Short stories need to be short, but they need to be effective.
Cutting out on words does not mean you can cut out on feelings and emotions it generates in the readers.
An effective short story would be that where meagre words are used to express the maximum. You will know instantly whether the short story has gratified you or your readers by the feelings and emotions you experience after reading the story.
How will you know the story was gratifying to your readers?
Take their feedback whether they go through any of these emotions/experience –
- The thoughts hover on the ending of the story
- The story really did not seem to have ended
- You continue to think what happened after the last line of the story
- You have a feel ‘Oh my God, why couldn’t I guess it’ or may be ‘this should not have happened’ or ‘even why did it have to happen this way’
- The effect of what you have just read lingers and stays
- The ending seems to come at you as a punch or a twist in the tail that you had never ever imagined
- You laugh or cry and let your emotions get over you
- To create an effective but concise script, think in terms of
- How to make your protagonist real but unique: Think about some unique qualities in people around you and bloat it in proportion to create a dramatic effect.
- Where you start your story: A story can actually start from the end. We have all seen a high-intensity action-packed beginning might be revealing the end of the story but the hooks the readers.
- What does your protagonist dream of achieving: A manager who wants her/his company to grow or a father who wants his children to pass and get a job is not thrilling or curiosity evoking enough.
- But How to make the decisions of your protagonist correct, logical but innovative: When the story begins, what morally significant action has your protagonist taken towards that goal? What decision your protagonist makes drives the story and the readers’ mind too.
What obstacles the protagonist needs to overcome or hardships he/she has to endure in order to accomplish the goal: Simply having an anti-hero is not enough. Yes, a novice and inexperienced hero who finally takes on a rival/evil of opulent stature but has to undergo a tremendous journey fraught with determination, discipline, helps from known and unknown corners to mature and finally attain a magnanimous stature enough to take on the world to create an impact.
Consider, for example, the legendary story of the young Hobbit, Frodo Baggins of Lord of the Rings, that left a massive imprint in people’s minds across the globe. Frodo gets to be the bearer of the ultimate Ring and his life’s mission is to destroy this particular all-powerful Ring in the fires of Mount Doom where it was forged. He innocuously steps into legend and realises that he is now the bearer of the future of civilization. In the process, he has to evade and diffuse powerful forces who are in relentless search of the Ring.
- How to filter out the constructive details from the setting, characters, facts, storyline and dialog that will help you tell the story? You can omit or cut down on unnecessary details that hamper the flow or the progress of the story. The story needs to be constantly evolving to keep the reader’s mind engaged.
- All travel scenes should be chucked out if the details do not add to the plot. ‘Later in the day’ … or Next day in office … or When they met again after three years … is enough. No need to include anything in detail if not related to the core story.
- Flush out redundancy. In case you have already mentioned the sequence of events and want to again make a character narrate the happenings to someone else at a later stage, no need to give details once more.
- Details of facial expressions do not really add value, instead harp on the overall reaction of the character. ‘I was bowled over or flabbergasted’ … instead of ‘I was so surprised that my eyes popped out and my jaws hung, I was transfixed and felt clueless and moreover did not know what to do’ … etc. More importantly, the expression should be caught preferably not by the narrator speaking for himself/herself but by the other person with whom he/she is interacting.
2. Carefully choose the decision of your protagonist at the climax, since the moral, social, psychological, emotional impacts drive the reader’s mind. The readers have been waiting for this moment of truth since the action or the drama began and at the peak you can’t let your readers down. The decision should be in harmony with the environment you have created in the plot. For example, a vulnerable/dubious/bi-polar character of yours might be shown to be faltering at the last minute ending in choosing the wrong and attracting his/her doom. If you want to play with readers’ emotions and give a twist, be careful to justify the unwarranted happening before you end your story. Otherwise the story will lose its credibility.
3. Make your short story effective by adding your feelings. But also ensure that you generate feelings in the reader through dialogues, character sketches and actions. Remember the golden words “Show, don’t just tell”.