Constructing A Short Story by Clive West

After an extended dalliance away from the genre, short stories are becoming increasingly popular again. With hectic personal schedules and the hurly-burly of the 21st century world, modern readers like the idea of picking up their book, tablet, Kindle, e-reader to enjoy a complete story without the hassle of having to remember numerous characters, complex plots or who is doing what to whom and why.

I’d like us now to look at the basic limiting factors of a short story in more detail and see where they lead us:

  • A short story by its very definition is short (!)
  • There must be a complete story within its pages even if it’s part of a series centered around the same characters or setting
  • The author must describe the location and the key protagonists in sufficient detail as to bring them to life

Some writers seem to think that a short story is merely a highly-condensed conventional novel or an extremely short novella when it’s neither. Because of the limitations imposed by the three above criteria, a short story takes a single thread and explores it to completion in the space of a few pages. There can be no complexity of plot, diverse parallel storylines, or switching from one exotic venue to another as per James Bond, Ludlum etc. If you are going to write a short story, you need to think tight, compact and bijou.

The knack to writing a short story which your customers will want to read is to concentrate on:

  • Creating a few simple but interesting characters
  • Choosing a setting which is quickly visualised by the reader and which will not overpower the characters or the storyline
  • Finding a story which leads the reader through
  • Sending the reader away with something memorable which makes them want to read more of your stories

With a short story, there is a real need to ‘hit the ground running’. You do not have the luxury of long preamble-style descriptions of the characters executed through rambling explanatory dialogue so you have to create a clear image of the protagonists very quickly and without overdoing it on the adjectival front. Likewise with the places; you will rarely have the word count for more than a cursory description giving a generic location such as ‘on the bus’, ‘at the beach’, ‘visiting the zoo’ and so on.

We’ll look at how to draw up plots, construct openings and decide upon endings for short stories in subsequent postings.

Clive West

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Clive West’s work includes a collection of short stories with twists called Hobson’s Choice, a full-length novel called ‘The Road‘ about the consequences of corruption on ordinary people and an accessible job hunting interview guide (based on his years of experience as the boss of an employment agency). He has also written a book about lymphedema. Clive now lives in a rebuilt farmhouse in the Umbrian region of Italy along with Damaris, his writer wife of 22 years and their three rescue dogs. Apart from his fictional work, Clive also writes commercial non-fiction on a variety of topics but especially relating to business and employment. He and Damaris run an indie publishers called Any Subject Books Ltd – You can also follow Any Subject Books on Facebook – Contact details: Facebook site:

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