Like many people, you may feel you have the Great American Novel in you, waiting to get out; or at least the great American short story. How to start? The best way to start writing is to start reading. What? I want to write you say!! Why should I waste time reading? It’s a good way to learn the basic story structure. A good short story should have a beginning or opening, middle or body, and an ending or resolution.
In the opening you introduce your main characters, and their reason for existing. You can have one main character, or several. It all depends on the scope of your story. Give your reader a reason to care about what happens to these people. Whether they’re nice or nasty, good or evil makes little difference as long as you make them real. You can base your characters on people you know, or make them up straight from your imagination.
Describe things such as what the weather is like, what your characters are wearing, what they’re thinking, what they look like. Make them seem real. Everyone reading the story should be able to picture each character in his or her mind. Be descriptive of places involved in your story as well. Just a word of caution, don’t get so caught up in your descriptions that your plot suffers. Keep the story moving.
The body of the story is where you begin to build towards the resolution. You need to set things up that lead to the resolution. This is the plot. These are the bones, or underlying structure of your story. Once you’ve established this framework you begin to flesh it out. You’ve told us who the people in your story are, and why we should care about them, now is where you need to tell us what is happening to them.
The resolution is where it should all come together. Whatever situation you have created has to be resolved one way or another. Your main character should have some kind of a change to be effective. He doesn’t have to turn from a bad guy to a good guy or vice-versa, as long as some kind of change has occurred. In life, every situation we are involved in changes us, however imperceptible that change may be. It occurs nevertheless. I have read stories where the characters remain static, and come away feeling cheated. If a character is the same person he or she was at the beginning, they are two dimensional, and I don’t really care about them. If Ebenezer Scrooge were the same miserly curmudgeon at the end of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” the story would not have captured our imaginations for over a century.
Once you have completed your story, read it through several times. The first couple of times, just read it to see how it flows. Does the pacing of the story work? Too slow, and you may lose your intended audience. Too fast, and the reader can walk away feeling cheated unless your conclusion works well. It’s okay to leave them thinking, as long as they’re not thinking, “What was that all about?”
Once you have the pacing set properly, you can double check for grammar and spelling. Nothing will get a story rejected faster than sloppy spelling and bad grammar.
Also, you have the option of asking someone who’s an opinion you rely on to read your story. Ask for their honest reaction to the story, but be prepared for it.
When you’re happy with your story, I mean really happy, leave it alone. Resist the impulse to continually edit and tweak the story. You can ruin your story by making too many changes. I’m sure if you ask any author if they would change a completed, published work, most would say yes. Avoid the temptation.
Now you have a completed short story.
What do you do with it? Market it! One of the best sources I could recommend is the current WRITER’S MARKET. You can purchase one from most major bookstores, or use one at your public library. You can subscribe to the Writers’ Market online edition for $29.99 for a year, which is comparable to the price of the standard edition. Inside you will find a listing of every publication, under each category that buys short fiction stories as well as full-length novels. You can also find the terms offered by each publication.
Another way you can get your work read is to enter writing contests. The Writers’ Digest, a monthly magazine for writers, often lists contests in their standard and online editions. The most important thing I can suggest is to write. Every day. Even if you only put a few words to paper, (or word processor) you must write every day.
Good luck with your writing. Now let’s see, how did I start that again? “It was a dark and stormy night…”Good luck