Writing a mystery is hard, but writing a mystery short story is even harder. Mysteries can take a lot out of you – between the crime taking place, the long investigation process, and so on. It easier to pack that into a longer novel than it is to jam into a short story.
Still, it’s a pretty good feat if you’re able to jam all that information into a short story.
But how do you make sure you don’t leave out any important information? How do you make sure you don’t make the story go too fast?
Every story is written in the same general way. The exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and finally the resolution. Writing a short story is no different than that, it’s just condensed.
So, how do you go about trying to condense it all?
1. Find the problem 2. Access the problem 3. Figure it out 4. Conclusion
Start with the problem
Throw your characters into the action right away. Have them start at the crime scene already and throw in a little background if need be. It adds tension to the story right away and cuts out a little time. Sometimes you don’t need to show how your characters came across the problem. They can explain it throughout the story if they have to, but that information doesn’t always need to be known.
Access the problem
This can go hand in hand with the first and third points I listed above. Accessing the problem can be done during the discovery of the problem and also during the investigation. Things have a way of falling into place.
Figure it out
This is obviously easier said than done and, in a short story, this may be your longest part.
Drop the clues carefully and allow your protagonist – or whoever is investigating – to deduce with logic in an attempt to figure things out in a timely manner for the plot, but faster for the word count of the story.
This would be the big reveal. The investigator explains the problem, how it came to be, and why. Someone is arrested or accused.
See? Easy-peasy. I mean, not really… but then again, I can’t exactly go about telling you how to write your own short story. Still, this is a good start.
How do you go about writing a mystery short story? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.
In my opinion, flash fiction is considered a short story. It’s a full tale with fleshed out characters and resolved plot. It’s just super short.
Short stories aren’t easy to write. Neither are novels. Yet, people (myself included on some occasions) say that short stories are “easier” to write than novels because it’s shorter.
Flash fiction, then, must be a piece of cake.
What is flash fiction?
Flash fiction is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a piece of fiction that takes a flash to read.
No, really, it’s very short short story. The typical length of flash fiction stories can be anywhere between 300 words and 1,500 words.
Of course, some people write six-word stories, 100-word drabbles, and so on. As long as it’s pretty short, it’s considered flash fiction.
How do you write flash fiction?
As concise as possible. Write only what matters to the story. Don’t add any filler content, just keep advancing that plot and developing those characters.
Use unique and vivid language to get your point across. Be sure to have a clear ending in mind and figure out how you’re going to get there in 1,000 words or 700 words or 300 words.
Where should you start writing flash fiction?
Explore the flash fiction world first. Read flash fiction stories or even poetry to get a feel for a language. Of course, you’re ultimately writing in your own voice and style, but reading examples doesn’t hurt.
Then, pick up your pen and just write. If you aim for 500 words, just write and see how many you end up with. Then you cut it down just like you would edit your novel.
Writing prompts help come up with ideas and a timer can do wonders if you want to start and finish something as quickly as possible. Can you write 500 words in 10 minutes? Set a timer. If you write more or less, you can add and cut out words after.
Why write flash fiction?
Writing flash fiction can really reel in your writing skills. It tones your writing and teaches you to cut out the filler stuff. Keep what’s only important to the plot and character development.
That, and it’s a fun challenge.
Do you typically write flash fiction? Do you read it often? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!
Just like beginning a short story, the ending should have some sort of purpose as well. It doesn’t do well to just say, “The End.”
No, the ending should do much more than that. It should…
Close all the doors, wrapping everything up neatly
Make the story as a whole make sense
How do you do that?
There are so many different ways you can end your short story, but we’ll just talk about a few.
THE TWIST OR SURPRISE
When it comes to short stories, sometimes you need a little kick in your ending to make it that much more interesting because it’s so short. If there’s room, allow for a surprise or some sort of twist. Let it click inside your readers’ heads and have them say, “Ohh! I get it now!”
Of course, you can’t just throw in any random twist. It needs to be something the readers could have seen coming if they read between the lines.
I read a short story in middle school once in my reading class (unfortunately, I can’t remember the name or the author) and it was a man doing some sort of social experiment. He was locked in a room and had to figure out how to get out even though there was absolutely nothing in the room. I think it was to test his logical thinking or whatever.
Anyway, being 11-years-old, I thought it was extremely boring. But I remember the ending.
After being locked in for so many hours, they finally let the man out. He had tried absolutely anything and everything to get out and couldn’t figure it out. The narrator does a quick summary of what the man did and what the results were for the scientists. Then, I remember the last line clear as day, everything was explained: “For the door was never locked.”
Talk about an interesting surprise. I can’t remember anything about the story, just the basic gist of it and that last line. That’s how you do a surprise ending.
This is a must for all endings. Unless there is going to be some sort of sequel for your short story, you can leave it off at a slight cliffhanger (but be sure to resolve some things).
However, every question must be answered. Everyone conflict must have a resolution. The plot should be explained in one way or another throughout the story, or at least make it fairly simple for the readers to figure out.
This is, again, a must. And I don’t really have any tips on how to do so because it’s up to you, your writing style, and your plot.
SHORT AND SIMPLE
Sometimes a simple “The End” is all that’s needed. I know I said otherwise at the beginning, but depending on what your story is about and how it’s written, something short and simple may not be a bad idea.
As long as the conflict is resolved and there are no loose ends, you can get away with backing out of your story slowly, but surely.
Wrap up the conflict, but still allow your readers to wonder what could happen next. This is something I often do with my Short Story Sundays here on the blog only because (ironically enough) I don’t know how to properly end them.
I get many comments asking the next part will be posted and I always say the same thing, “This was it. Use your imagination on what could happen next. Feel free to write it yourself.”
I don’t know how often this is done, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to do once in a while. If you can write your characters so well that your readers fall in love with them, then you can sometimes get away with leaving an ending open like this. Your readers will want the story to continue in a way so they’ll imagine what your characters do next.
Again, just make sure that you wrap up the actual plot and conflict. Don’t leave that open-ended.
And so, the blogger who worked all day and all night to create awesome content finally came to an end about her short story series.
That’s about it because she couldn’t figure out how to end her post about endings. She was really good at this.
She kicked back with a satisfied grin and then realized one more thing: she still had one more post to write about for her short story series.
(Guys, did you see what I did there? I added an outro instead of an intro. You know, because we’re talking about “endings.” Pretty clever, right?)
How do you typically go about ending your short stories? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!
Once upon a time, there was a blogger who worked day and night to create awesome content for her loyal readers. Each month, she tried to think of a cool new topic to discuss and stumbled upon short stories.
In addition to her many posts about short stories, she thought to talk about how to begin them. Any writer knows that the beginning of a story is so important.
She also knew that the beginning of a blog post was super important as well. Yet, she had no idea how to introduce this “how to begin your short stories” post.
She laughed at the irony.
There are so many different kinds of ways to start a story. However, while every story is different, some beginnings can be a bit cliche or even just seem old.
For example; a character waking up, the narrator or character describing the scenery, or opening with some sort of dialogue sequence that’s either a question or two characters having an argument or simply having a normal conversation.
Each one has been used once, twice, a thousand times over. Yet, each is still unique because they’re different characters, different plots and conflicts, and different writing styles.
What kind of beginning do you need?
The first couple of paragraphs are important, but the first line is really what’s going to hook your readers in. You need something that:
Leaves a lasting effect – Make them feel something in that very first line that causes them to continue reading that paragraph and onto the next.
Make them curious – Throw your character into the conflict right away or ask a question. Let your reader wonder where you’re going with this and why.
Allow the readers to get to know your characters – Start with dialogue, a conversation, an argument. Explore your characters all the while describing a bit of the plot as well.
How can you accomplish these things?
There are probably way too many different openings than we can count. But here are a few anyway.
SET THE SCENE
This can be a hit or miss. Describing a scene can sometimes be boring, especially if you’re trying to draw in an audience. However, it can be worked around in various ways that can work for your book.
For example, maybe your protagonist is going on some sort of journey. Let them soak in the place they grew up as they stand outside holding onto their suitcase. It’s nostalgic to them, maybe it’s even a little sad. Or maybe they’re happy to get out.
Or, on the other hand, have them arrive at their new place and describe that area. What are their first thoughts upon arriving? Have your readers wonder why they’re even there.
I did this in one of my short stories. The protagonist immediately enters a building where the receptionist greets her and lets her know that the doctor will be with her shortly. Why is she at the doctor? Is something wrong with her? Is this her first appointment or a follow-up for something? You keep reading because you want to know “why.”
THE NARRATOR SPEAKS
Some stories have third-person narrators that speak to the reader. It’s almost as though the narrator and the reader are sitting in a coffee shop having a deep conversation with one another. Sometimes this is interesting as it invites the reader to cozy up on the couch and be told a bedtime story.
It can be equally interesting if a first-person narrator talks directly to the reader as well. You can really get into the heart of the story through the character who actually “lived” through the story.
START IN A KNEE-DEEP CONVERSATION
As I stated earlier, feel free to start in the middle of a conversation. A lot of questions will arise, but not only are you going to rope the reader in, but you’ll also develop your characters somewhat. Are they having a normal conversation with one another? Are they talking about work or school? Are they arguing? What are they arguing about? Is it something that has to do with the plot?
For a short story, this is my favorite beginning. Short stories are, of course, short, so it’s sometimes better to establish the conflict right from the get-go. Your readers will wonder, “how did they get themselves into this mess? How are they going to get out of it? What exactly is going on?” If it’s interesting enough to them, they’ll want to see the characters get out of their mess.
I have done this for another short story I wrote. My protagonist was looking over a case file, a case that she has been working on for a very long time that, within the first couple of paragraphs, she and her husband begin arguing about how it’s consuming her life. Why is this case so important to her? How long has she actually been working on it? What exactly is the case? How will it get resolved?
In a way, this one kind of goes along with establishing conflict. I’ve seen this done a few times, but I’m mentioning it because I’ve done it myself and I think it worked nicely.
In another short story, I began it in the “future.” They were already thrown into danger, into the heart of the story. At a type of “cliffhanger,” I used a page-break and back-tracked to a few hours earlier, thus officially beginning the story.
I know sometimes time can be tricky and some people aren’t a fan of it, but I do think it can work well in certain situations.
Beginning a short story can be easy or hard. But I think it all depends on your writing style and the overall plot. It all depends on what information you want to give to your readers and when.
How do you typically begin your short stories? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!
How many times have I talked about outlining on this blog? Too many to count most likely.
I personally love outlining. I’m a super organized person in real life and a tad OCD about things. That goes the same for my novels.
Outlining isn’t for everyone, but it can be used as a means for editing. That’s why I’m asking this question…
When I outline my novels, I make a list of characters, a list of plot points, summarize each chapter, and then bullet scene by scene. I also make a list of editing points as I write the first draft.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never outlined a short story before. When I write short stories, I tend to base them off a writing prompt I found somewhere on the Internet or I’ve created myself. Then I just start to write and somehow I end up with a short story.
There’s a short story I wrote a long time ago. It was for one of my creative writing classes in college. (I’ve been out of college for two and a half years, so… it’s been a while.)
Since writing it, I’ve edited it, and edited it, and edited it. I’ve submitted it to contests and magazines, but haven’t gotten anywhere with it. Still, I’m not giving up on it. In fact, I’m waiting to hear back from a magazine about it at the time of writing this post.
I submitted it to another place this past August. That story I sent in was the seventh draft. Yes, 7.
It’s grown a lot in the past few years. Did I outline it when I first wrote it? No. Did I outline it when editing? Yes.
Why bother outlining a short story… especially when it’s already been written?
Like I said, I love outlining. But I don’t outline my short stories because I just tend to roll with it. I have noticed that outlining the story after it’s written can be a huge help to editing.
I’ve been saying it a lot this week and that’s to keep your short stories simple and to the point. Only add in important aspects about the plot. Give detail, but not filler.
Outlining your short story is prep for the editing process.
What drives the plot forward?
What can I afford to cut out, if needed?
Create a list of characters and write down their purpose. Are they all needed?
Bullet-list each scene and briefly summarize what happens. Is each scene important and paying its rent to the plot? Do some scenes have too much information or not enough? If not enough, is it really needed?
I did this for my short story and gave it one last edit before shipping it off to my writer’s group a few months ago. A car accident happens in the story and everyone agreed that I had put too much detail into that scene.
They said that when you get into a car accident (to the extent in the story), you’re not looking at your surroundings describing the scenery. Especially not if you have big injuries.
Looking at their feedback and then looking at my outline, I was able to easily pinpoint and judge what was too much in that scene. I cut a lot of it out and rewrote what remained. Reading the story now, I agree that it’s much better and flows nicely. Plus, the less description added more tension.
So, should you outline your short stories?
It’s still up to you, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. I know everyone works differently, but this has helped me.
Maybe it’ll help you too.
Do you outline your short stories? Do you outline any of your writing? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
To me, characters are the most important part of story telling. Without characters, there would no villain, there would be no hero. Therefore, there would be no plot, no conflict.
When you write a novel, you have 200-500 pages (give or take) to delve deep into your characters. Their past, present, and future. Their likes and dislikes, their opinions. Their friends and family. Their motive, anything that makes them tick.
When you write a short story, you don’t have much time to go into that much detail. Not all that detail is exactly needed, depending on what’s going on in your story.
So, how do you develop your characters fully in such a short amount of time?
Step 1. Create your characters as best as you can
If you Google “character chart,” a billion results will come up. (It’s actually a tad over 67 million, but who’s counting?)
There are so many charts out there that ask the basic of basic questions:
Name (first, middle, last)
And then there’s the obvious… favorite color, food, likes and dislikes, phobias, etc.
Pick a chart or two and fill it out. You’ll probably only use 15% of it, but those things are good to know anyway.
Step 2. Get to know your characters 100%
Talk to your characters. Interview them and get to know them as though you’re meeting a new friend. Write basic flash fiction about them and their background.
Again, not everything you come up with will be known to your readers, but at least you’ll have canon scenarios in your head.
Step 3. Sift through all the information and zero in on the four most important aspects of your characters
Allow your readers to imagine what your characters look like through physical descriptions. Skin color, eye color, hair color and length, height, weight, noticeable birthmarks, etc.
Not all of this will be needed, but if it’s important, add it in. If a birthmark has something to do with the plot, then it needs to be known. If not, it may not be needed at all. But you can still write about it and then edit it out later.
This varies depending on the point of view you use, but for your protagonist, allow your readers to get into their mind. What’s their thought process like? What kinds of decisions do they make? Do they have any outstanding memories or fears that are important to the plot and show how the character came to be?
Now that we know how they think, how do they speak? Do they talk loud or quiet? Do they speak their mind or are they more reserved? Do they think out loud?
What does your character do? Don’t worry about showing your character driving from point A to point B. Just page-break them there and let them do what they need to do.
Characters are hard to put together. They’re complex, just like us. Get to know them as though you’re their mother or father (which you are, kind of). Pick out the important pieces needed to showcase them and get through the conflict of the short story.
If your character is trying to get to school on time for an important test, you don’t need to let the readers know that one of your character’s hobbies is playing video games. Unless, of course, the video games were what made your character late.
It can tie in easily with the story or not at all. And that’s up to you to do decide.
How do you go about developing your short story characters? Do you have anything to add to this? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
What goes into a short story? Well, the same elements for novels, for the most part.
Setting, theme, plot, conflict, and characters. Those are the most important pieces of any story. Still, since short stories are short, you have to get right down to business right away.
1. Jump into the conflict right away
When it comes to writing short stories, you don’t have a lot of time to get to the heart of it all. You don’t need to talk about your protagonist waking up and groggily trying to decide what to have for breakfast. Have them wake up because someone is waking them in a frantic panic or something.
2. Give everything a purpose
Everything your protagonist does should advance the plot. Every other character your protagonist interacts with should advance the plot.
Short stories can have subplots, but allow it to tie into the overall master plot. No loose threads, no stone unturned.
3. Share only what’s important
Unless the color blue has a huge significance to the plot, no one is going to really care that your protagonist is wearing a blue shirt because it’s his favorite color.
The description is, of course, helpful, but be mindful to put in just the right amount. Put in what matters, take out what doesn’t.
4. Keep it short and simple
This kind of goes with everything that was said above, but grab the readers from the first word up until the very last word. Keep it short, sweet, and simple, yet intense, page-turning, and full of action.
5. Give the ending a neatly wrapped bow
You can add a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. You can even add a cliffhanger at the end of the novel if there’s going to be a sequel. Cliffhangers for short stories don’t seem to work that well.
If you can cram everything into 1,500 words, you can wrap it up nicely as well. Give your readers a satisfying ending. Allow them to say, “That was really well done! What else has this author done?”
Of course, you can always leave the ending a tad open-ended. I don’t mind a good story that allows the reader to use their imagination for what happened next. Still, full endings tend to be better for most people.
Short stories are like a timer. You have to say what you want to say, no rambling before the bell rings. Some people can do it easily, some not so much. But it’s fun to try.
Do you have anything to add to this? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Pretend you’re back at school and your new English teacher is asking you to write an essay on the first day. (What a jerk, am I right?)
Here’s the question: Do you write short stories? Explain why or why not, then explain why you should write them.
(Because we all know essays have a million parts to them…)
To put this bluntly, short stories do everything a novel does. The difference is that a short story does it faster and sharper. You may or may not agree with me on that one, but that’s the best I can describe it, and here’s why:
What’s the length?
The answer to this question will vary depending on who you ask, but I looked to my good old pal, Writer’s Digest, and, according to them, a short story can be between 1,500-30,000 words, a novella between 30,000-50,000 words, and a novel between 55,000-300,000 words. (Although I do think short stories can go under the 1,500-word mark, then you’ll also enter flash fiction territory.)
[WARNING, MATH AHEAD!]
The difference between the shortest short story and the shortest novel is… let me get out my calculator…
How long does it take you to write 1,000 words? 10,000 words? 50,000 words? I know on a good day if I focus hard enough, I can write 2,000 words in one hour. That’s a short story.
Keeping that focus, I can write 10,000 words in five hours. That’s another short story.
That focus remaining, I can potentially write 55,000 words in 27 and a half hours. Of course, these 27 and a half hours would stretch into two, three, four, maybe five days.
[MATH IS OVER. YOU CAN BREATHE AGAIN.]
1. Short stories are short
In the amount of time it takes you to write a novel, you can write multiple short stories. This depends on how long the stories are and how long it takes you to write them, of course, but just bear with me.
Still, they’re faster to write, therefore less intimidating to edit. Then off to be submitted it goes!
2. Short stories help you master the basics of writing
Have you ever written a story with a word limit? You can only write 200 words, no more, no less. Yet, you write 239 words. You need to cut out 39 words, but which ones?
Not to mention you have to tighten everything in a shorter amount of time. You don’t have 55,000 words to allow your protagonist to grow. You only have 1,500 to do it and have it be realistic and make sense.
Short stories will help you…
Tell your story as efficiently as possible
Find our voice in writing – find your style as you write various shorts in different ways. See what works best for you, what you enjoy writing the most
Find your genre – we all write multiple genres, but shorts allow us to explore each of them in a shorter amount of time and figure out what we really like
Short stories aren’t a short cut. People grow, therefore their writing grows with them. Just because they write a mystery short story and fall in love with it, doesn’t mean they’re going to write the next Agatha Christie novel. Still, it’s fun to experiment.
3. It gets those creative juices flowing
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten stuck on my novel. Instead of working on it, I found a prompt and then wrote a short story or flash fiction.
I also can’t explain how many of my novel ideas came from short stories I wrote.
Short stories are just fun to write. They’re experimental with ideas and writing basics and they can really get your name out there sooner rather than later.
I’m still editing my novels, but I have about three short stories that I query to magazines, contests, etc. And I’m working on more.
Why do you write short stories? Do you think short story writing is a good thing? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
As some of you may have guessed, I’ve been thinking a lot about short stories lately. I write them often enough as I post one each week.
Well, I tend to write my Short Story Sundays well in advance because writing one short story per week can be a bit much at times.
It’s interesting how long short stories can be. And I’m not talking about the length of the story, I’m talking about how much time gets put into it.
My goal this month is to write two short stories. I’ve had these short story ideas in my head for a while now and just haven’t bothered to expand on them.
I plan on these two shorts to be longer than the typical ones I post on the blog. And, unfortunately, I won’t be posting these shorts on my blog. I want to submit them to a few places.
One thing I love about short stories is that you can explore a variety of genres. Just test the waters and see what you’re comfortable writing.
My main novel series is a mystery, but I plan on writing a mystery short story with George and Lilah as the main characters. I’ve been wanting to get back into writing the novel, as I haven’t worked on it in a long time.
Every time I look at it I get overwhelmed. I’ve been working on it for so many years and have so many notes and research and drafts for it that it’s just a lot. I have two notebooks, three folders, and a large accordion folder filled with things for the first novel as well as the series as a whole.
I decided to play around with the character in a short story and see where that takes me. It may not give me any ideas on where to go with the novel, but I’ll be learning more about the characters. Plus, there’s a mystery magazine that I’ve wanted to try submitting to for a long time and just haven’t. I’m going to make this short story be my opportunity.
The other short story I plan on writing will be… fantasy-ish? I think I could be considered sci-fi, but I’m not going to get into all the technical stuff about it.
This short story is actually based on a Short Story Sunday I did a long time ago and I’m finally going to expand upon it.
That story, if all goes well, I plan to submit to a place here or there as well.
So, this month is going to be all about short stories and as I talk about short stories, just know that I’m going to implementing those tips and tricks on my own writing.
We’ll see how it goes.
What genres of short stories do you write? Do you write them just for you or do you submit them elsewhere? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!