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Five Key Elements of Writing a Short Story

(In response to THIS request)

Writing a short story can be broken down in many ways, but the following five elements constitute what I believe make up a pretty solid core:

  1. Character
  2. Desire
  3. Conflict
  4. Change
  5. Precise, sensually focused writing

To write a good short story you must have all five of these things worked in. I realize that may make the process seem overly simplified, and it isn't, there's a lot of nuance to the craft. But for someone looking to analyze their stories or for someone looking for where to start, this is a great place to begin. Let's get moving by breaking down the first element in some detail.

Character

An interesting character is what will make your reader care. Pretty obvious, I know. But creating one requires more than just coming up with some cool idea like "I'll make her like my Aunt Hilda used to be" or "He can be like the man in the wheelchair that talks to me at the bar." That's a good place to begin, but that's not quite good enough to count as a "character."

The thing about a short story is that, well, it's short. Which means, you don't have time for any wasted words. So, your character is going to have "pop" right out of the gate. To do that, you need to focus down on exactly what trait it is about your Aunt Hilda or the man in the wheelchair that makes them "pop" for you.

What is it exactly about them that stands out? What is the crucial detail that makes them so interesting to you? The thing that defines them. Perhaps Aunt Hilda chews Red Man tobacco, or maybe the wheelchair man always sings his orders when he buys a drink. Is it Aunt Hilda's size and football player pushiness that sets her apart? Does the wheelchair man always cry when he talks about his dog?

You'll notice I'm not talking about eye color or the fact that the wheelchair man lost his legs in a tractor accident. What you're looking for is the BEST details, the INTERESTING details about this person, the thing that makes them "characters" rather than just some other human being.

Finding this critical detail or element will require a lot of thought, but when you find the right detail, you will know. It will feel right. Once you find that detail (or two), BLOW IT UP! That's right; you're writing a story here, exaggeration is your friend. You can't just say that Aunt Hilda is pushy and chews Red Man. You have to have her knock three women over at the supermarket and spit a dark stain on the younger one's clean white skirt. Or maybe she punches a trucker in the eye. Now come on, that's a character people are going to want to read. So, find a trait, the right one, and blow it up.

Desire

Once you have a good character lined up, you need to decide what it is that person wants; what is their motivating desire. It doesn't have to be something huge either, there's some amazing short stories out there with characters who want no more than to drink a glass of milk, or who just want to have a piece of lemon cake.

But no matter what, you need to know what it is that matters most to your character. And, not only do you need to establish this, there has to be something at stake for them if they can't get whatever it is they want (in the example of the milk drinker, the little boy would be beaten if he spilled).

We can run with the Aunt Hilda idea since we kind of have her started now. What does a truck-driver punching, tobacco chewing woman really want? Maybe she wants respect? Maybe she wishes she were a man. Perhaps she really wants to be thought of as ladylike. Hey, there's a fun idea, what if that's what Hilda wants, just to be seen as a woman for once, seen as feminine?

So there you go, now you know what motivates your character. A desire. But what's at stake? If Hilda can't be seen as a woman, what's the cost to her?

Well, maybe she'll never get the man she secretly loves. Aha, perhaps we've stumbled on the REAL desire of our dear old Aunt Hilda.

I think you see how this works.

Conflict

Ok, so now we have a cool character with a desire. So how do we get a story going? Well, the best way to do that is to put our cool character into a situation and just see how it turns out. The key here is to make your character make decisions and, well, let them go horribly wrong. It seems cruel, but remember, you're writing a story. Nobody wants to read about Aunt Hilda who made all the right choices and ended up with her beloved Charlie Cooper in the end. How boring is that? So, let them make mistakes and deal with the consequence. That's what stories are about.

Alright, since we're talking short story here (emphasis for now on the "short") we want to get that going right away. So, start right in. Don't mess around with long-winded back stories and a lot of set up, blah-blah going on. Just jump right in. Seriously, like, right into the middle of the story.

Here's an example for our Aunt Hilda story... a possible first few lines:

Walleyed Tom Porter with the scar from Vietnam had poor Charlie pinned against the wall, kind of crammed into the corner and wriggling so much he made the juke box skip. Aunt Hilda gasped when she seen it and stood up, fat fingers balling into a fist. "You put him down this instant, Tommy Porter, or I'll make meat pie out of you," she said. Then Aunt Hilda strode right up to Tommy and spat brown tobacco juice on his shoe. "Put him down," she said again. And you know what? Old Tommy Porter did.

Ok, I'm obviously not going to win any awards with that, but I think you can see the point. Right out of the gate we've got our story underway. We're working in some character details through the action (which we'll cover later in more detail), we've got the object of her desire (Charlie) and we've created the beginnings of "conflict." Not the bar fight mind you, that's not the conflict that I mean. The conflict is where Charlie is going to have a hard time seeing Hilda as feminine after she just saved his butt in that bar fight. Remember, that's what Hilda's desire really is and Hilda's choice of walking over there and confronting Tommy undermines her real desire. See how fun that is?

Now you have a nice story underway, and poor Aunt Hilda has a lot of work to do. Charlie's ego, her brutishness, there's lots of stuff in her way, lots of conflict. She's got a lot of work to do if she's ever going to get Charlie to see her girlish side.

Anyway, starting out in the midst of the story gets the readers involved immediately and saves them having to slog through a bunch of backstory which, frankly, they just don't care about. You should know that back stuff yourself, in fact you should write out whole back histories for your characters so that YOU get to know them well. But your reader just doesn't give a crap. Leave it out.

Change

Change is the metamorphosis, the realization or the epiphany. Change comes gradually as the story carefully unfolds, but it has to happen by the end. Nobody wants to read a story about Aunt Hilda who is a big brute and who lives through another day and goes to bed a big brute again. Something has to change.

Now, I'm not telling you what has to change. It's your story. It might be in your story, Aunt Hilda ultimately fails to win Charlie over in the end. Maybe she tried several things and all of them fail. But there is still change for her if the story is written well. Maybe she realizes after all her trials that she just isn't feminine. Your story could end with her finally recognizing she has no hope at all. She started out with hope, remember? But now she has given up. That's change. (Maybe not the best way to go, but it's change.) Maybe she just realizes she doesn't need to be justified by a man. Who knows? It's your story, you figure it out (write enough versions of your stories and eventually you will).

The change doesn't even have to be with her, it can be with the reader or the narrator. You'll notice our little example from back up there has a rather "folksy" feel (with all the "kind of" and "seen it" stuff going on). Change doesn't have to be the character's; it can be in the way others see Aunt Hilda instead. We start out seeing her as tough and big and kind of gross, but perhaps by the end we see how she acted out of love, how through the course of several scenes you might write her in more motherly ways, and this can be reflected by the way the folksy sounding narrator is treating her moving toward the end, gradually transforming the descriptions from the brutish things about her to the feminine details (discussed in more detail below). That narrator, and we, the reader, see her differently by the end. Always tough and maybe a little crude, but so willing to sacrifice herself, willing to give anything for someone else. That could be the irony of her plight, so big and strong and confident that at first people never realized just how sweet and vulnerable she is. Not until you showed them with your carefully written tale.

The bottom line is, by the end of the story, the reader needs to have seen or undergone some sort of transformation: Hilda changes, the narrator changes, or the reader's opinion changes. If not, then you didn't write a story, you just wrote a little "slice of life," sort of "a few hours in the day of so-and-so." If you have really amazing style, you might be able to pull that off, but if not, well, slice of life stuff is just... yawn ... not that fun to read.

Precise, sensually focused style

Alright, by "precise" I don't mean as if there is a "right" answer or a "wrong." And by "sensual" I don't mean that you are going to write erotic porn. When I say "precise" I mean, you're going to focus on the important details surrounding the events, like a camera shooting only the things that matter in the scene. Again, it's a SHORT story, almost like a poem, so you don't have room to waste. While a lot of this particular aspect will be improved when you revise, I want to be sure to point it out. Trim away the fat and keep the story pointed at the things that matter and that move the story along.

And, that said, when I use the word "sensually" I invoke the idea of "senses" not of sex. All of them. Not just eyes. Make the world alive, which includes sight and sound and smell and touch and taste. Remember them all. I'm not saying cram random details in willy-nilly, but, remember there is more to life than what we see. "The smell of Red Man tobacco assaulted him as she leaned into his face." Or maybe "Old Hank Williams seemed to stutter when Charlie bounced off that juke box like he did."

The important thing is that you write to the senses. Don't spend all your time in some damn character's head. I'm not saying never go there, but a lot of times writers will start out a good visceral scene and then go into the thoughts to reflect and put the story suddenly to sleep. Frequently it gets stuck there. For example:

As soon as Tommy set Charlie down, Aunt Hilda began to panic. What if I've turned him off, she thought. Oh, he's never going to think I'm ladylike now. I'm so hopeless, what ever should I do? Maybe I should run. He's never going to love me now. I just know I've ruined everything. Me and my big old, stupid body. I deserve to be alone.

Now, whether you think that is ok or not, I promise you, it's terrible. Nobody wants to read that. It's crap, so don't write it. You can't tell people what she thinks, and you can't tell them how she feels. Doing that is cheap and easy and it's bad writing. Hit yourself in the head with a rolled-up newspaper if you catch yourself doing that. Say, "Bad writer, Bad!" and mash your face into the screen. Then start that part over again.

You have to show them. Have Hilda's eyes pop open wide, have her and Charlie stare at one another. Charlie's face goes red, his eyes dart around seeking an escape. He can be heard sobbing through the blinking gap in the spring-loaded bathroom door. Something... have Hilda throw up. Have Charlie throw up. Something. Just, SHOW it, don't tell it from inside that woman's head!

Now, I'm not saying you can never go into someone's head. The thing is, most writers use it as a crutch. Perfectly good stories have been told without ever going into someone's head. If you don't believe me, read Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants." So just don't do it until you are as good as Hemingway. If you must do it, limit yourself to no more than a single line.

A few final thoughts

So there you have five key elements to help you write a short story, or at least to get one underway. There's lots of other things we might have looked at, and that you should in time, but you have enough to start writing now. I don't promise every story that you write will turn out the way you want. In fact, most of them usually don't. Writing is its own teacher, though, and the more you write the better chance you have of getting a story right. I read somewhere once that a "writer's best friend is his garbage can." Truer words have never been uttered. The rest is in revision (which I'm saving for another hub).

Getting good at these five things takes time, lots and lots of time. I certainly haven't perfected them yet. I probably never will. But, I do know that through practice and practice and a bit of practice you will get better with every story that you write. Besides, writing is the joy all by itself. It's just nice to know you can keep getting better at it along the way.

Have fun, and I wish you and your short stories the best of luck.

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Comments 203 comments

Ananta65 8 years ago

ALthough I'm not sure whether each short story must include these five elements, you did convinceme that if a short story does, it will be readable. Great hub, Shadesbreath!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California Author

Ananta, while I'm sure furious research could probably dig up one or maybe a second story over the last 5 centuries that managed to avoid all five of these, I'll be honest... while there are many things I didn't cover, a short story that doesn't hit these is really swimming up stream unless the writer is a proven and brilliant master of the short story.

Frankly, in the name of furthering writers everwhere, I challenge you to find a story that does skip all five, and I will read it and show you how it does not. (great fiction, not just "published.")


anime_nanet profile image

anime_nanet 8 years ago from Portugal

Spectacular hub Shade!

It takes a more serious tone than your usual hubs, but that just gives you more value!

You have a great gift... you combine your imagination and creativity with knowledge and research, as this hub shows. And that, my friend, is the true success to be a writer, either of short or long stories!


Ananta65 8 years ago

Mind you, I didn’t say that a story could lack all five of these elements, Shadesbreath. I think it’s quite impossible to produce a good story that has none of these elements. However, I can imagine a good short story without (e.g.) the desire element or without a well pronounced character.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California Author

I'd just like to see one is all, Ananta.  Even a character who desires NOTHING desires something, even if it is just the maintenance of that absence of desire; the desire is to have no desire.  And a story with no characters is not a story.  For fun, I'd really like to see you try to write a story (or find one) that has no characters (I've read stories with a rock, a tricycle and a short sword as the main characters, so... yeah.  A story with no character is called a blank page, or at the very most, a description, like a prose poem.  I bet you can't do it, and even if you think you did, I bet I can show you the character and the desire, no matter what you come up with. Be very interesting to see what you come up with though.  I am curious.

And thank you Anime_Nanet, that is incredibly kind of you to say. I'm flattered to the gills.


annabellewalls profile image

annabellewalls 8 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

what a GREAT article! thanks so much!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California Author

I'm glad you liked it, and I'm grateful you told me so. THanks. :) Hope it helps and good luck with your writing.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I agree with Annabelle - it's great, Shades! This must be the type of writing you were thinking had to have a different account. It will only increase your readership, I think. You're a terrific writer and people will trust your advice.

Making characters flawed human beings and bringing readers into the scene can be tricky (impossible) without practise, but it is fun! My biggest problem when it comes to fiction is remembering to butt out. My stories quite often end up with a bad dose of author intrusion.

I'll be watching for your other writing hubs.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California Author

Yeah, it's so hard to butt out isn't it? LOL. I do the same thing as a parent as I do with my characters, I want to help them out. Very hard to stop and let them fail. But you have to let them fail or you have no story. The upside is, unlike your kids, with your characters, you can always save them in the end if that is your personal morality.

Thanks very much for the kind words, btw. Means a lot.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

Hey Shadesbreath: There's some really terrific advice and guidance here. Reading it like that, I could only (if a little subconciously) compare it to being an actor. For example, the first question an actor must ask himself when preparing for a scene is, "What makes this scene so special?" The same hold true for writers, I think. Why are you writing this scene? And your advice for showing the reader - not telling him - is spot on. From you, I would expect nothing less, and you, yet again, deliver. There is much more to use as examples of your fine writing, but suffice it to say, this is really good. Thanks!


white atlantic profile image

white atlantic 8 years ago from INDIA

nice work


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California Author

Thank you.


Bruce Elkin profile image

Bruce Elkin 7 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

Hey Shade, I really like this up. Straight up, good info, well written, and blocked into a simple to follow structure. I wrote short stories for a while, took a bad course, but you've got me hankering for the form again. THanks. I think I'll start with a couple of the collections you suggest. Chekhov first!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

I'm glad this was helpful. Chekhov is incredible. When you read him, watch "how" he writes the story more than "what" he wrote. His ability to create even minor characters memorably is awesome.


RVDaniels profile image

RVDaniels 7 years ago from Athens, GA

great hub!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

Thanks. :)


rongould profile image

rongould 7 years ago

I don't seem to have much problem with novel or novella-length stories. I get tripped up when I have to write short fiction. I appreciate the hub and the pointers.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

I'm glad you came by, Rongould. That's very kind of you to say. Good luck with your short story!


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ReverseMobileInfo 7 years ago

WOW!!! You put a lot of time into this HUB, it definetlyshows!!! I found the information extremely helpful! I became a fan of yours and rated you UP too, please join my fanclub as well! Keep up the excellent work! Barry ;)


manujkhera profile image

manujkhera 7 years ago from India

Really very helpful........Thanks.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

You're welcome, Manujkehera. Thanks for the read and comment. :)


theenigma411 profile image

theenigma411 7 years ago from New York

Very helpful. Very informative and concise.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

I'm glad you like it, theenigma. Thank you for the read and the comment. :)


Deltachord profile image

Deltachord 7 years ago from United States

These elements are definitely important to writing fiction, whether a short story or a novel.

A writer should definitely learn the mechanics of writing, such as punctuation. The comma is one that is often misused. This is often considered the boring part and may be overlooked.

Good hub.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

For sure, rudimentary grammar should be learned. Obvious mistakes make a story unreadable, and publishers won’t even bother to read it, no matter how good the story itself may be.

Thanks for the read and comment.


Deltachord profile image

Deltachord 7 years ago from United States

Your welcome.


Leo 7 years ago

Hi

I miss Climax among your list


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

Climax occurs when "conflict" leads to situations (scenes) wherein the "change" begins to take place. If a story has enough "conflict" and "desire," a climax in one form or another is inevitable.

I will grant that in some cases, a bit of plotting may be necessary to guide a character to something significant. Good plots don't always just come out on their own. If plotting is necessary, or a struggle, check out my "Three Steps to Finishing Your First Novel" hub. I cover one possible route to plotting there. Link below:

http://hubpages.com/literature/Three-Steps-to-Fini...


By Grace 7 profile image

By Grace 7 7 years ago

I am so glad that I found this hub, it is so interesting and informative I am going to bookmark it so that I can read it again when I have more time. This is such a useful hub and so well written and easy to follow that it is easy to learn such a lot from it.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

I'm very glad you find this useful. Thank you for letting me know too. It's nice to hear. :)


Alex Ehrhardt profile image

Alex Ehrhardt 7 years ago

This is a great beginner's guide to writing short stories. I only have one problem with it. You say that the garbage can is a writer's best friend, but I beg to differ. I think that it is imperative to keep everything you write, no matter how gallingly awful and absolutely disgustingly terrible the work is. I do. And I'm very glad about it. One time, I was riffling through my old "garbage work," and I saw a piece that I hadn't even thought of in years. And when I rediscovered this piece, I was like, "Whoa, I can work with this!" I made it into one of my favorite pieces of my own writing. You never know when an old piece is going to bring about something wonderful. If you throw away your old stuff without giving it a chance, you might be throwing away something that could become a goldmine!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

Thanks for that input, Alex. I wish I remember the name of the author I quoted when I included that line about the garbage can, but I can say that it was a metaphorical garbage can. I think his main point was to say that a lot of what we write is just not going to be any good. It doesn't mean the core idea is hopeless, or the character is hopeless etc, but the point he was making was that many writers fall too in love with their first drafts, or with a story... or they become stubbornly attached to a story that just isn't working. I think the point he was making was to not be afraid to write garbage. It doesn't make you a "bad writer" to churn out junk. The point was to write, to just fire up the computer or typewriter or notepad and go go go. If crap comes out, so be it. Junk it (so to speak) and write something else. I guess I should have tried to make that more clear. I'm glad you pointed that out, thank you.


asheliz2 profile image

asheliz2 7 years ago

to simplify this for some people a good story needs to have a basic situation...you know the basic situation when you know

1. Who is the protagonist(main character)

2. What is the protagonist's goal

3. What is the conflict(getting in their way)

4. What is the setting

other than that good job!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the input. :)


asheliz2 profile image

asheliz2 7 years ago

your welcome=)


pioneer_writer5 profile image

pioneer_writer5 7 years ago

I found your post informative and inspirational.

Thank you for sharing.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

I'm very happy to hear it. Thank you for reading and taking the time to reply. Write on!


sureshkumar84 profile image

sureshkumar84 7 years ago

Good article!

I have remind these things ever to write a short story! Because I tried to write some short stories, but I not satisfied on that. But now I am clear very much.

Thank you for this great hub!

I wish you to have a great artful life!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

Thanks, Suresh. "Have a great artful life!" That is one of the nicest well-wishes I think I've ever seen or heard. Good luck on your story writing, and never give up, even if you aren't satisfied with some. You get better with every one you write. Have a great artful life yourself. :)


Dawn Curio Psyche 7 years ago

It was very clear.

I felt that desire was the need I most connected with feeling the necessity for having in a story. Without desire, the character(s) will be motivated to do nothing. If they do nothing, there's nothing to show. If there's nothing to show, there's nothing to see. If there's nothing to see, it's BORING.

Thank you for your work. It was helpful in a clarifying way that most writers on HubPages lack. Of course, I've only been on for a day. But most articles have tons of typos, incoherent sentence structure, lack of realization on the author's part that they aren't being clear...bad grammar...Even with the professional writers.

But I found you very clear.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

Thanks, Dawn. And I agree with you that without desire a story is probably going to be pretty dang boring. I also agree that hubs (most hubs are not stories that I have found) are often times not proofread very well. Many hubbers slap up hubs, I think, for key word searches and hoping for a page view. I think most of those have ZERO interest in actually providing anything readable. Just the way it is. Doesn't take a discerning reader very much time to recognize which "writers" have no desire to be taken seriously.


Elyse Eaton profile image

Elyse Eaton 7 years ago

This hub is inspiring and helpful. Thank you for your insight and the time and effort it took to write it.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

That's very nice to hear, thank you. :)


Writer Rider 7 years ago

Don't forget emotion...


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

You're right that emotion is important. I would suggest that doing these five things properly will create the emotion. Emotion is drawn from the reader when a character to whom they are connected struggles and has bad or good things happen to them.


waynet profile image

waynet 7 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

Very useful stuff to know this as I am embarking on many short stories all culminating through different time points that fracture out into one big book of short stories.

So cheers!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California Author

That's awesome, and sounds fascinating! Have fun... and invite me to the book signing when you're in a local bookstore once it's published so I can get my copy signed.


waynet profile image

waynet 7 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

will do!


Simply Soheila profile image

Simply Soheila 6 years ago

Thank you so much for the information and book recommendations.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

You're welcome. You're in store for some great reading if you find a few of those books. :)


ocoonocoon profile image

ocoonocoon 6 years ago

Hi great advice. I definitely agree about exaggeration. It's not normal life, after all, if you're writing fiction. People want to read something that is a step away from their own world, and something that offers a different perspective on people and the world.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I totally agree with you, and taking "a step away from their own world," is a great way of putting it. I think that's exactly what people want and expect when they read. Even "real life" fiction isn't really "real life," if it is, ... yawn... what? lol.

Thanks for the read and the comment.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 6 years ago from United States

I don't know why, but short stories remain my biggest enemy in the writing world. I can write chapters for novels, articles and scripts, but if you ask me to write a short story, my eyes gloss over and I forget how to do anything. I'm trying to get into it more now, but I'm still looking for guidance. Your article is a good start. The core elements of a short story are the most important, because without knowing them you might be adding twenty or thirty core elements that don't actually need to be there. Then a short story becomes a novella and so on until it's the farthest thing from what you wanted.

But I'm ranting. Very well written hub, and thank you for the advice.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

If you have the first stuff down (the stuff in this article), try plotting it like a script, with three acts (five is fine too). U can use the same story arc thing you'd use for a screen play on a short story, just, short. lol. Or plan three scenes (settings) and write it like a sonata... introduction, complication, and denouement (or however the hell you spell that).


Heavensgates profile image

Heavensgates 6 years ago

Great Hub! As I sit glued, literally to my sturdy brown and crome chair at my brand new 20 inch computer...Just having fun... Happy New Year!!!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Hah, that's awesome, Heavensgates! Grats on getting an awesome sounding machine; I bet you are having fun. Happy New Year to you too. :)


Pleiades 6 years ago

This is incredibly helpful. I just got my ass handed to me, no silver platter or anything, in a grad workshop because I was missing just one thing and it was simple - the desire element.

Well, it was "there" but not clearly enough for readers. Because I was so removed from the character's point of view, his desire and interest in scene and purpose were not clear at all to readers. And because his motivation was unclear, people didn't care about the conflict, and didn't BELIEVE the state of change. Those two elements, Conflict and Change, became "esoteric" (a word you really never want to hear in workshop), because the character seemed detached.

So, yeah, I think desire may be the lynchpin of your five elements. The POV has to be dripping with the character's (or narrator's) interests/inflection or readers will be justified in not knowing why they should give a darn.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Yeah, that's a tough one to leave out. I had to lol @ "esoteric." Don't you love how politely people can say stuff. Ah well. Better than brutality. I've had both, and prefer the polite ass-handings. Sounds like you took it well enough. I hope you get it worked out in your story though. I think you may be right about the lynchpin. Desire or Conflict, be a toss up I have to pick one.

Thanks for the comment.


treasuresyw profile image

treasuresyw 6 years ago from Savannah, GA

Thanks for the tips. I'll put this one on stand by. Peace


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

That's nice of you to say. Glad it was useful.


Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

Over the years I've read a lot of different stuff in books and magazines all dealing with content, character development, plot development, subplot...all that good stuff that goes along with the writing process.

This really is, I think, one of the most concise, but also one of the best summations of what's important I've seen. So thanks. Haven't written much fiction recently, but this makes me want to go back—there are a ton of stories I have not written yet.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I hope you do go back, Springboard. There's just something so liberating about writing fiction, I can't help but wish that joy on you again.

And thanks for the kind words.


Wrath Warbone profile image

Wrath Warbone 6 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio

I sure learned a lot about story telling in this quick and easy read; much more than I knew before, and I'm an old fan of the art.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Glad it was of use to you. And I'm an old fan of the art too. Storytelling is near the very heart of being human, I believe.


i love stories 6 years ago

thanks shadesbreath the tips were very good and i salute you for writing and helping us.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the nice comment, I love stories. :)


amanes 6 years ago

Thank you so much for your help here. I was surprised that it's not good to focus too much on what people are thinking, but it makes sense that it isn't good story telling....again thanks!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Hi Amanes. Glad this was helpful. Hey, if you really, really want a solid example of how well a story works with nothing but external details and dialogue, go read Hills Like White Elephants. Full text is all over the Internet.


Madison22 profile image

Madison22 6 years ago from NYC

Very good tips! I really enjoyed reading this hub, very informative as well has easy to understand. Thank you:)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

That's good to hear. Thank you for letting me know too. It's nice to know when our work is useful to others. :)


Mohamed Mughal 6 years ago

I like the way you start from "character" and build the story from there.

Another starting point that I've used to begin to build a short story is "premise." For instance, I have a short story that I'm half way through that begins with the premise that Congress is abolished in 2050 and the President's budget is built through tabulations of electronically submitted voter priorities. The structure of the short story: a spreadsheet of the United States Proposed Budget for 2050.


marieryan profile image

marieryan 6 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

Great summary of what's needed to make the difference. Well done. You have inspired me to have a little try myself, now that I have found Hubpages to showcase my writing!

I'm a big short-story fan, my all time favourite being Guy de Maupassant's 'The necklace'.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I've never read that. It is now on my list. Good luck with your short story. If you post it on hubpages, feel free to come back and post a link. I'd love to see it. :)


Onibalusi Ayodeji 6 years ago

I really love your teaching I've just noticed to make something at least one that makes the characters cruel happen to them, I will go back and implement this new skill of your teaching.

Thanks Onibalusi Ayodeji


Writer's Block 6 years ago

Interesting Hub with loads of useful advice. Thanks for sharing.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Yeah, Onibalusi, that's the fun part. Make your characters suffer a little. Readers are a sadistic lot, we like to watch characters squirm a little before they get out of a jam... assuming they do!

Writer's Block - thanks and yw.


ahmadraza212 profile image

ahmadraza212 6 years ago from Pakistan

very nice tips dear i really like your hub.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Thanks, Ahmadraza. I really like that you really liked it. :)


dotty1 profile image

dotty1 6 years ago from In my world

hi just wanted to say thank you for such fab advice :-)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Thank you for reading it. :)


Dobson profile image

Dobson 6 years ago from Virginia

Thanks for the tips. I plan to enter a short story contest soon and will use these tips in that.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Good luck! I hope some of this helps a little.


cerpen 6 years ago

hai ..

I Anto from Indonesia

I love reading your articles. really helped me in writing short stories.

greetings from my

thanks


ainehannah profile image

ainehannah 6 years ago from Dublin

HI Shadesbreath, thanks for this hub it's given me a focus for the second part (as yet to be written) of the short story on http://hubpages.com/hub/please-critique.

I'd thought it was finished but another hubber has recommended a few suggestions (including about another 1000 words) to fix it. I'd welcome your opinion. Thanks Ainehannah


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I would have, Ainehannah, but it says it doesn't exist, so I can't. lol.


ns1209 profile image

ns1209 6 years ago from UK - England

Really good hub. Without a good desire or character or change it would be incredibly boring! Also out of interest what length would you class a short story in pages or words. Well done!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

A short story can be anything. There's VSS (very short stories) on Twitter that are like 150 words (although, I admit this is pushing it), and they can go up around 12,000. Much more than that you start moving towards a novella. I have a piece that is 15,000 words and I'm still not sure if it's a novella or a really long short story. I lean towards the latter, because it's not really shaped like a novel, but then, what does that mean, really? You know? Hope that helps.


jayjay40 profile image

jayjay40 6 years ago from Bristol England

Thanks for the advice, I'm off to hit myself on the head with a rolled up newspaper.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I recommend using a paper from a small town. The New York Times is just too violent a form of self-discipline.


Amanda  6 years ago

Great tips! I actually trying to write a short story as we speak, so thanks.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

That's great, Amanda. I'm glad to have helped a little. Good luck with your story, and have fun! That's the most important part.


sarahmoose profile image

sarahmoose 6 years ago from Nottingham, England

I keep toying with the idea of writing short stories, so I have printed your hub to help me get started! Thanks!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Hi Sarah. I hope you find as much joy in writing as I have. Short stories are fun. In a way, each character is like your baby, you give them life and you nurture them, and then watch them become their own people... making mistakes, being hilarious, breaking hearts. All of it. It's great stuff. Good luck with your writing and have FUN!


jambo87 profile image

jambo87 6 years ago from Outer Space / Inner Space

Thank you for the useful tips on short story writing. I'm not sure I agree that change is necessary. Short stories are usually for making a point, I feel like the character doesn't have to change all that much to accomplish this. Then again, I am an existentialist, who usually points out how absurd life is haha. Great hub!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Man, Jambo, you ain't lying on the absurdity of life thing. Sometimes the absurdity factor is hard to fathom. As for change, well, I think you'd be hard pressed to write a story you really liked that didn't have change in it. You might not call it change, but I probably would. Change can mean a lot of things. :P


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

Shadesbreath,

Before reading this hub, I was convinced that all you needed to write any story (novel, or short story) was:

1. Setting

2. Lore or backstory

3. Characters

Let me explain. (This will be as brief as possible:)

The setting helps build your character, because where your characters live (be it the basement apartment of their uncle Ted, or Uganda, or the dark side of the moon) determines a lot about who your characters are, but it also helps you build the scenes (which relates to your #5:) AND it helps you create the lore / backstory for your story.

In my definition, in order for a character to be a Character, she has to have motivation, and in my stories, a character who is motivated to do something will always come across another character who is motivated to do something that will make it hard for the first character. So there's your conflict.

For example, the basement apartment that Billy Bo just moved into is filled with taxidermy, because uncle Ted loves to hunt and once tried to open his own hunting and taxidermy shop. This lore helps shape the characters (Uncle Ted is eccentric and Billy Bo is uncomfortable with the deer that watches him play video games in his basement apartment). The characters become real people in the setting, using the lore or backstory that emerged from the crazy basement world. Billy Bo just has to get rid of all the creepy taxidermy, but Uncle Ted loves his dead stuffed animals and will not allow them to be thrown out or moved from his basement. Conflict! In the end, either Billy Bo will have to give up and move out, or Uncle Ted will have to give in and move his fury buddies to the den upstairs. Change!

In other words, you touch on #1, and then use that to build on 2, and then develop 3, and then return to #1 to add details. It's a cycle, and the more times you cycle around, the richer your story will become.

BUT, I do have to admit that my version touches on all five of the necessary elements that you mentioned, and you touch on them in a more specific way that ensures nothing is left out. In short, I agree with your five, loved the style at which you presented them to us, and I will reference this when writing short stories in the future.

~AC

PS: Please let me know if you would be okay with my sharing this hub with my writer's group. We meet in about four days, and I know everyone would benefit from this knowledge! Also, sorry for the long-winded comment, but I was so inspired!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

AC, I don't mind the long-winded comment at all. Being a long-winded sort myself, I get it. Furthermore, your comment is fantastic. Setting and/or "place" is huge in a story. People are FROM somewhere and they must always BE somewhere. Setting is often almost a character itself, not always, some stories have less of it than others, but it is there, and sometimes violently so. I'm glad you added a very valid and important part of story into this conversation. The reality is, there is no one right way to approach a story. The main thing is get people thinking about the parts and being aware of the pieces that function together as a whole. Thank you for including this in the thread. And of course you may use this hub with your writing group. I am flattered.


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

Shadesbreath,

Thanks a lot! You are so right, we must think about the parts in order to create something whole. I'm excited to share this with my group. I will let you know how it goes! Most of the members want to try fiction, but are not sure how to approach it, and I know this will help them get started.

~AC


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

You're welcome, and I look forward to hearing how it went.


jambo87 profile image

jambo87 6 years ago from Outer Space / Inner Space

Yeah, I recant, change can be subtle. Good point!


lelem135 6 years ago from Gulfport, Mississippi

This was really helpful. I will be using this as a checklist for my stories.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I'm glad this was of some use, Lelem135, and thank you for leaving the comment saying so. That's very kind. :)


Winsome profile image

Winsome 6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Who am I now--was what? was I--was I? Don't think about it, don't care..don't know..what I was..don't..they feed on care, don't feel just move..quietly one step..no, crawl don't touch them..don't think, don't remember that face...no not that face..calm, don't think don't feel they need it you don't anymore..just move it's dark they won't see you if you just don't think I know they are all gone and it's just you now...don't remember that's what got them...they cared..don't feel, don't care she..she..don't think it's only you now..she wouldn't want you to think..don't that face, not that face..don't. Don't care what they did..you've almost made it..just a little more don't hope..the smell it burns..don't think about it...just a little more.

Don't mind me just trying to write without a character, without desire, with no focus and no emotion and no change all in the guy's head. I hope he makes it. =:)


Winsome profile image

Winsome 6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Seriously Dude, very very helpful--I'm currently stuck in two short stories wanting to be novels and they aren't so these pointers will help me pound them into submission--even if I have to use the New York Times. =:)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Or, it could be that you have the ever-unwieldy novella on your hands. I have three of those and, well, talk about red-headed step children. (sigh). Keep hammering at them, whatever they are.

As for your characterless character... hmmm.Your character has an odd character, a disjointed one that might count as character but would sure make defining drive/motivation hard. Actually reminds me of some alternative fiction I've read. Maybe you are one of those convention rebel writers and don't even realize it!


Winsome profile image

Winsome 6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

The Winsome Rebel--hmmm it has an alternative contradiction to it. Might make an anti-hero at that. Who would have thought? =:)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

See, When you wake up, you just never know what you're going to get in any given day.


Lynn Nodima profile image

Lynn Nodima 6 years ago from United States

Good advice, Shadesbreath! I would add one more: Dialog! Dialog must should natural when your readers skim the words. Stilted dialog destroys a short story.

I enjoyed reading your hub!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

You're right, dialogue is important for sure. If it doesn't sound natural, if it doesn't sound like real people talking, it can be disastrous. Same goes for meaningless conversations.

As far as natural goes, often writers will try to use dialogue as a "cheat" for more exposition or back story. If a story has dialogue, which they don't have to have, but usually do, it's important that it's real conversations, not "stuff the reader needs to know" jammed between quotation marks.

And it needs to be serving the greater story too. Just conversations like, "Hi Joe, how's it going?" followed by, "Great, Dave. Thanks for asking," add NOTHING to the story. Often times, the really good dialogue has people speaking about things in a way that is really speaking about something else. I mentioned "Hills Like White Elephants" in the hub already, but this is another area of that story's genius. Anyone who hasn't read that story should read it two or three times at least and really see what is at work there.

Excellent point, Lynn, I'm glad you brought it up!


sammyfiction profile image

sammyfiction 6 years ago from Australia

Really useful hub, I never really thought about breaking it down like that. Most of the points you brought up also, can be applied to longer novels, as all the points are really essential to the story.

It was a good read!

Thanks!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Sammy, you are totally correct about novels needing the same thing. And, as you say, it's really an element of story. Short or long, some things are just necessary for a good story to be, well, good.


poetvix profile image

poetvix 6 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

Thank you for sharing this. It's really too kewl when I think on it. I could have spent hundreds of dollars and a lot of time to take a class to learn a fraction of what you have here. I really like the way you broke it down to the needed elements w/out the candy coating and teacher speak that typically is associated w/ trying to learn something.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I'm glad you enjoyed this, Poetvix. I'm a fan of cutting to the chase, as they say. I hope some of this can be useful to you.


Escapade profile image

Escapade 6 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow Connecticut ..

A smart,simple way to breakdown writing for those that are starting out,or need extra oomph in their writing i love it =)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Thanks, Escapade. This hub has turned out pretty satisfying, I'm glad it came out as it did. Thanks for coming by and commenting.


VictorS. profile image

VictorS. 6 years ago from Mobile, AL

Someone said something about adding climax to this list. I saw shadesbreath’s response but also wanted to add that having a climax isn’t necessary for short story writing, especially modern short story writing. Writers like Sherwood Anderson and Chekhov were often more concerned with mood than they were with a highly structured plot with a climax. In his stories, Chekhov manipulates this “mood” through his characters. Take Chekhov’s well known story “Misery” as an example.


VictorS. profile image

VictorS. 6 years ago from Mobile, AL

And I also wanted to say thanks, Shadesbreath, for this list. It's hard to create such a list, especially thanks to writers who would work against any list of rules (like Barthelme).


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Hi VictorS. Good points. I think that anyone who does as you have done and reads writers like you have listed is going to start understanding what is possible. You're totally right that creating a list is hard, because, the thing about writing is that, really, there are no rules--only precedents set by this writer or literary boundaries defined by such-and-such "movement" or "school." At least half of literature is writers writing against the confines or seeming confines of what came before. Lists, really, are preposterous. However, for folks getting going in short stories, I suppose a list is a place to start. Thanks for your great comments, and I'm with you; I totally think anyone who wants to learn how to write a story should read Chekhov.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

Hi , being fairly new to HP hubs such as this are priceless. Thank you for sharing. I will be bookmarking this one for future reference. Take care.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Oh good, another story writer. HP needs more of us to balance out all the commercial folks. Even salespeople need to be entertained from time to time.

Welcome to HP, Eiddwen. :)


Doug Turner Jr. 6 years ago

Thank you for putting these basic truths into such a digestible format. As an aspiring writer, I find an abundance of advice out there but rarely a clear format to make the advice easy to grasp. You do so here.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

I'm glad this was useful for you Doug Turner Jr. The best advice for a young writer I can give is READ and WRITE in equal measure. Read great writing, not just popular writing. Read the masters who are still being read despite being dead for decades and, more importantly, centuries. It doesn't even matter what they wrote about, they had "the thing" that mattered. READ, and then write. Write every day. Those two things more than any amount of study or college or advice will make you better. Period. I promise.


Karen Wodke profile image

Karen Wodke 6 years ago from Midwest

I read your article with interest. You nailed a lot of key points. I have long wondered about writing a story that contains none of the expected elements and in which nothing really major happens. So, I gave it a try. It's harder than you think! The urge is there around every corner to make something happen! Anyway, thanks for the well-written article. You make wonderful points that will prove helpful to any writer from novice to professional.


carlmikael profile image

carlmikael 6 years ago from Sweden

This is great, thanks for structure this down and sharing, i learn a bunch to improve my writing and story skills.

Cheers!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Hi Karen. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. And I agree in a way that it might be difficult to not have something happen, whether it's meaningful is the trick. Sometimes that's subjective, because even if you do pull it off (pull nothing off? lol), will the reader think you did? (Reminds me of Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49).

Carlmikael: I'm very happy to think you may have gotten some useful ideas from this. Keep writing, that's the real secret. Everything you write makes you better. :)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author


Writer101 6 years ago

Personally, the 'character' part is a little off, you want you're 'character' to be like a human bieng. Unless of course that 'character' is from another universe. People despise fakes, if you do't make you're 'character' another human bieng you book or short story will go crashing down like a bullet that didn't strike it's target.

I loved yo're other advice but the 'character' thing was a little off.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California Author

Hi Writer, thanks for reading and commenting. I think you are correct that the character must be like a human being. It is important that they be recognizably human, share actual and universal humanity, or readers (humans) won't connect with them. But I don't think that the exaggeration of a character trait puts that at risk at all (and remember, we're talking about short stories here).

Look at "Bartleby the Scrivener." The characters in that story are clearly not "real" in the way I think you are suggesting. We have a man in Bartleby that is nonsensical in his stubborness, and the narrator is not "realistic" in his tolerance. Yet that story does not crash down like a bullet.

Look at Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People" and the character of Hulga. She's very exaggerated. YOu could argue she's not realistic very easily, and yet she embodies a part humanity more clearly because of it. The same goes for many charactes, think of Connie from Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" story: clearly a "typical teenager" and yet not even remotely "real."

My point is, in a short story, I believe you have to emphasize the character trait that defines the character. It doesn't have to be in your FACE emphasis (think of Richard in Shakespeare's Richard II play... his weakness is not stuffed in your face, and yet it is absolutely unending and non-stop, the proportion of it absurd given what we see of him.)

Anyway, that's my view of it. Not sure if I've cleared up the intent of what I wrote up there, but I appreciate your point and your taking the time to make it.


Barraoc profile image

Barraoc 5 years ago from Co. Meath, Ireland

Thanks Shadesbreath, I have some short stories in first draft stage and they all seem quite flat. Now I know why...


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

You know what's fun to do with a crappy short story... pick a different character in it, and rewrite the story from their perspective. You now know the plot of the story you drafted, and you are saying it's flat. Ok, cool, mabye that wasn't the most important story in the group of people who gathered on your page. So, pick a minor character, the victim, or the acomplis, or the guy they blew off early on, and figure out what he or she wants, and what crappy decision did he/she make that made him/her end up being where they were when all that happened. And where to they go from there?

Just a thought. Can be really fun. I've saved more than one dud with that strat, and at the very worst, it's a good exercise.


CathyandDaveAdopt profile image

CathyandDaveAdopt 5 years ago from The Med City

by Dave,

Great tips! Ypu've got me motivated to get crackin' on a short-story!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

That's great to hear, CathyandDaveAdopt! Get cracking while the muse is still streaming you energy. :)


sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 5 years ago from Indiana

I've read this twice now, which has to be a record, since I don't have the attention span of a goat.

Due to my attention issues, and immense lack of talent in this area, I don't write stories, short or otherwise.

I bookmarked this hub, however, for my 13 year old who does write short stories, but quite frankly, I learned a lot too. I was all like, "Yeah, Aunt Hilda blew it, that was a good write."

Then you told me it sucked... and why. I was all like, "Dangit. He's right! I'm having my kid read HIS stuff!"

Consider yourself adopted as one of the many teachers for my child on hubpages. You will be her writing teacher. I will pay you in compliments, or Monopoly money, whichever you prefer....


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Sueroy333, I'm glad you are getting some use out of this hub, and if your kid is in need of help with writing, don't be too shy to shoot me an email. I love writing, and if I can help promote the art, I will.


Kazicon 5 years ago

Great article!!! Thanks so much!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

You are welcome. Thanks for reading and leaving that nice compliment.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Thanks for the pointers!

Well Starr


David Marks 5 years ago

these five elements are very important in making a short story, if one of these elements disappear the story will be a failure.


Keith Worth profile image

Keith Worth 5 years ago

"Your writing will only be as good as what you read."

Have to say I disagree with you there, but I do agree that you can't write without first reading. I just don't think you're limited to only be as good as the authors you read. Sometimes bad books can inspire you to write and produce even better as a challenge.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hi Keith. I agree that coming across something that is poorly written can be motivation. But I stand by that statement about being as good as what you read. When I say that, I mean, what you read all the time as a regular approach to books in your life, not what you occasionally come across. If you read 100 books, I am absolutely certain that if 95 of them are by great writers, and 5 of them are awful, in the end, your writing will be improved for the exercise. However, if you read 95 horrible books, and 5 good ones, it is my opinion that while all 95 miserable experiences may truly drive you to want to improve the state of literature in the world, you will also have been exposed to something close to 20,000 pages of bad habits, sloppy sentences, flat dialogue, clichés and all that rot. We are what we eat, and we are what we read (speaking of clichés lol). There is no reasonable argument I can possibly foresee that could convince me that a writer is not better off with the first scenario rather than the second. Perhaps I am wrong, but if so, it absolutely defies logic in any measure I am capable of mustering.


Mrs. J. B. profile image

Mrs. J. B. 5 years ago from Southern California

Thank You so much for sharing the basic guidelines.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks for reading and commenting. :)


J.S.A 5 years ago

Ok, ur the best this site is so cool. Thanks for the tips and when i get my book published i hope u read it. :-) thanks again!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

I hope so too. Good luck!


Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

God, you really are talented. And you really should be teaching. Move to Chicago. I'll pay you to teach me, honest. It might be in something like, Pokémon cards or something, but I'll do it. ;-)


alitafabs 5 years ago

I'm doing an english assigment on short stories and this has helped me very much, it's hard to find good websites these days! Thanks!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Motown2Chitown, that's very kind of you to say. And, lol, if you make it Magic cards, I'll take it lol. (well except moving).

Alitafabs, I'm glad this was helpful, and I agree it is hard to find credible content online these days. Search engines are flawed and tend to favor garbage that pays. Sometimes, when I get comments like yours, I regret the nom de plume I have here, because I know you can't use the resource (or at least must use it carefully) in academic papers, but, well, it is what it is. Thanks for commenting though, that means a lot. It's nice to know when something you have done is useful to someone. :)


S-Dog 5 years ago

We are using this to help us with a LA project for our school, it is really helpful. I think it's cool how you actually take the time to reply to everyone that comments. :) I also think the thing about erotic porn was funny. :P


Sestenes profile image

Sestenes 5 years ago from Iowa

Loved the hub; great insight into what makes for good fiction. One of my favorite books is still The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner >_>


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hi S-Dog. I'm very happy to hear this is useful to your LA project at school. Very cool, and thanks for letting me know. And, glad you got a chuckle out of the erotic porn thing. I think it's important to keep this kind of stuff real. There's enough dry, stuffy, painfully horrendous to read stuff out there about writing. I hope to keep it real, human to human, if it at all possible.

Sestenes, thanks for your kind words. And that is a great book, all of his books on writing are awesome. I've actually taken writing classes from one of his ex-students.


GuestUser 5 years ago

This is great! I needed help because I have to write an allegory for my English class, and this helped me out a lot. Thank you!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Well, I'm glad to know this was of use to you, GuestUser, and good luck with that allegory. :)


AmandaH 5 years ago

I have been thinking about writing a children's book and was interested by your great example for learning how to do story writing and thought it was funny. I appreciated you taking time to comment for everyone.


AmandaH 5 years ago

I would like to understand more about the precise section more.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hi AmandaH, I'm glad you found this article useful. And I enjoy interacting with readers. We all write in a real world, you know? :)

The Precise style section could really become it's own article or several, so I can see how you would be curious about that. The essence of what I'm getting at there is two-fold. First, we really must choose our language carefully. I have a blog post that goes into that pretty well if you want to have a look: http://daultonbooks.blogspot.com/2011/04/day-28-di...

The second element, which is a function of the first, is to make sure you remember all of the senses. I know I touched on that above, but it's really crucial that you not forget the places your characters occupy, the worlds with weather and smells and textures. It gets pretty easy to just go with sight and sound, which is cool, but remember to toss in the tiny details of place (I hit that in the blog post too if you watch for things like "rattle" and "slog" etc.)

Anyway, hope that helps, and thanks again for reading.


AmandaH 5 years ago

The diction article gave me a better appreciation for Shakespeare to understand his work. Is the precise step about the emotions of the characters after going through the change?


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hello, AmandaH. Nice to hear from you again. Thanks for visiting my blog. I need all the traffic I can get :)

The Precise step is about the words you choose when making your story. Remember that we are talking about WRITING, which means literally that we are scribbling/drawing/typing symbols onto a white background be it paper or computer screen. No matter what word, what set of scribbles, we choose, every word we WRITE is our choice, and that choice has to symbolize accurately and deeply what we are trying to say. So as writers, we want to make sure we choose the BEST possible words to convey what we mean, to convey the things that we are seeing and experiencing as we imagine our story. Some of that is emotion, yes, absolutely. Some of that is place. Some of it is dialogue and personality and a host of things. The point of the Precise step is to get people to remember that as they are creating characters, they need to slow down (for me this is usually during revisions) and render their scenes, their characters, in language that does as much work as possible. In that Diction article, remember how Gertie in the wheelchair "rattled" her way down to the lakeshore? By simply choosing "rattled" as the verb as opposed to wheeled down to the lake, we convey lots of things. A sense of texture on the beach itself, and there is a subtle sense of what emotion Gertie is feeling. She must be in a different mood if she rattled to the lakeshore than if she "cruised" to the lakeshore in her wheelchair, right?

I realize it's a much larger conversation than one blog post and even twenty comments can cover, but it's important. I highly recommend you read writers like Cormac McCarthy, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Shakespeare and see how they use language. Read for the story, sure, but really just look at what they are doing with their word choices. See how a simple walk somewhere is filled with sense of weather, space, personality, emotion, desinty, history, etc. They pick the RIGHT words and blow depth and breadth into every sentence. I hope this helps.


AmandaH 5 years ago

Thank you


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celeBritys4africA 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

An awesome hub!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

AmandaH, you're welcome, and thank you for your interest.

celBritys4AfricA, thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Alladream74 profile image

Alladream74 5 years ago from Oakland, California

Will refer to this from time to time.Thanks.Great hub


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks, Alladream74. I'm glad you liked it and hope you find it helpful from time to time.


mhizx crazy hurtzx 5 years ago

thanks to you because you is the best because you give the answers in my assignment thak u very much


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Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Glad to be of some service, Mhizx. :) Good luck on your project.


Carolyn Moe profile image

Carolyn Moe 5 years ago

Just joined two weeks ago... settling into shorties... took a screenwriting course at Pasadena City College and really so much of what I've picked up in those types of books is quite similar to what you're saying... except of course that in film you show don't tell... or so they say... thanks for your advice and I like your little brain man teaching a class... :)...


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hi Carolyn, thanks for reading. And you know, in a way, writers have to "show, not tell" too. It's tough, and sometimes the distinction is hard to identify, but I think of how I focus a narrator's "eye" as a camera moving in and out all the time. The main difference is that I can pan all the way into the character's head, which for a camera operator in film is harder. I mean, they could I guess, but they'd have to move the camera very fast to break the skull, and, well, that would likely bring lawsuits and lots of bad press. :)


baygirl33 profile image

baygirl33 5 years ago from Hamilton On.

I suspect I've not got time for all that practice (old) but loved it and will bookmark and follow you on facebook and your blog because you have so many good ideas and stuff to build upon.

Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hah, there's always time. A friend and I were just talking about the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery at something. That's 4.8 years at 40 hours a week. 20 hours a week get's you half way to mastery... in under five years. So what if you spent 10 hours a week for the next decade, you'd be half as good as the masters. How is that a bad thing? lol

And thanks for reading, voting up and for hopping over to check out the rest. That's very cool.


ForgedWarrior profile image

ForgedWarrior 5 years ago from Earth

I LOVE this Hub. I'm following and voting up this post. Maybe I'll be the vote to get it to 100! I can see why it has such a high rating!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hi ForgedWarrior. That's very kind of you. I've always wondered what it would take to kick this thing up the last notch or two, but it just never makes it to triple digits. I'm glad you enjoyed it though. That means more to me than the extra digit anyway.


sofs profile image

sofs 5 years ago

Writing stories hasn't been something that I have thought about in a long while. I got started on one recently and now I am hooked.. I am glad to have found the bricks to build on .. thank you for sharing :)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks for reading, Sofs, and I'm glad you found something in this article you might be able to use. That's very gratifying to hear.


fashion 5 years ago

Good page.You nailed a lot of key points.I will use this as a checklist for my stories.Really you are very talented.


camdjohnston12 profile image

camdjohnston12 5 years ago

Writing stories sounds fun. Thanks for sharing. Interesting hub.


anusha15 profile image

anusha15 5 years ago from Delhi, India

Hi Shadesbreath, I'm gonna bookmark this hub for future reference :) It has real useful information and off course it was an absolutely interesting read. I couldn't read through lines, had to go from top to bottom.

I really like the way you've explained almost everything with an example. Aunt HilDa was both HIlarious and DAring. Intriguing yet simple character for illustration.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks, Camdjohnston12, glad you enjoyed it.

Hi Anusha15, I'm glad you found some useful info in this too. The Hilda character is fun, isn't she. I actually wrote the story about her after writing this (many months after), and I keep telling myself I ought to link it. I will eventually. Thanks for your kind words.


vianasya profile image

vianasya 5 years ago from Indonesia

Hello Shadesbreath, nice to meet you. This is a good hub indeed. I need this information before I start to write my own story in future. It's very helpful. Thank's a lot!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hi Vianasya, nice to meet you too. I'm glad this article might prove useful to you, and good luck with your writing!!


Bbudoyono profile image

Bbudoyono 5 years ago

Excellent hub. Thanks for writing it. I write a novel now. Do you have any hubs on writing novel?


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hi Bbudoyono, thanks for reading and commenting. I do have a hub on novel writing. It covers plotting through outline and has a section about how to actually get to the end of the first draft using some tools for setting expectations that help get a handle on the discipline and emotional obstacles many people face. Here's the link: http://hubpages.com/literature/Three-Steps-to-Fini...

Hope that is useful. What's your novel about? How far along are you?


Jakob 5 years ago

Awesome advice. Thank you very much!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

You're welcome. Good luck and have fun writing!


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 5 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Great hub, Shadesbreath!

I thought I had visited it before. You've laid everything out, clearly and systematically with the patience of a teacher. Are you going to do any teaching? You'd be great at it!

Take it easy. I gave you your 30th 'useful' up vote.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Hey, W.C. Long time no see. Was thinking about you the other day when someone brought up Adam Smith and I found myself feeling painfully ignorant. lol.

I'm not going to teach formally that I foresee, but I am thinking that I might do some videos and cover stuff, using examples of great writing and being able to point out things the great authors do etc. I think it would be a valuable addition to my books website, you know, give something back and not just beg people to buy copies all the time, you know?

Really looking forward to the time to do that. School will finally be done in December and I can have my life back.


louiseelcross profile image

louiseelcross 5 years ago from UK

Thank you for this hub. I have always dreamed of being a writer but have, to date, written nothing other than my life story and I was compelled to do that. I seemed to get terrified at the thought of writing but yet there is nothing else I want to do. I have always wanted to write and feel that I was meant to write but up to now never had the courage. I will find the courage one day. Thanks again. Keep the hubs coming.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California Author

Louiseelcross, you might have noticed the quote I dropped in here that went "A writer's best friend is his garbage can." Take some courage from that. For one, it proves that you don't have to write anything that's any good. I write so much stuff that's just awful, it's hard to comprehend sometimes. I start in, write furiously, spurred on by the muses and my own fabulous brilliance... only to find out that it was neither muse nor brilliance at work but rather my brain getting motion sickness and throwing up. Meh, so it goes.

The other thing about that garbage can quote is that it also allows you the security of knowing nobody has to read anything you write. It's just you. Which is not to say that can't be terrifying, because it can, especially if you really care to plumb the depths of your own experiences. But, you don't have to leap straight into the deep waters, you can examine lots of things, and doing so allows you to develop craft and technique, which, eventually will endow you with the skills to push further. Just write. Don't think. Just write.


louiseelcross profile image

louiseelcross 5 years ago from UK

Thanks. You made me laugh here and its not often I laugh. I will certainly give writing a go and see if I can find my own brilliance. Keep the writings coming because I really enjoy reading what you have to say.


alina gandapur 4 years ago

story misfortune:

hellow guys main aap sub logow kko 1 kahani sonana chahti hoon 1 thi larki wo bohat achi thi uss ki aadatain bhi bohat achi thin 1 din aasa hua ke uss ne ye socha ke main kahin jaoon gi aur appna maa baap ke liye paisay laoon gi ye soch ker ussne ye bhi socha ke mere maa baap gharib bhi hain aur un ke pass koi kamane wala bhi nahin hai to main kaam karoon gi to phir ussne ye sab kerne ke liye ejazat li to phir inkar ker diya to phir ussne jane ka bohat kaha ke main jati hoon lekin wo nakaam rahi iss liye ke uss ke maa baap ne ye soch rakha tha ke hamari 1 hi to baiti hai wo iss ke sath koi ullta sidha kaam na ker lain iss liye wo parayshan ho gai thay un ki baiti jo thi wo bhi wahi jane ka soch rahi thi jab maa baap ne mana kai tha to usse ganda laga likin uss ne ye nai socha ke mere maa baap kia soch rahay hain to uss baat ko bohat din gozar gai thay ke to uss kay kisi dost ka phone aaya jab uss ne pick kia to uss ke dost ne usse party per bolaya ussne inkar ker diya to usse uss larkay ne bohat force kiya akhkar wo tayar ho gai wo larki jab wahan gai to afsoos kerne lagi akhr kar wo pohanch gai to uss ka aanjam bohat bora hua wo bohat pachtai akhar kar wo merne ka soch bathi maa baap ne usse bohat loka lakin wo mer gai aur mer ker maa baap ko bohat barah sadma day gai un maa baap ko jo wo usse bohat pyar kerte thay iss liye unhonne wahan bhi nai jane diya jhan wo jane ka soch rahi thi iss liye ke wo halak ho jai gi aur larki ki kismat ne bhi uss ka sath nai diya aur uss ke dostoon ne wahi kia jo na uss ke na kablay bardash tha unhay ye bhi nai pata tha ke uss ke sath ye hone wala hai aur us larki ne bhi unn se ejazat nai li thi story is finished.......


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Well, Alina, your title is well chosen, but I'm thinking your characters are hard to decipher, and the plot is a bit too abstruse for the typical reader. Good luck with it.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks, ITcoach. These five elements are certainly a good starting place (and returning place for the old hats who can get out into the weeds sometimes and need to get back to the basics), so I'm glad you found this useful. :)


kelleyward 4 years ago

Thank you so much. I just wrote my first hub story. If you get a chance could you check it out and give me feedback. Thanks again for the great info


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Hi Kelleyward, thank you for reading and commenting, and I happened to have some time this morning, so reading a story is just what I'm in the mood for. Off I go.


Alexander Brenner profile image

Alexander Brenner 4 years ago from Laguna Hills, California

Awesome post. I'd like to comment by saying that short stories can be so diverse and almost abstract, that it may put off the audience. If you're writing for a contest or perhaps an assignment it is probably best to include most if not all of these theses.

However, when writing for yourself it can be fun to experiment with absences, imply themes by their direct absence. Ever try writing a story with no character? Sounds impossible, and whether you succeed or not you are challenging yourself as a writer and identifying what a character is and what it truly does for a story also it helps you recognize if you are too dependent on characters or if you do no involve them enough.

On the other side of the coin from this hub, my first hub discusses reading literature comprehensively but the same concepts can be applied to short stories. Another great hub is Simone Smith's in which she clreary identifies all these themes in a piece of great literature, Dante's Paradise, part of his Divine Comedy. I'll link here if anyone wants to check it out.

https://letterpile.com/books/Dantes-Divine-Purpose...


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Yes, I think it's a fantastic exorcise to challenge oneself as a writer, especially writers who have been at it for a while and need to look at their work through various lenses. For many, though, particularly people getting started, I think there's something to be said for trying to develop some mastery of the basic elements before trying to work around them. If one hasn't figured out how to create character, it might be difficult to avoid creating a character, or at least avoid it in a way that isn't forced or awkward (if that is possible; I've never tried). They say we only know something through its opposite. I wonder how that all plays out in that idea, eh? Thanks for the comment. :)


sam freestone profile image

sam freestone 4 years ago from UK

As someone who feels the ache to write but isn't quite sure where to begin I found your advice about writing from inside a character's head valuable. It would equate to watching a film with a constant commentary instead of the actors actions, words and expression telling the story. Got it!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Very nicely put, Sam Freestone. It is rather like that. Good luck with your writing, and have FUN!


4 years ago

thx but what a bout the polt


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Hi M. I'm thinking your asking about plot. If so, I would say that the plot is shaped by the desire as complicated by the choice. In the example of Aunt Hilda above, the plot line would read something like this: woman sees man she desires and must overcome obstacles of her own making to win his heart.

If "plot" is the progression of events toward a conclusion, then you can see how one sort of creates itself by the shaping of character and setting in motion the other elements. Obviously more can be done to direct how that shapes up, and certainly will be in revisions of a story, but hopefully this addresses your question. :)


Sara Sweeney 4 years ago

I liked the description about using your scenes like a camera; only shooting the important points that move the story along. It's a good, quick analogy to keep in mind, especially if you have a hard time skipping time in your stories - like me ;)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Yes, sometimes it is hard to skip stuff. It's easy to feel compelled to follow everything, but some parts aren't good reading. (Think how many times you see epic heroes using the bathroom lol). I've found great utility in allowing myself the use of phrases like:

Two days after the incident, he ...

Four months would pass before she saw him again.

Waiting six weeks for the results was agony, but finally...

Etc.

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. :)


DylanOnTheRun 4 years ago

You could at least spell Hemingway right


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 4 years ago from California Author

Hah! You are correct. 3 years and nobody pointed that out. Been jamming two M's in there since high school too. You'd think at some point I'd figure it out. Thanks for pointing it out.


aziasaaa profile image

aziasaaa 2 years ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Thank you so much for this piece. yes! we cannot afford to lose any words on short stories that we have to give bam! bam! bam! on the stories. i will surely check put your other stories.

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