How do you write a good fiction short story?

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Answered by: Paul, An Expert in the Craft, Technique and Development Category
Unlike with a novel, writing a fiction short story can be both more challenging and liberating. The challenge comes from the limited space a writer has to express his or her idea. While a novel can go on for unlimited numbers of pages, or even tomes, a good fiction short story is short, concise and to the point. However, while the length is limiting, it can also be very freeing and fun.

A novel, because of its length, tends to stick to certain rules, like a three act structure, for example. But readers' expectations of short stories are different than novels. Also, over the many centuries the fiction short story has been around, its form has evolved to be more experimental. Yes, there are many straightforward short stories with a clear beginning, middle and end; with a rising action, climax, and resolution. There are also many great short stories that do not follow this formula.

So what do you need to write a good fiction short story? To begin with, you should read some great short story fiction to better become acquainted with the short story form. There are certain writers who have become famous for mastering the short story. Raymond Carver, for example, is a great American fiction short story writer, whose collections "The Cathedral" and "Short Cuts" are great starting points. Ernest Hemingway's "Collected Short Stories" collection is also a great example of precision of language to get an idea across.

In the world arena, Anton Chekhov's short stories are considered masterpieces. For a more modern writer, you can look to Alice Munroe, who's renowned for her fiction short story writing. Another highlight, for those looking for something a little more off-beat, are the short stories of the great Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges.

After familiarizing yourself with short stories, think about what you want to write about. A good fiction short story could be a fun, engaging tale that reveals something interesting about its characters or their world. But it could also be something as simple as a well-written description of a particular event that evokes a particular feeling or mood, or that communicates a particular idea.

For example, Hemingway's classic story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" tells the story of a simple encounter between two waiters and an old man at a cafe that is about to close for the night. The younger waiter wants to kick the old man out and go home to his family, while the older waiter wants to let him stay and drink a little longer. The conflict between these two characters not only communicates the existential despair the old man feels and the older waiter starts to identify with, but also brilliantly captures the atmosphere of a well-lit, lonely cafe at night.

Whatever topic you choose and however you decide to approach your short story, make sure your idea is original. The short story is short by definition, so the writer must capture the audience's attention right from the get-go. Set it in an unexpected or interesting place. Create original, full-blooded characters. Have them go through an interesting or bizarre experience. It could be something small and personal. For instance, in Raymond Carver's short story "The Cathedral" a working-class man has a life-changing encounter with a friend of his wife, who happens to be blind. The event could also be completely surreal and strange. In one of the most famous short stories of all time, Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis," the hero of the story awakes to find himself transformed into a giant insect.

Short stories are not easy to write, but writing them can be extremely satisfying. The key ingredients are having something interesting and original to say, and doing it with precision and brevity. While this is challenging, it can also be very liberating since many rules that apply to a novel can be broken when writing a short story.

So pick up an idea and a pen, and good luck writing!

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