Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Lesson to Writing #2 Short Stories are Short

Although I may not feel it, I’ve been writing for six years now, and over that time, I’ve picked up bits of knowledge. In the following Wednesdays, I’ll be sharing those bits of knowledge in my series: The Six Lessons of Writing. Today, I’m continuing the series with Lesson #2: Short Stories are Short.


You know what I hate? Going over word limits in assignments.

It’s not that I’m too wordy. (Well, maybe I am, but I don’t feel wordy.) I think I just put too much content in to the essay, and I end up having to stress over culling a few hundred words.

It’s not just essays that I go over the word count with; my short stories for class are always too long, and so I always rush through the ending to finish up before I end up having to cull half of the words.

Let me use an example: in a piece I wrote a few years back, I went over the word count by heaps. I cut and cut and cut the words, but still came up too high. So what did my 15 year old self do? Cut the ending.

I went from having a nicely paced ending to a one-sentence summery of the ending. Right after defeating the antagonist, I wrote:

I didn’t know it then, but the cops would hunt those goblins for the entire night, and by tomorrow, they would all be gone.



I didn’t realise back then that short stories are just that – short. I’ve always had the problem of trying to cram a novel-sized plot into a short story. It just doesn’t work.

I read somewhere that short stories should be no more than one scene. How many scenes did my assignment have? Three.

The lesson in all this: short stories should be short. It depends on the work count, but generally short stories should be no larger than one scene, otherwise the story becomes rushed and isn’t told properly.

We don’t want that.

(For the record: my short story assignment did really well, and received the highest mark in the class. I don’t consider it to be my best work, but it seems to be a favourite among other writers who have read it.)


  1. That's interesting. I've never been one for short stories, but I've always struggled with the same thing. Going over the word limit in assignments. Well, fictional ones at least. With nonfiction I pull out all the double-spaced size 13 font tricks. :P

    I think usually my problem is the same. Trying to cram a novel-sized story in to a short story. This is a really useful bit of info, and I'll bet I'll need it down the road.

    Thank you for that.

  2. I'm glad this post helped! Thanks for your comment :)

  3. I've only written one short story, and I went over the minimum word count by about a page, but that was it. I thought of it as a fable, so, while I included details & descriptions and left some loose ends, the key elements of the short story plot fit quite nicely. I do tend to go over the minimum by a page or so, on average--I've a weird knack for estimating how many words it'll take to tell a story/write an essay, and how to tell it to fit within a length. Also, none of my assignments have actually had a maximum word count. I think the teacher is just excited that one of their students isn't groaning over the minimum word/page count, haha, so they don't really mind something a bit longer.

  4. Amanda: You're so lucky not to have maximum word limits! My assignments *always* have it :(

    Thanks for your comment!