A short story is not a vignette. I’ve written plenty of vignettes, so I wanted to pass on this tip and save you the frustration. There is nothing wrong with vignettes. They give an intense snapshot of a moment in time. But if you’re aiming to write a short story, that’s not what you want. Short stories aren’t a snapshot. Far from it. They should take readers on a journey.
Either the characters or readers’ understanding of the characters must be different by the end of a story. If the story doesn’t (metaphorically) go anywhere, then it’s a vignette.
I have a suspicion that readers get so frustrated with short stories because often they’re vignettes, mislabelled.
When it comes to writing short stories, plotting matters. You can plot beforehand, or you can discover the plot in your first draft, but at the first revision stage, you have to be able to pull the plot out and see its momentum. How is it structured? Where does it take readers?
How is a short story plot structured? Tightly. I know you’re far cleverer than me, but I’d still recommend keeping things simple. Focus on no more than two characters, a single theme and takeaway message (or to put that another way: the emotional impact you want the story to have), keep scene changes to a minimum, set the scene fast, and maintain momentum by staying intensely focussed on why you’re writing that particular story. All the things you think of when you write a novel are important in short story writing–but remember! unlike with a novel, almost all readers will read your short story in one sitting, so if you introduce something in the beginning, they’ll want to know why by the end. Leave no loose threads dangling.
Your short story must have an emotional pay-off for readers. Whether it’s a happy sigh, a laugh, a cry, a touch of anger or outrage, disbelief; whatever it is, it must move them. Then they’ll read your next story!
As I’ve mentioned before, I think we’re living through an exciting time for short stories, a renaissance. Happy writing!
My latest short story is the sweet romance, First Kiss.