theme when I plan the story, so that’s a different matter altogether. But, having said that, time travel (or between world travel) is nearly always present in my novel length manuscripts.


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