What do I know about short stories? Not much, but I’m working on an entire book – a collection of my short stories; stories that are fictional, tragic, happy, futuristic, adventurous and tear jerking.

How do I know you’ll feel all of those emotions while reading them?

It’s already been tested on a sample of people. That’s right! I like to keep things scientific and data driven. Artists would argue otherwise, but I can’t really silence the analyst in me. So, I make sure people get what I try to communicate through my work.

Based on my experiences with writing short stories and attempting to write an elaborate novel, I have discovered that you have more freedom to be truly creative with short stories. It’s akin to writing a short mystery script for a movie, and you also want it to have an open ending. That freedom will allow you to mess with the readers in unimaginable ways! Ofcourse, you can have it conclude in a firm manner as well. A lot of my stories are concluded that way.

Imagine writing a short story for Inception. This is how the gist of the short story would look like –

  • Cobb used to be an architect. He used to build unimaginable stuff in people’s minds. ( This is character building).
  • He loses his wife after having an elaborate complication with the dream sharing process. ( More character building).
  • He can’t go back to his children because the police are looking for him. He uses his skills for illegitimate work, like stealing secrets from people’s minds.
  • He is now offered one job in exchange for the return to his children, and no charges being levied against him for his wife’s death.
  • He uses a totem to check if where he is, is infact reality and not someone’s dream. The totem should topple and stop spinning if it reality ( This is a vaguely unimportant fact but becomes so important to mess with your mind later).
  • He does the job after a lot of twists and turns.
  • He comes back home. He spins the totem. The totem appears to topple, but it also doesn’t. End movie.

You see? When I write a short story out of Inception, I don’t rely much on the plot; instead I rely on the ending and build everything up to that! Then, the plot is taken care of. There’s so much mystery introduced throughout the story, that the readers are hooked to what it would be like at the end.

Now, this is for the kinds of short stories that want to be mysterious and want to hold the readers’ attention to the very end and more often than not, there isn’t any message to be given out.

There are other kinds of stories that don’t employ scare / mystery tactics. It’s plain and simple. Something tragic has happened in the past. We, as readers are unaware of it because the story starts out sometime after the tragedy. The author provides glimpses of said past which is happy and not yet tragic. Finally, we understand the current position that our protagonist is in, by knowing that one key element in this person’s past that made all the difference in his world.

Is there a definitive guide, or a formula to tell you how to write a short story? Not really. What I can tell you is this –

  • Let the story not follow an elaborate plot. Why? This would require you to write more than a couple of pages. ( I’ve done this before and I had to break the story into 4 parts of appropriately sized short stories )
  • People remember emotions more than anything else. So, regardless of how short your story is, or the amount of content in it, it should make them feel a certain emotion so deeply that it hits them as soon as they finish it, and makes them remember it over and over again.
  • The Darren Aronofsky effect – Aronofsky is a film director who is known for some of the greatest movies ever made – Requiem for a dream, pi and Black Swan. What he is particularly known for is telling a story through narrow perspectives. As a protagonist going through something confusing, he lets the audience know as much as the protagonist does. If the protagonist is doing drugs and is seeing things, then that is what you see as well. Then, he switches to another perspective; of someone who is also important to the plot.

When we write a story keeping these points in mind, the story becomes something else entirely. It ceases to be a short story. It becomes a vessel; a vessel that carries an insight, a piece of information, an idea that could potentially take over your mind and cast you into deep thought. These thoughts could very well define who you are, and as a result, you could possibly take action. When you do, you affect the world, and when you affect the world, you make an impact; you make a dent in the universe. Art can change everything we know. We, as storytellers have a serious responsibility of how to tell that story to the masses.

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EDIT – Here are the links to two of my short stories –

  1. Forever
  2. Shipwrecked.