Multi-award winning Jerome W. McFadden’s has had forty short stories published over the past ten years in a wide magazines, e-zines, and a dozen anthologies. He efforts have won him several national awards and writing contests, receiving a National Bullet Award for the Best Crime fiction on appear on the web in June 2011. His short stories have been read on stage by the Liar’s League in Hong Kong and the Liar’s League in London.
After receiving his B.A. from the University of Missouri, he spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Casablanca, Morocco. Following his MBA from the Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management (Arizona State University). He continued his peripatetic ways with corporate assignments in Houston, Istanbul, Paris, San Francisco, and Singapore, spending his spare time writing free-lance articles for American and newspapers and magazines. He morphed from journalism to short fiction in 2009. He now resides in Bethlehem, Pa. and is an active member of the Bethlehem Writers Group. His collection of 26 short stories, Off The Rails, A Collection of Weird, Wicked, & Wacky Stories, appeared in November, 2019.
Every word in a short story matters. Time and space are limited. You cannot afford to waste a page or two describing the weather, building the setting, or giving the genealogy of your hero/heroine. You need to get to the guts of the action quickly, pulling the reader in with the first paragraph. By the end of the first page the reader should be aware of the famous 5 W’s of journalism: Who, where, when, what, with why possibly coming later.
Short stories follow only one trajectory — one arc — concerning one character (or a small group of characters) traveling through one primary crisis or concern. The crisis or concern is in fact one shattering moment in that person’s (or group’s) life that he/she must work through, successfully or unsuccessfully. Note: That shattering moment does not need to be violent. It could be emotional, psychological, mental, or spiritual, or other. But it needs to be challenging. *
Characters must be construct with complexity, credibility, and emotion—in as little as a sentence or two. The writer must show character development while actively moving through the story’s narrative. You do not have time or space for the big old info dump. Instead, the writer needs to use clever dialogue, interactions, short flashbacks, and sharp imagery to develop the story’s characters.
You are limited to a small cast of characters. A full cast might consist of only one or two characters. Any character you decide to introduce must bring something crucial to the story – or be eliminated. Bringing in a characters for “cuteness” or for “color” or just because you like the quirky character in your head, is wasting precious words and precious space in your story. A good rule: Any character that does not bring in two vital elements into the story needs to be eliminated forthwith.
Recognize the descriptions and dialogues that slowing the story down, as well those that are those that are moving the story along. You must identify the best place to start, where to put the opening scene that hooks the reader, then maintain that hook to continue to pull the reader through the rest of the story.
Short stories leave no time for easing into things (long descriptions, banal conversations, interesting but boring backstory, wild personal tangents). Short stories are just that—Short —but they must always pack a punch. This may be the ultimate skill to be learned from short story writing: Trim the fat. My favorite writing “rule” comes from the legendary writer Elmore Lenonard, ‘Leave out the parts that the readers skip.”
The stronger the better. And a great twist at the ending helps make the story memorable
An added note: The tools and skill you pick up from writing short stories are assets that can and probably should be used in your novel writing.
*This “shattering moment” is described lovingly and in full detail in Chapter 3 – The Big Key in James Scott Bell’s wonderful book How to Write Short Stories And Use Them to Further Your Writing Career.
Sally Paradysz wrote from a book-lined cabin in the woods beside the home she built from scratch. She was an ordained minister of the Assembly of the Word, founded in 1975. For two decades, she provided spiritual counseling and ministerial assistance. Sal completed undergraduate and graduate courses in business and journalism. She took courses at NOVA, and served as a hotline, hospital, and police interview volunteer in Bucks County, PA. She was definitely owned by her two Maine Coon cats, Kiva and Kodi.
Sal is missed by all who knew her.
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