As the Las Vegas Literary Salon gears up for its Elmer Schooley Short Story contest with a 2,000 word count limit, we felt this would be a good time to remind writers of some of the conventions common to writing shorter pieces of prose. Remember, the story you submit for the contest must be based on the Elmer Schooley print shown here.
- Create a character who wants something and another character who wants the same thing, or who has reason to oppose the main character’s attempts to get what they want. For fiction this short, there will not be room to develop more than three characters.
- Bring the conflict to light as close to the beginning of the story as possible. Make the reader want to read on to find out what happens next.
- Consider point of view: who will be telling this story? Will it be told in the first, second or third person?
- Choose a place that has significance for you. Close your eyes and pretend you’re walking toward it. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Touch? Awaken all of your senses to draw the reader into this adventure with you. If you are using an entirely fictional location, free write to figure out the sensory details of that place.
- Story is a catalogue of events. (The man planted a garden. He died there.) Plot is a listing of events with causality. (The man planted a garden. He died there when an elk jumped the garden fence and trampled him.)
- Make your characters real. Address their internal and external conflicts. Use physical description, speech, and action to make the characters relatable.
- What is the subject of your story?
- What is the theme?
- How does it end? It’s okay to surprise the reader, as long as the ending makes sense within the context of the story. I recently read the top three winning entries in a short short story contest. The contest required a maximum length of 1,000 words. One writer told the story in backwards order. Another writer described what the main character was like before The Thing That Happened, and then described what the main character was like after The Thing That Happened. She never told the reader what it was that happened. Never gave any detail about it at all. But because of the way she described the actions and feelings and even the clothing the main character wore, the reader knows, instinctively, what happened. The third story had a more conventional structure. All of the entries were well under the 1,000 word limit.
- Write with wild abandon, and then when you rewrite, write tight. With limited word count, it’s necessary to make every word work.
The above list is not meant as a road map to writing a short story, but merely as a reminder to include these basic elements that will enhance the reader’s enjoyment and understanding of the story you tell.
For additional writing advice, check out this link to entertaining words of wisdom on writing short stories from Kurt Vonnegut:
Click on Elmer Schooley Short Story for more information about the contest.
Deadline for submissions: July 1, 2022