How I Fail at Short Stories (or used to)

I’ve been looking back at the short stories I have half finished, and have finally clicked onto the thing they have in common – the reason why they aren’t finished right now, and why I am struggling to complete some of them.

I don’t know how they end.

A short story is not the same as a novel, in SO many ways, but in this way more than others (for me). I can start a novel with a few key things, often that doesn’t include knowing how things pan out at the end, or even how the characters will get there. Sometimes, I might have an inkling, but not often.

I’ve started many short stories in the same way. ‘OH! that’s a neat idea’ <opens a new document, types for a bit, gets scene out of her head and then gets distracted/stuck/called away for motherly tasks>. I’ll go back later, and still be stuck, and feel a bit lost, and not really know what I’m doing, then walk away, adding another story to the list of things that remain incomplete.

I used to think that I just sucked at short stories. I just didn’t ‘get’ them, and so struggled to write them.

Not so! I just hadn’t yet discovered that in fact, the best way to write a short story (for me) is to hash it out in my mind before I start writing. I need a beginning, middle AND end to work on a short, because I don’t have months ahead of me to figure out where I’m going. I only have a few thousand words and that method simply doesn’t work outside of novels (and novellas too on occasion).

See, there was a reason that my best short stories were the ones I sat down and wrote start to end in one sitting – I actually knew how those ones ended.

Now that I know this, I’m not going to dive into any brilliant new ideas before I’ve got those bases covered. Unless I have a clear destination in mind, I shall not be writing it.

Funnily enough, I’m discovering more and more often that I know where things end for my longer works these days. I used to struggle with that thought, finding the writing boring because I KNEW where it was going – now I find that the adventure is half the fun.

Besides, you never know what might change on the path towards ‘the end’.


14 thoughts on “How I Fail at Short Stories (or used to)”

  1. ohhh, I so get what you mean! I thought I sucked too, but it was because I hadn’t plotted out the short story through its entirety, beginning, middle and END! i know how they start, but haven’t the foggiest where I want it to go.

    So congrats on figuring out your problem! Now you can only improve on your shorts!

    1. yeah, they have been a lot better lately, purely because I DO know where I’m going with them. It’s nice when you actually get this kind of thing sorted once and for all!

  2. Good means to an end. I struggle with this too.

    I like the adventure of not knowing where my stories will take me, but I often get lost.

    So far, I’ve found that some degree of structure works for me: I plot key points from start to finish, and I somehow have to get to each point along the way–but HOW is the fun part.


    1. Hi Milo, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂

      I too enjoy the adventure, but have learned to enjoy that HOW part, as you said. It’s a slight shift in mindset, but it certainly seems to help with getting better quality writing done.

  3. Oh, I love the journey in long works! So much changes along the way than what I had at first anticipated. I have never written a story without seeing the end. I don;t always see the road there though.

    In my shorts, well, I write literary ones, and they are usually snipets, fragments almost without a beginning, middle, and end, if that makes any sense. But I love writing them. They prove a great distraction for me when working with a longer project, and I also love them as an experimental device.

    It’s fun, learning about our own process, isn’t it?

    1. It is fun, lots of fun.

      I quite like snippets and fragments and tend to write quite a few of those as well, though not so literary 😉 I feel like its taking a little snapshot, a moment in time, peeking into someone elses life for just a little while. Fun stuff.

  4. I find this hilarious, because I am the exact opposite. I cannot write a novel until I know every step from beginning to end.

    But shorts, I know nothing when I sit down to write, other than a vague hook or idea or character. And my best shorts are the ones that come unplotted from the depths of my inner brain.

    Just goes to show that everyone takes a different path!

    1. lol it does indeed! That’s really interesting that you do it the opposite way, but maybe its more about needing the process for each to be different? Because they are different things.

      I still get surprised by some of my shorts, but I need to have an idea of where I am heading or I just waffle on.

    1. You know, I’ve never heard anyone else refer to novels as a leisurely walk around a public park, normally people seem to compare them to a marathon or something else that requires long distance stamina and determination. I guess it’s all about how you approach them in the end, and what you like to get out of it.

  5. Never, ever think you shouldn’t write. You are a very, very good writer and have a lot to tell. Please, please don’t give it up. I will cross all my fingers, toes, eyes etc that you get it all back. But, if you don’t, maybe wait a while and then get back to re-writing the lost part.

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