So like the last share, this is another article I came across in one of my Facebook groups that I almost never pay attention to.
The article 8 Unstoppable Rules for Writing Killer Short Stories by Charlie Jane Anders offers a lot of good advice. This advice is more applicable to genre stories like science fiction and fantasy, but if your write lit you might find something helpful in there, too. However, I feel the author gets one important thing wrong about short stories.
Anders says to keep your character development simple “unless your story is really a character study with a bit of a science fiction plot.” I think what she misses is that “character study” is the very definition of the short story. Short stories are all about character, due primarily to the fact that you cannot sufficiently build a complex plot or setting in 3-5000 words. Plot is important, but character is how your story lives and breathes. Character is how readers connect to your story.
Some of the best regarded cience fiction novels have often gotten away with sacrificing character for plot. Starship Troopers, Ender’s Game, Foundation, are just some examples of works with very bland protagonists that still manage to be interesting due to their interesting plots and deep, complex world-building. (I believe Anders just won the Nebula for her novel, and was previously nominated for a novelette, so she certainly has chops in the long form.) You cannot get away with bland, unispiring protagonists in a short story. There simply isn’t enough space to awe your reader with your world and still have them leave the story feeling fulfilled. The only thing that can do that is a good character and their struggle.
This goes to Anders’s last comment, to not “fall into the character-based/plot-based dichotomy.” While this is a great tip, it is so for the opposite reason this writer suggests. You should not fall into this trap because there is no dichotomy, there are only character-based stories, anything else is not a story at all. It might be fun to read a flash fiction piece in the form of a list describing the history of some future culture of aliens, but that is not a story.
Yes, you must have a plot, something must happen. But what is critical is not the something that is happening, but rather how the character is dealing with it.
Anyways, if you’re looking to improve your story craft, reading up on these writing tips from a brand new Nebula winner wouldn’t hurt.