Short stories are fun to write, because they’re short. However, they can also be challenging for the same reason. You’re writing to a genre, and your readers have clear expectations for that genre. You can’t shortchange them, you must give them what they want.
This means that you need to be super-clear on a genre’s demands. I love old-style Westerns, so Louis L’Amour is a favorite author of mine. You always know exactly what to expect from him, and he always exceeds your expectations.
It’s been said that L’Amour recycled the same four or five plots, but so what? If you can do what he did – decipher what readers of a genre want, you’ll satisfy your readers.
“How Do You Feel About That?”
Let’s say that you’ve written a short story, and met your genre’s demands. It’s time to revise. I tend to do several revisions, because I write first drafts quickly. For my final revision, I do “scene therapy.” I gauge characters’ ebbs and flows of emotion throughout each scene.
Why focus on emotion? Because your reader lives your story with your characters. Martha Alderson put it well:
A character and her emotional state should be constantly changing. If you write a scene where this is missing, chances are the scene will fall flat and turn your story stagnant.
Start with your first scene. Do you know how the Point of View (POV) character feels immediately? What about the other characters in the scene? In a short story, with just a few scenes, you can’t develop your characters, but you can give them a range of emotions.
As the scene progresses, your character’s emotions will change, according to the action in the scene. (“Action” may simply be dialogue.) Keep asking your character: “how do you feel about that?”
This morning I worked on a scene in which the POV character’s emotions changed from sadness to anger. In earlier drafts, the character was sad, and although the anger was there, it was implied. I made the anger visible, in what the character thought and did, and it immediately lifted the scene.
Try scene therapy for yourself. Don’t try to do it in your first draft; wait until you’re hitting your final revision. Then, dig into your characters’ emotions. It’s huge fun, and it will make your short stories more satisfying for readers.
When You Know You’ll Be Sorting Out Emotions Later, You Can Write Faster
Doing scene therapy with your characters once you’ve got story, setting, characters, and plot all worked out enables you to write faster. You can simply allow your characters to act, and react in early drafts. Later, you’ll reveal their thoughts, and will refine their actions. It saves time, and you’ll write faster. Try it.
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