East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Writing Short Stories: the best advice I ever got


shortstory1OK, I was talking with my friend Claire, the other day, and she was telling me she wants to start writing more short stories.
Which is just swell, because, hey, I want to write more short stories too!
So – you know me – I tried to talk her into doing something together, because she’s a fantastic writer and a great person and I’d have a lot of fun working with her – and who knows, she might have fun working with me on some weird and sideways project.
She was kind and measured as ever at my advances, and, what can I say, we’ll see.

But in the meantime I looked here on my shelves for stuff about short stories – because if that’s going to be the mood of the next few months, why not write a few posts on the subject. So I checked out books and stuff, and I will do a few posts and things, but because one has to start somewhere, I think I’ll start from here: from the best piece of advice I ever got about short story writing, that appropriately enough is a suggestion about beginnings.
Isn’t that neat?

The best piece of advice I ever got about writing short stories is this:

Begin as close as you can to the action.

I tend to be long-winded even when writing.
The way I am used to tell a story is to start by giving you a little background, maybe throw in a little flashback…
And really, there’s more than a way to (metaphorically) skin a cat, but really, the best way to start a short story is to begin where the action begins.
As close as possible to the core.
Is this a story about a cracksman? Start at the safe’s door, his fingers caressing the wheel, his ear listening for the revealing clicks.
Is it about a gunfight? Start a moment before the bullets start flying.

I repeat, it’s not a rule set in stone, no rule is set in stone, and as the author one has full control and gets still to decide where the action begins, where one should start, what should be cut, or implied, or left unsaid, or quickly summarized with a bit of dialog.

It’s a good fail-safe method, thinking about how close you can get to the core and still have a viable narrative.
Helps you be concise.

I’ll be writing a lot of short stories in the next weeks and months.
I’ll write about it here.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Writing Short Stories: the best advice I ever got

  1. Oh, sorry! She wasn’t being kind and measured, you know – just in the middle of tech-week, and hardly aware of much at all except A Christmas Carol…
    Now that opening night is in the past, I can take stock and say: let’s talk about it! 🙂


  2. Pingback: More about those short stories | Scribblings

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