Many people begin their careers writing short stories. It looks easy but the truth is a good, gripping piece of short fiction by its very nature is difficult to create: the short story makes use of suggestion, atmosphere, the subtly implied gesture; it is a puzzle woven in fine lines more than broad strokes and every word has to carry its own weight.
A short story must be sharpened, tightened, polished until it shines. Read it aloud. If the phrases lack rhythm, if you stumble or get lost, pity the poor reader and don't be surprised when your work pings back in your inbox.
Once a writer has spent days and weeks worrying over every line it is easy to become precious with the result and many stories can be improved by an editor simply going through and crossing out unnecessary words and overused phrases. It's an invigorating exercise, the new draft emerging like a photograph developing, the lines sharp, the sentences punchy and to the point.
The opening lines of a short story have to grab the reader and the danger with openings is that writers often feel the urge to show a poetic flourish, a redundant flash of brilliance. The sun setting in gold and amber hues across the horizon is meaningless until we know that Simon has just been fired from his job and is on his way home on the 6.45 from Victoria for the last time. Get us interested in Simon, then we might be interested in him gazing at the sun going down through the carriage window.
Last paragraphs are just as troublesome. It is where there's a temptation to clarify, just in case the reader didn't get it. If clarity is needed, the story doesn't work. If it does work and the reader did get it, that last paragraph is like repeating the last line of a joke hoping to squeeze out an extra laugh. Explanation is death.
The short story can take any weird or obtuse form, but the first concern is to entertain. Be obscure, but clearly. In a novel there is time for a range of ideas and mood swings, a contract with the reader that a new world is being revealed. The short story is read in one go; it has to draw us straight in and hold our attention until the end.
The best way to learn how to write short stories is to read them. When they are written, no matter how good we think our prose is, there is always a part of us which believes it could be better. In the case of short stories, better often means shorter.
You can read short stories for free at www.abcTales.com