Writers, Don’t Abuse your Short Story Readers

Short Story No-No’s
by guest blogger, Annie Evett

Short stories have rules specific to length. Don’t abuse your readers by wasting time on unimportant, mundane details, bad structure, or clichés. Be punchy and get to the point. Put a bit of ‘burlesque’ into your writing with hidden sparkles and treats around every corner. Tantalize and tease your readers and they’ll beg for more.

• We have a responsibility to honor the gift and talent we hold in weaving a short story.
• We owe it to our muse. Be strong enough to stab to the inner heart of the story.
• Don’t wimp away or cop out with extraneous details.

Show, don’t tell. A stark image of a naked body may stir some people, but the addition of whisper-thin draping and dimmed lighting will allure a greater percentage of people. Tantalize your reader with snippets of information. Avoid the “full frontal” mode.

Using tags, exclamation marks. Don’t overuse tags like screamed, shouted, said, yelled, fumed. Telling the reader how your character states their words is an insult to their intelligence. (The possible exception is whispered, since it can hardly be conveyed any other way.) Show action and emotions with dialogue or action, not tags and exclamation marks.

Don’t state the obvious. Only mention details that are necessary to the scene. Example: “She sat in the café chair at the table across from him” is remote unless she was sitting on the floor in the café or she’d been sitting there for so long her bottom was numb. If the scene doesn’t demand it, delete it.

Using clichés. Avoid clichés like the plague. (Forgive the cliché.) Get rid of the “rugged trapper,” “kind prostitute,” “crooked cop,” “gorgeous girl,” “flashing eyes,” the sighing constantly scenes or the melodramatic and predictable storylines unless they are absolutely essential.

Your readers will correct you. They’ll correct your grammar, point out your spelling mistakes, misuse of tenses and other writing conventions quicker than you can hiccup. There will always be someone who knows more than you. When they read your story, they’ll rip you to shreds for inaccuracies. Do your research well.

Spoon feed your readers. Readers actually enjoy being a little confused as the story unfolds. However, some plots and themes are so obscure, only the writer can safely discuss them, so don’t be too obscure. Some genres such as science fiction or fantasy need a little more detail, but Show, Don’t Tell is hard to beat.

Giving details. Detailing physical descriptions and what a character is wearing takes too much time in a short story. The reader will create the character in their mind if you give them a skeletal framework to hang their thoughts on. Skip what he/she ate for breakfast unless it is crucial.

For more great writing tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com. We are a 501(c)3 charity that sponsors cancer patients in writing therapy and are presently piloting a writing course for the blind. Your tuition will help support us. Thanks! “Like us” and leave a quick comment. You don’t have to subscribe or join to leave a comment.


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