Warm Fuzzies & Short Stories

Do you know the story of warm fuzzies? It’s a simple little tale of giving rather than keeping. There are half a dozen versions floating around out there. I’m sure many parents are familiar with it, but just in case… it all basically boils down to this.

At birth, everyone receives a bag full of warm fuzzies that they can give to other people. They used to give them away freely until a mean old witch convinced people to hoard their warm fuzzies, lest they run out. Instead, she encouraged them to give out cold pricklies. This made everyone less happy, but they didn’t want to run out of warm fuzzies. Eventually a prince came along, giving out warm fuzzies to everyone he met. When asked why he wasn’t worried about running out he explained that you can never run out of warm fuzzies. Every time you give a warm fuzzy to someone else, a new one appears in your bag. So everyone started giving out warm fuzzies again and became much happier.

While it’s a sweet little tale with a happy lesson, what can we really learn from it (as writers)?

Well, even in a super condensed version it still has a very clear story structure. You’ve got your set-up, the conflict and villain, the hero, the confrontation, and the happy ending. And all in a single paragraph!

This is something I admire about people who write short stories and children’s books. They’re able to create enthralling worlds and characters, dramatic tension, inspiring conflict, and happy endings in a fraction of the space that novelists use. They are much better (usually) at picking the single, perfect word to say something… while the rest of us use ten or twelve. They create worlds that are accessible so they don’t need pages and pages to ease the reader into the story.

Those are all skills that everyone (not just writers) should aspire to hone.

As I’m not a short story writer myself, and sometimes struggle to keep things concise, I’m not sure what advice to give to people wanting to work at this problem. The best I can do is this:

  • Create dynamic characters that the reader can identify with.
  • Always try to say things as simply as possible.
  • Don’t worry about describing every last detail. Your readers will get it.
  • Ask yourself if you’d be bored if someone read what you wrote aloud. Bored? Tighten it up.

Obviously every rule has an exception, but I think the above are more guidelines than rules anyway…

Do you write short stories? Have you developed a strategy that helps you cut the excess from your writing? What tips might you suggest to people who are trying to keep their writing short and neat?

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