Uncategorized, Writing Tips

How To Write Amazing Short Fiction: 10 Steps for Success

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Photo by Mikechie Esparagoza on Pexels.com

Hello! Quick “about me.” I haven’t blogged in over a year, but you can feel free to look at my archives at your leisure, where you’ll find my hilarious and uncomfortably ambitious travel writings. In my defense, I was twenty-one. Since then, I’ve finished up law school, lined up a couple short stories for publication, and embarked on my very own business venture (more on that later). I’ve learned a lot lately, and I want to share it with anyone else who’s starting out and may want some guidance.

  1. Get a notebook. Dust off your spiral-bound notebooks, legal pads, and composition books. Or make notes on your phone. Write down every idea you have throughout the day, no matter how half-baked it seems. It goes without saying: if you have a day job, try to be discreet 😉 The idea may be useless, or it may be the kernel of truth that grows into your next masterpiece. Cram the wheat with the chaff into that notebook, and sort it out later!
  2. Write in the morning, or before bed, when your subconscious mind is more active. From Toni Morrison to Hemingway, countless great writers swear by their early morning sessions, and there’s good reason for it. You can be creatively engaged at any time of day, but from my experience, the best stuff often comes in the morning, with no effort. As you sleep, your subconscious mind creates connections between seemingly unrelated things, and that’s where you get intuitive and emotionally resonant fiction.
  3. Don’t give up. Not all writers are able to create quality, consistent output. Unless you need the income from your writing, don’t sweat it. Trust your instincts and plough forward. Your next breakthrough is right around the corner.
  4. Nail down tone and voice. You simply can’t successfully launch a story without having tone and voice figured out. This is probably the most difficult part of the process, and potentially the most satisfying. There is no easy way out, but you can start by drilling down into your character’s life experience and personality, which is especially helpful if you’re doing first-person. Pretend that you’re answering security questions for your character. What was the make and model of her first car? Start there and get more personal. This may seem silly, but do it anyway. And if you’re stuck, look to novels, movies, or songs for inspiration.
  5. Character sketch. This goes hand-in-hand with Step 4. Come up with some backstories, the better if they’re long, and a little melodramatic won’t hurt. Think about the character’s weaknesses and predict breaking points. While your backstories may not appear in your finished product at all, writing them out will help you distill the character’s most important experiences. Of course, you may choose to not have any flashbacks in your story, as I have done before, but knowing a character’s past will inform the actions they take in your narrative.
  6. Outline Plot. I suck at outlining. As you can probably guess, I do character-driven pieces, and yes, I shoot from the hip and entertain wild delusions of literary grandeur. I take this pretty far sometimes. I once wrote a story that began and ended with the narrator driving to school in the morning. Was I proud of myself? Kind of. Could the story have been better if I took an outline seriously? Most definitely. Are you more of a Kafka or a Stephen King? Doesn’t matter. There’s probably something you can do to make your outlining process more thorough and thoughtful. I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what not to do, which is: not outlining.
  7. Edit early and edit often. Some writers will disagree with this. They will suggest getting down your all thoughts before you go into critique mode. But here’s the thing. The sooner you catch obvious mistakes, the less likely it is they’ll end up in your final copy. At the same time, try to be conservative. If you really don’t like it, delete it. But if you’re not sure, highlight it and decide another time.
  8. Keep it short. For a newbie writer trying to get published for the first time, this is probably the single best piece of advice I can give. The word limit for many submissions and contests is 5,000. Under 3,000 is gold.
  9. Read it out loud. You can probably get away with not reading narration out loud, but why? Read the whole thing out loud several times, especially dialogue. Pretend it’s a movie script and you’re an actor trying out for the part. If the phrasing is awkward, just change it.
  10. Get feedback. If you’re excited about the project, chances are you’ll have lively conversations about it with friends, family, and coworkers. Exploit that. Sort of. And if you’re looking for some more spice in your editing life, post it on Critique Circle where strangers can roast it with zero repercussions. If this makes you scared because you’re a snowflake INFP writer, I totally get it, but don’t let that stop you. Respect the feedback and think about the feedback. It will make you better. Know in the end that it’s your story and no one else’s. For now 😉