Writers Write is a writing resource. In this post, we talk about how much story you need in your short story.
Last month’s word count for 12 Short Stories was only 500 words. Yikes, I know. Whose idea was that? And the month before that it was 2 500 words and now we are writing 1 200 words. It is a serious writing workout.
Any story under 1 000 words is put into the flash fiction category. The word count doesn’t make your job easier or harder for you. You still have to apply the same story telling techniques.
Big Story, Little Story
Your story can take place in a single moment, during the course of a day or it can span an entire lifetime. The reduced word count helps us decide how little or how much we can include.
A short story is a whole story told with fewer words, flash fiction even more so. The important thing is that it is a whole story. It is as if the reader is only reading a part of a story and it must relate to or be part of a bigger picture. Your job is to convey that entire picture regardless of the word count.
You can tell a multi-generational story in a paragraph or you stretch a spilt second for 500 words.
How do you do this?
Big to small:
Reduce a lifetime to a few sentences. You don’t have to explain it in detail. Create an image, an idea of who they are, and capture their essence.
Example: I never thought I would be the kind of person who took pride in their Tupperware collection, but here I am matching lids with tubs in a three-bedroom condo with matching his-and-her towels and a white picket fence. This example shows the passing of time in the same way: The menu was much the same as before. Pork chops, instant mashed potatoes, corn niblets instead of peas. This time he let me help in the kitchen, even asking me to set the table.
(Source: Amundsen by Alice Munro)
Small to big:
Take one instant and stretch it. This is where you slow down and savour the details.
The drop clung to the rim of the faucet. An accumulation of water that had travelled from stream to river, river to dam until it emerged here in her flat. She chased it with her finger, pushing the drop along the round edge until it sat on the tip of her finger. The porcelain of the basin was cold beneath her cheek and the grout of the tiles dug into her knees. The little drop danced on the tip of her finger before it fell into the basin and slithered down the plughole, back to where it came from and she wanted more than anything to follow it.
If you have a high enough word count, you can use both techniques in one story. A lower word count might force you to use only one.
Try both of these for this next prompt and see where it takes you.
Happy Short Story Writing.
Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a short story, sign up for our online course.
by Mia Botha
Buy Mia’s book on how to write short stories: Write the crap out of it and other short story writing advice
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