An Example of a Two-hundred Word Short Story:
She pulled the blanket around herself, steadying her hot chocolate and sinking into the soft cushions. She reached for her book and balanced it on her knee, creasing open well-worn pages. Both hands now free, she clasped her mug, enjoying the warmth as it flowed into her fingers.
The crash from upstairs was sharp. Sudden.
Chocolate stained her book and splashed over her blanket as she lept up.
She left the mess on the floor and crept to the door. A deep pounding, like ocean waves, thrummed in her ears.
She reached for the door handle, releasing her stifled breath.
The hinge squeaked. She stopped, dreading another sound from upstairs. Silence.
She entered the hallway. The gasping rhythm of her breath the only sound. Feet stretching in shaking tiptoes, she took the stairs.
A single creak. That traitorous step announced her, and a crash from upstairs answered the call.
She stopped in horror as more crashes followed. Then thumps. Fast, rhythmic beats.
They grew closer. Her throat tightened. She could feel her pulse in every breath. Then she saw it.
A pair of huge ears popped up over the top step.
The rabbit had escaped from its cage again.
Share your Storytelling Talents and Win a BRILLIANT Prize
The above story is one hundred and ninety-nine words long. I chose this wordcount very much intentionally as I’ve been invited to judge a local short story writing competition for children (I live in Crieff, which is the largest town in Perthshire, Scotland).
The maximum word count for entries is two hundred words (hence my own demo). Entries can come from any child aged from five to fourteen. Entries are separated into three age categories (5-7, 8-11 and 12-14) and the deadline is this coming Monday. Click here to find more information about Crieff Hydro’s National Storytelling Week Competition.
Perhaps you are one of the hundreds of children looking to enter the competition or a parent of a child who intends to enter. Alternatively, you may simply have arrived here because you like telling stories and are looking for writing advice. Either way, I thought I might offer a few hints and tips to help you set the scene in your writing.
Setting a scene
There are tons of different ways to set a scene but today I’m going to concentrate on three: pace, mood, and direction. Strictly speaking, these things aren’t simply connected to setting a scene but knowing about these will help you understand good ways to make a scene more interesting and easy to follow.
Setting the Pace
As a writer, you are in control of a few unusual things outside of your story. One of these is the fact that you have a small amount of control over your reader’s breathing.
Even when someone reads inside their head, the placement of commas and full stops (and any other types of punctuation), controls how they will breathe while reading.
You can use this change in breathing to influence their feelings in relation to your writing.
Short sentences, fast pace
If time is passing quickly, then a short, sharp sentence will help move things along much better than a long one. You can still be descriptive but use description sparingly and concentrate on really powerful descriptive terms.
In the sample story above you feel the story’s speed increase partly by experiencing the shorter sentences. Even if you don’t read it out loud, a short sentence will make you think of breathing quickly. Short sentences are good for suspense, action, and excitement.
Long sentences, slower pace
Longer sentences (like the paragraph at the start of the story) can be a good way to make a reader feel relaxed (though it can also be used to show off different emotions). Longer sentences slow the reader’s breathing. This can be relaxing, but really the sentence length is a simple way of helping a reader feel that time is moving slowly.
Be careful not to make a reader take too long on each sentence though, or they might get so relaxed that they lose interest in your story!
Not a hard and fast rule
As with so many things relating to anything artistic, rules like these don’t always work. People can always find interesting ways to break rules or simply bend them.
However, it is hard to deny the influence that a writer has over a reader’s breathing, and it would be a shame not to remember this simple trick when writing. It’s a really easy and clear way to ensure that the pace of your story is the pace you want.
Setting the Mood
The mood of a story can be hard to show but there is one simple thing to look at when testing out a scene. What a character does is shown in the verbs you choose but there are hundreds of different ways of describing a movement. Take walking as an example:
A character can stride into a room. Right away we know that they are relaxed and confident.
Alternatively, they could slip into a room. In this case, we imagine that they are quietly trying to enter without being noticed. They may be shy, or scared, or both.
Another possibility is that they could creep into a room. This character sounds sneaky, but you would need to add other things in your sentence to help the reader understand whether they are being devious or careful in their movement.
With just one word you can help draw focus onto the mood that you want your reader to feel. Verbs are doing words but the right verb can also be amazingly descriptive.
Adjectives are the words we normally think of as ‘describing words’ (words like ‘blue’, ‘warm’, ‘smelly’). However, sometimes a sentence with one good verb and no adjectives can do a lot more for your story than a sentence with a basic verb and two or three good adjectives. This can be even more important when you have a small word count (like you might find with a word limit of two-hundred words).
Setting the Direction
You always know more about the direction or plot of your story than your reader does. This is yet another thing that gives you control over how someone will experience your story. You can choose to let a reader in on a secret that your main character doesn’t know or you can keep the reader in suspense alongside your main character.
In the story example above, the ending would be less impactful if the reader knew about the escaped bunny at the start of the story. they wouldn’t feel the fear and panic of the ‘intruder’ along with the main character if all along they knew that the noises were just a rabbit.
However, there are times when knowing more than the main character could help make the story more enjoyable.
Maybe your main character doesn’t know that they have a winning lottery ticket in their pocket and you tell the reader in line one of your story.
Now, every time your main character worries about how much something costs, or complains that they hate their job, you can let your reader enjoy knowing that lovely secret for the whole story until the big reveal at the end. It should still be fairly easy to get the reader to feel that excitement along with your character. In fact, they may even enjoy it more as they know how much the main character needed that money.
Go Write Your Story!
There are so many other factors that go into writing a story but hopefully, the tips in this post have helped you a little. Whether you are away to write your short story for Monday’s competition, or if you are simply reading this for general storytelling tips, I wish you the best of luck.
I would also love to hear about your stories so please leave a comment and tell me about what you’ve chosen to write. (Feel free to ask me questions too)
Thanks for popping by my site,
all the best, John