After having written short stories, entered short story contests, had my short stories published, spoken on a short story panel at Left Coast Crime, run the Coveted Dead Bird Contest and read numerous entries, I have a few bits of advice to hand out. For those writers who want to improve your chances of winning—or improve your odds of getting published—or at the very least, improve your writing, I plan to share some bits of information here and on my blog to help you succeed. If you heed them, you will definitely improve your writing.
First and foremost, tell the story. Do you have a story? Do you know what a story consists of?
One thing to remember above all else: STORY IS KING. Being a good storyteller is the premier ability—not how cleverly you write, how beautiful your prose is or even if you have all the commas in the right places. Much can be forgiven for a good story.
DON’T LET THE WORDS GET IN THE WAY
Story is what people want. Don’t ramble, don’t fall in love with your own words or clever concepts or humor, and definitely drop the agenda (political, social or personal) behind your story. If you want to preach, write an essay. Just tell the story!
The reader wants to be transported—enchanted, bemused, excited or scared. He does not want to be bogged down by your beautiful, clever, funny (plug in whatever you think is important other than the story) words.
It may be that your voice is funny, clever, beautiful, but it should not overwhelm or interfere with story – should not take the reader out of the fictive dream—the illusion that you want to create with your story. You don’t want the reader thinking, “Oh how clever, funny, poetic, etc., the writer is with that phrase, because then the reader has stepped outside of the story and is not being transported by it). If your prose, humor, turn of phrase, etc., enhances the story, then good and I say no more about it.
Okay, so how do you do that? Know the basics.
FIND THE BONES OF YOUR STORY
If you are writing a mystery/suspense, decide and include:
What is the crime?
Who commits the crime? (perpetrator)
Against whom? (victim)
How? (means & opportunity)
Now write the bones by plotting out those basics, leaving lots of white space between so you can fill in the details and flesh it out.
A few important things to include:
Who discovers the crime?
What clues will point to the doer and the deed?
Who uncovers/reveals the connections and the perpetrator? (the sleuth)
You will increase your chances of winning the contest or getting published in that magazine or anthology with a good hook. What is a hook? It is a way of starting your story that immediately draws the reader in to want to find out more by hooking their attention and holding it long enough to engage the reader’s curiosity.
Then keep the reader’s attention engaged to find out what happens next, and next, and next. Keep the story moving forward, not interrupting with details not intrinsic to the telling of the story.
The ending should echo back to your beginning so it doesn’t fall flat. The end can be tied up neatly to correspond with the hook so that the reader has an emotionally satisfied feeling of having been given a good ride on your story train. A twist can do that but is not necessary.
To sum up: tell the story, only the story and nothing but the story—and tell it well.
More details and tips on short story writing will be forthcoming in articles here and on my blog: http://coraramos-cora.blogspot.com/ (Google: Cora Ramos Blog if that is easier)