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Writing Short Fiction that Keeps the Reader Guessing


Annette Young


There is no doubt in my mind that writing short fiction accelerates the learning curve for writers when it comes to wordiness. We are all guilty of it,  expanding our thoughts by adding in an extra little word here and there, padding out a story line to make the required word count or to describe a person, place or thing just that little bit more. But when writing short fiction, the luxury of additional words is eliminated because the stringent requirements of the short fiction word count does not allow for waffle, therefore our writing must be tight. If writing short fiction has appeal, then be sure to establish what you are trying to achieve first of all, otherwise, your word count will meander aimlessly resulting in mass editing at the end, and no one likes to cull a perfectly good story.


A tight focus and a clear aim is a necessity when writing in this genre and the plot must be firmly embedded in  your mind before even typing those first few words. When writing short fiction, you need to establish the desired word count first of all and then consider your starting point fully. If you only have a few hundred words to introduce the plot, characters and to have that dynamic finish, then you can’t afford to start at the beginning and build up slowly.


Teasing the reader en-route is one fun aspect of writing short fiction. The first short fiction competition that I entered was using a given photo for inspiration and I choose to write a story with a twist ending, (trust me to add to the pressure)it was very successful, ok, forget modesty, I won the competition and I was hooked on the delights of short fiction thereafter. Having such a reduced word count made me think carefully about what I was trying to achieve and yes, it took a bit of editing because I was determined to not ruin my chances by going over the word limit.


 Try deliberately misleading the reader although it must be in context and use my personal favourite for inspiration….. ‘what if’s’,  as this will help you to look at the story from different angles.  Writing short fiction that keeps the reader guessing will be an exciting writing project to immerse yourself in,  but don’t cheat the reader, hook them and keep them dangling.  When you are writing, think about your aim but then subtly push the reader in another direction. Having a surprise ending, really adds to the impact and  it only takes a little careful thinking and you will have a story that is well written and appeals to many.


Annette Young

Editor/Freelance Writer

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