Short stories: how long and where from?

Nina Milton continues with her short story advice.

There is only one rule that can never be broken, and that is length. A short story has to be short. But how short? Are there minimum or maximum word counts that short fiction must sit between?:

The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms says that a short story is “A fictional tale of no specified length, but too short to be published as a volume of its own, as novellas sometimes and novels usually are.”

The blank page or screen can represent a terror to many writers, not just writing students. But there are strategies you can employ to overcome any problems with writer’s block. What I love about creating short stories, is the opportunity it gives me to conjure small moments out of my own imagination. Although, like everyone else, I sometimes chew my pen and wonder what the heck to write about, the fact is, ideas for short fiction are everywhere – look out the window for inspiration – look around the room.

Hypatia

Inspiration

When we were asked to write on a specific theme – that of library – for the Unchained Anthology, every single member of  Bristol Women Writers came up with an amazing story. For me, almost immediately I heard about the theme, the idea of writing about the library at Alexandria came into my mind because I’m interested in the tarot and wanted to investigate the legend of it being created to represent the books lost in the fire, but also because Hypatia was an amazing, but rather forgotten, female role model and writing about her was appealing.

So finding the clue to starting your story can be as simple as being ‘told’ what to write about, or choosing one random word, or, as writers often do in a workshop environment, choose a picture or photo and allowing the story it tells you to develop into a piece of short fiction.

One way I get started, which I recommend, is by sifting through a shoe box full of a miscellany of clippings, photos and picture cuttings. Every so often, I add things to this box; a quote I liked, a newspaper story, a postcard from a friend or any other material that may be of later interest in your writing.

For my story The Library at Alexandria, I took out a cutting about the historic facts about the ancient library. I read it, looked at the wonderful photo of a bust of Hypatia which inspired me to think about how a woman in my own world might be engender such an aura of charisma. I try to get ‘a moment of illumination’, and some part of a narrative arc revolving in my head before I open my notebook and write. Then I often start with notes which, given chance, build like a lego structure into the beginnings of an narrative arc. I like to be ‘bursting to write’ before I properly begin – then I freewrite for as long as I can without stopping, even to think too much.

If you’re desperate to write a short story, I recommend you try this method.

[Image source: Wikipedia commons]

Nina’s website: http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/

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One thought on “Short stories: how long and where from?

  1. helena mallett

    I really like the idea of a shoe box of ideas. I also live in West Wales with limited writing groups and am toying with moving to Bristol. Sounds like you’ve got s a great group there.
    PS Is Unchained coming out on Kindle?

    Reply

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