A short story can have many faces. They can span lifetimes, or show a snapshot of one particular life changing moment. What the short story can accomplish is up to the writer–how they utilize this story telling tool. A stories effectiveness in relaying a message is usually tied to how the writer chooses to showcase their characters. Usually, a solely plot based short story isn’t as effective as a character based one. This is because it can be hard to develop a rich, and fully-fleshed out plot in a limited amount of pages. A character-driven short story allows you to place the reader right smack in the center of action, at the moment of crisis, which is usually the point of a story (or a character’s life) that sparks major development.
Crisis shifts normal into something else. It can be jarring, unexpected, disturbing, but stories need this element. There needs to be change in order to pinpoint what used to be and what will happen after. The reader wants something to happen. Without crisis, the story can risk becoming shallow or flat.
Crisis is not a happy event. It is negative, and usually forces a character to adjust to meet or overcome it. In doing so the character develops, and proves themselves to be dynamic and emphatically interesting. We want our readers to care about our characters, to connect and resonate them so our stories will have a lasting impact. Crisis is a good way to do this.
Every story should be centered around a significant event. Something that prompts major change and allows the character to demonstrate something new about their personality. If, by the end of your story, your character has become something, you have achieved something significant.
1) After your first draft, read your story and try to identify the moment of crisis. What is the point that separates the before and after? Does it give your character an opportunity for change?
2) Know your characters. Give them a story, a history. Know who they are and then let them react to the crisis based on this information. Remember, you don’t need to put all your back story in your narrative, but it should definitely be in your mind as your write your character’s perspective.
3) If you can’t find or understand who your character has become at the end of the story, go back and revisit the crisis. Take it further. Up the stakes.
4) Have some mystery when you write. Don’t have the whole plot figured out. Allow for your characters to show you something new about themselves rather than have you impose whatever new features on them.