There’s nothing more daunting that starting a new short story, especially if you’re under deadline for an editor or a competition. To get you started – and finished – without that old enemy procrastination, here are five kick-starts that have worked for me in the past.
Three page thumbnail. Before I wrote my last short story, Breaking the Rules, I wrote out three handwritten pages to outline my story focusing on who the characters would be, how the story would start, what the middle would be, and ideas for the possible ending. It can be quite broad to allow you room to breathe, shape, and change the story.
Raid your diary. To get under the skin of an emotion, it’s always a good idea to look back at your diaries of journals to remind yourself of a time when you felt the same emotions your characters may be experiencing. I found I could lift some authentic descriptions from old journals.
Viewpoint as a lens. Viewpoint, as I always say, can do so much of the heavy lifting for you. In my story, I made a conscious decision to use a first-person detached narrative because I wanted to show that time had passed and emotions had cooled. Once I had the voice of a woman looking back on a past love affair, the story flowed much better.
Make sure your antagonist is strong. In Breaking the Rules, my antagonist is deeply flawed, very charming, and just a bit mysterious. I made sure I spent a bit of time on making him fascinating, so that he could challenge my heroine, Catherine, and that the story would have conflict and emotion right from the first time they meet.
Write your first draft at white-hot speed. If you want the story to spark – and make that deadline – write your first draft with a time lock. I gave myself just four hours to write this story, from eight until midnight and I think this helped its pace and sense of immediacy. I spent just a few hours the next day polishing and editing.
This approach can work. Last year, Breaking the Rules was included in an anthology for the SA National Arts Council and was published in a men’s magazine.
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If you enjoyed this post, read:
- The Secret to Writing a Great Short Story
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- 3 Short Story Writers Who Inspire Me
- How To Outline A Short Story For Beginners
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