After this focus on short story month, I thought I share my process on the difference between pounding out 2K of promising story and 200 words of suck.
There are couple factors at play with each story:
The Idea - The spark, the thought, the lightbulb that illuminates it all. This is the thing that breathes life into the story. Sometimes this is just an idea that pops into my head, a simple line or two of dialogue, an interstesting situation, a quick character sketch. Othertimes a prompt will light my creative fires. I have the most productive ideas from prompts, especially during May, when I attempt to get out my short story urges for the year. Thankfully for A Story A Day In May, prompts are supplied each day by email. Sometimes those caught my interest, some days they didn't. Short story markets will sometimes have a themes or first line prompts. Then there's the file of ideas I jot down when the mood strikes but time doesn't allow for writing.
The Conflict - The thing that makes this all interesting. While a novel can have lots of main characters and conflicts and resolutions, a short usually only has one of each of these. This requires a bit more planning so words aren't wasted and the story stays on track. Yes, novels need that too, but a short can't afford to wander off on subplots and characters can't take their time to find out who they really are. There's no big plot breakthrough in chapter twelve that pulls everything together. Identifying the thing that makes the story tick from the get go is important. If all you've got is an interesting character there's not much to write about.
The Ending - Be it happy, twisted, or killing everyone, we need resolution. I've noticed I'm more inclined to kill people than have things end happily. I'm sure that says something about me, but we'll save that analysis for another time. It's great to have an idea and a conflict, but if you write yourself into a corner or a plot so twisted that the resolution can't be found, the story goes splat.
These are the big three that I have to have a grasp of before I can embark on a short story. At the beginning of last month I seemed to have my thoughts in order. However, as the month progressed, life intruded, thoughts scattered, and I'd get one or two of these things down, but the rest just didn't fall into place. Over the years I've come to know when something is going to (probably) work, be it a novel or a short. Sometimes I have to push through some rough patches but it works out, other times I'm just spinning my wheels and I need to walk away. I wish I could put my finger on that deciding factor, but it's just a gut feeling learned by writing lots of different stories of lots of different lengths.