Many translators like to try their hands at writing, and short stories are a logical place to start. There are some best practices to follow to make those stories great.
One thing that always annoys me is when people try to apply rules to artistic expressions like fiction or painting or music. While on the one hand, yes, there is structure and formality to every art form, understanding that structure is more about how you can break those rules than how you can slavishly conform to them so every piece of art produced around the world is exactly the same.
In my non-translation life, I write fiction, and short stories, and while I’m certainly no genius, I’ve had some success creating these short works. While there aren’t, as I said, any firm rules to follow – which can be difficult for language translation professionals like me, who are used to having very rigid systems for getting their work done and having their day-to-day writing very constrained by the requirements of our projects. If you’re interested in writing short fiction, here are some things to consider.
A Short Story is Not a Short Novel
The writing of a novel or other long-form piece of fiction is very different from a short story. The artistic goals are different. If you have a very firm plot that has a lot of detail and twists to it, and/or a very large cast of characters, consider whether your story idea should be a novel instead. Over-stuffing your story with details and ‛meat’ can make it feel rushed and over-full. A short story should have a limited focus. It’s not unusual for writers to start off working on a short story only to later switch the project to a novel because they have so much material.
Subtext and Theme
As a result of its brevity, short stories usually seek to do more work with less. This makes subtext, symbolism, and theme more important than it can be in novels, so think about what you want your story to accomplish in these arenas before you even start writing. While there’s nothing wrong with telling a simple story simply, people will attempt to interpret you and get under the skin of the story, so it can be beneficial to anticipate that. How will people think of your plot decisions? The details you include for characters? Consider all of these things before beginning.
Some writers tend to think of short stories as just practice for longer works, but if you want your work to be taken seriously, revise your work. Send it out to trusted readers for feedback or submit it to markets, and take the feedback you get very seriously. Not getting it exactly right the first try is nothing unusual, and most famous writers revise quite a bit, sanding away imperfections, tightening, and making improvements. The golden rule for revisions? Your story should always be shorter when you’re done – don’t add material, delete it.
In the end, writing is a creative process and you can do it any way you wish – as long as you have fun.