The biggest challenge with knowing how to write a romance short story, as with any short piece of fiction, is telling a tale that actually works within a limited word count. As with any short story, it’s not as simply as taking a novel and cutting it down to size. Short stories require a different approach.
With any genre, including romance, a short story needs to skip backstories and tangents. Anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the story you’re telling needs to be kept out of the final edit.
Understanding short stories in general will help, but there are specific aspects of the genre that also require mastering if you want to be really confident about how to write a short romance story.
Emotional tension and build up
Most short stories require a level of tension to both engage the reader and provide an impetus that drives the plot forward. How that tension builds is one of the most important facets to take into account.
With a romance short story, that tension is especially crucial. But, at its core, romance is much more about emotions than other genres. Emotions dictate how characters act, react, and think, and therefore all the more vital to how the tension develops.
The tension of the story isn’t simply defined by questions about what will happen to the character next, or how will the story end. Instead, the emotions of both the characters and the reader are at the core of how that tension grows.
Will the main character be happy? Will their love be reciprocated? Emotion is at the heart of these questions that the reader will have, and therefore it’s vital to the tension of the story.
Develop the conflict of the story
Conflict is the reason that any story works. Without it, there would be no narrative to become engaged with, and no reason to care for the characters.
In romance, the conflict in almost all cases is whether a couple will end up together. A reader expects this will happen, but the conflict is more unique and varied than what the conclusion will be.
Generally, conflict in romance is the cause for why a couple can’t simply be together, and this is where you can really choose how your story will develop. Maybe one character is already in a relationship. The two characters could be friends and not want to admit their true feelings to themselves.
There could be other reasons that keep them apart. This might be physical, such as one character having to work or study in another part of the country or even on the other side of the world. It could be a conflict driven by other needs or desires, such as having a family member to look after that gives them no chance for romance.
Lastly, there may be external factors that keep a couple apart. Friends or family might disapprove of their relationship. Or it may be societal reasons. Historical romance, for example, often has two characters from different classes meet a fall in love. So breaking down that class divide gives even greater meaning and significance when they finally get together.
Understand the advantages and limitations of short stories
Writing a short romance story means that every individual word and sentence can’t be wasted. With a limited word count, you can’t rely on expansive passages of backstories and descriptions to build layers of intrigue and develop your world. Instead, you need to pull the reader in immediately and convince them from the get go that your story is worth their time.
With a limited word count, you need to jump right into your story. You can’t have chapters and chapters to describe your character’s typical day to day life. You don’t have time to slowly build up to the conflict. You need to establish it quickly, and then let the emotional tension carry the plot forward.
However, limitations don’t necessarily mean disadvantages. In fact, restrictions can often be more conductive to good storytelling. As a writer, it helps to find a focus and stick to it. It forces you to cut the chaff and remove anything that slows down the plot.
With a short story, that means you can skip what some might call the “boring” bits. You can instead focus on what readers care about. In romance, that means you can focus on the main character and their romantic interest, and craft a story that unrelentingly dissects their relationship.
Top tips on how to write a romance short story
Short romance stories can be a lot of fun to write, so don’t put pressure on yourself to craft a perfect story on your first attempt. Check out these top tips and keep them in mind to really help in your own writing.
Focus on a short time frame
Because you’re writing a short story, it’s difficult to depict a long time frame, such as a relationship developing over decades or years, or even months. To put less pressure on your limited word count, don’t be afraid about restricting the time frame.
You could have a couple meet during a week-long vacation, or a weekend. Or all the action could take place over only a few hours, or perhaps just one night.
Use actions rather dialogue
Dialogue is important in romance for showing the characters admit their true feelings, but their behaviour is more effective at portraying the more subtle emotions at play, as well as what they might not even admit to themselves.
Unsurprisingly, a kiss is a much more powerful display of love than one character saying to the other: “I love you.” Likewise, throughout the story, actions such as blushes, uncontrollable smiles, or long-held stares are much more impactful at showing the reader how a character feels, rather than just telling them.
Develop your main character outside of the romance
While backstories can’t form lengthy preambles in a short story, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t develop your main character. While you may be writing a romance story, they shouldn’t feel like they exist purely to fall in love in your world of a few thousand words.
Make them unique. Provide small details that hint at a rich history. You don’t need to straight up describe their backstory, but you should provide some nuanced pieces of information that the reader can take on board so that they seem to be reading about real people.
Read short romance stories
Apart from a lot of practice, the one thing you should do to better understand how to write a romance short story is by reading plenty of examples of them. Many can be found free online, so take a look and get reading!
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