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Ever since I read my first short story (something really gruesome with a child’s coffin is all I can remember) I liked the short form. But until today I am still not quite sure about the rules and the length of one. As far as I could figure out the reason for that is that there are no clear rules and the short story is quite a good form to experiment with and break the rules of, therefore, it is difficult to find common elements. According to Ginny Wiehardt on About.com Fiction Writing the basic elements for novels apply to short stories too, like plot, character, theme and point of view. But unlike the novel you have not a lot of space to develop them. In general, Ginny says, a short story fits within 10 to 25 pages. Therefore, her five rules for writing short stories look like this: 1. ~ few characters 2. ~ short time frame 3. ~ Every sentence counts 4. ~ Use conventional story structure 5. ~ Break the rules when necessary Let’s have a closer look at those rules:
1. Use Few Characters
To stay with just a few characters, usually one or two, makes sense as you have to develop them within about 10 000 words which is the usual word count for a short story if you want to have it published in journals. If you ever have tried to develop a character into something realistic you know how difficult that is and how long it can take. Therefore, this rule makes good sense.
2. Use a Short Time Frame
The same applies to the time frame: You have few words you can work with so better keep the time frame short to be able to develop both characters and the story. Even though I am sure that is one rule one is very likely to experiment with, at the beginning it makes sense not to.
3. Every Sentence Counts
Ginny compares the short story with poetry where every line counts and has to bring the meaning forward. The same applies to the short story where every sentence needs to either develop the character or push the story ahead, otherwise you run out of space and time for what you want to say and it rather develops into a novel.
4 Conventional Story Structure
Ah, you remember it well from literature lessons at school: exposition, conflict, rising action, climax and denouement/resolution. From what I have been reading up about this structure seems to be hardwired into our subconsciousness and if a story follows those rules it is easy for the reader to understand it and enjoy it. It makes good sense to me too, as it gives you a great structure to work with and built your story in.
5. Break the Rules
With the short story the same counts like for all good literature: Know the
rules but break them when needed. Astonishing aspects may they be how you describe your characters, how you develop your story or which elements you use to tell the story make your reader more alert and thinking about what you want to say. There is nothing more boring like something a reader has heard a thousand times in the same form again and again. But if you do not know the rules in the first place you do not know how to effectively break them to bring your message over. Therefore allow yourself to follow the rules until you are confident and then let your creative flow loose and experiment as much as you want to. So what do you think about these five rules? Do they make a good short story and can they help you to develop your short story writing skill?
Resource: You can find all these 5 rules in Ginny Wiehardts blog post “How to write a short story” on About.com Fiction Writing and of course more that can help you to develop your writing craft.