The Trick with Short Stories


Manuskript *

The other day, a friend called me and asked for help. She had been given an assignment: Write a short story.

If you ask me, that’s a pretty tall assignment – and it was given in a foreign language class, on top. But then, I was often asked in school to write a tale, without getting guidelines. Teachers rarely write stories, so maybe they assume that creating a little short story is a snap, precisely because they are short.

Well, it isn’t.

And here’s what I told my friend – she needed simple guidelines:

A short story is about an extraordinary experience of the Main Character.

That’s the foundation. And yet what exactly that extraordinary experience is completely depends on the character and on what kind of story you want to tell.

It could be the first time a little child sees the ocean.

It could be about the first ride on horseback. Or maybe the last.

Or the first time someone killed another person.

Or saying good bye to someone they love … it’s endless.

The only limit is your imagination.

But there is more to a short story, and that’s the art of telling it. Every sentence must count towards that precious climax of the story. The plot must be tight and clear. The words must be strong and powerful.

This is where the hard work lies. Some rambling is permissable in a novel. There is no room for it in a short story.

In fact, there is so much to teach about short stories – I really  had to rein myself in and give my friend just the basics. Because she isn’t a writer and only had to write a silly assignment.

But remember this: Extraordinary experience. And clean, tight plot. And you’ll have a great start.


*Image source: Old Prayer Book, Phrood, Wikimedia Commons

About Hannah Steenbock

Hannah Steenbock is an author, dreamer, and coach. She has published several short stories in English and German, as well as one novel in German. In 2013 she started self-publishing her work. In 2014, she has won two awards for her short story "Sequoia".
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