When I first delved into this writing adventure I thought it would be easy. In some respects it has been, but in others it has been a slog. My journey through writing began about six years ago when I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference that is held annually in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Since then, I have been blown from one book to another.
After that initial conference I was jazzed. I wasn’t necessarily looking to write “the next great American novel”, but I was excited to write the book I always wanted to read. Six years later, and five attempts later, I am still working to find my groove.
I did edit my great grandfather’s memoir on his railroading days at the turn of the 20th century. It was published privately with only three copies in existence. What did I learn? Even with something already written out it is a long road to publication. What was the worst mistake? I misspelled my grandfather’s name on the cover and on the title page.
I am working on several other books that, one day, will be completed. As I’m writing this post, I think of the first two attempts as stretching my legs. I got the feel for writing, editing, critiqueing, querying, re-writing, and re-doing everything. I discovered what I liked about the stories and what I hated about them, then drew from those lessons to start a third book.
The book I’m working on now has been my favorite. It is fun, light, and airy. I am learning that as an author I am better at seeing the lighter side of life which helps me to stay upbeat when I step back into my regular life. I am excited that this third attempt is also seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Writing is not easy. If you are just starting out on this journey, I would say to you…try everything. In order to find your way through this journey you need to follow paths that might take you to dead ends, swamps, or it could very well take you to paradise. Most of all, enjoy the journey.
You have decided to write a short story. Congratulations! Short stories can be great fun to write. They will also make you go bald from pulling your hair out. I’m here today to help you keep a full head of hair while diving into your story.
It is Short
The first thing to keep in mind when writing a short story is pretty obvious, but I will say it anyway. Short stories are…well…short. They can range anywhere from 1,500 words to 30,000. More than that and it falls into the realm of a novella. Personally, I prefer stories that are less than 20,000. I like to read shorts in one sitting, and anything longer seems a little too long for me.
It’s a Mini-Novel
Second thing to keep in mind is that a short story is almost a mini-novel. I want to emphasis the word almost. It is a mis-conception to think that a short story is written just like a novel because there are a lot of things a novel has that a short story doesn’t.
A novel is more likely to have many characters, places, and multiple story lines. A short story usually has only a few characters, they may visit only a few places, and the threads through the story are limited to one or two. Of course, there is an exception to every rule, butin general this is how a short story plays out.
It is like a novel in that it has a beginning, middle and end. There are protagonists, antagonists, an inciting incident, a challenge to overcome, and a solution to the problem. All of these are squeezed into a compact story rather than an epic novel adventure.
Give it a Plot
When writing a short story the plot needs to be tight and concise. In short stories, every scene, paragraph, and sentence needs to be spot on with the plot. If you find yourself meandering between the North and South Poles then you might consider a novel instead.
In a short story the hook needs to come early. I would say that if it happens past the first page or two (depending on the story’s length) then you have waited too long. Basically, you want the story to reach out and grab the reader right out from the start. Keep the pace high and tight. You don’t want to lose your reader in long descriptions and arduous scenes. They will get bored and move on.
Drafting Your Story
Everyone has their own way of getting words from their imagination to paper. My version of writing may not fit your’s, but that’s the beauty of writing. You can test different methods and find the one that fits you. My method is a little sloppy, but it works for me. It’s a little like testing to see if spaghetti cooked; I slap it up on the wall to see what sticks.
My mind skips around like a leaf blowing up the street. Sometimes it goes in a straight line, and sometimes it gets caught up in a dust devil. So goes my writing method. I usually don’t have a plan, goal, or idea when I start. I just crank out words that pop into my head and write them. Within about five or ten minutes of pure nonsense a plot forms and the story takes off.
Sometimes I start with finding the main character’s name. I love odd or tongue-twister names. I wrote one story where I found the name Mrs. Quackenbush (this is a real name) and wrote a story around her.
The Hair Pulling
Once you have the bare bones of a draft you can move on to editing, revising, and hair pulling. During this phase you should be trimming the fat. Again, scenes need to be tight and concise. Make every word count.
The most important lesson I learned about writing short stories is to stay calm and don’t fiddle. Frustrations will get you down and kill your creativity. If you get your story pounded out, without editing or second guessing as you write the draft, you will have an easier time in the editing phase.
In the draft you have where the story will start, where it will grow and thrive, then where it will conclude. The editing phase should only be about tweaking what you already have. Don’t fiddle too much. Like the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Lastly, remember writing is something we enjoy doing. If you get too bogged down then write something far out and goofy. Write about how Ford Parker learned to drive, or Kenny Penny’s school days. There is always the story about Harry Baldz and his furry friend Woody.
If you browse around the internet today you will find a plethora of information about short stories. As a matter of fact, if you do a simple Google search, “About Short Stories”, you will end up with about 2,050,000,000 results. Yikes! Reading all that will keep you busy for several lifetimes.
To help you with your research on the subject of short stories, I have listed a number of resources to help you learn whatever you want to learn about short stories. Of course, this is a VERY short list compared to the above search results, but these are some that have a nice bit of information.
The online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is a one stop shop for nearly everything. The write up on short stories is quite detailed from a simple definition through a thorough look at the history of them.
As the Editor of Writing from the Peak (Pikes Peak Writers blog) I would be remiss not to mention one or two articles from their blog. The first is, “What is a Short Story”. Obviously this is a post about the nuts and bolts of a short story. Another good post is, “Here and Gone in a Flash“. The latter of the two is an introduction to writing flash fiction which is a short story in less than 1,000 words.
READERS–I haven’t forgotten you! Are you looking for some great reads? I can suggest one anthology that I recently finished, “False Faces: Twenty Stories About the Masks We Wear” . This is a new release from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. But, if you would rather find your own, I hopped over to Goodreads to see what they had for their Best Anthologies. They listed 781 books. I’ll leave it to you to sort through that list.
So there you have it. Remember, there are about 2,049,999,992 more results you can browse through.
During the month of April I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I joined in on the fun last year and wrote all about the Isle of Man and The Manx. Today, I am revealing my theme for the month. But first, a little about what this is.
The premise is to start blogging beginning April First with a blog topic themed on something with the letter A, then on April second another topic with the letter B as the theme, and so on until the finish on April thirtieth with the theme based on the letter Z. We skip every Sunday so we can all take a quick break and get ready for the next week.
My theme for this year will be little different from last year. I will take you A to Z with short stories. Recently, I became interested in writing short stories and have done a lot of research into the methods of writing them along with entering contests and making submissions. There is more to a short story than a quick read. My posts will cover everything from A, “All about a Short Story”, to Z, “Zebras Tell No Lies”, a short, short story.
During April you can expect to find a mix of stories along with posts on the research I have done. Readers will find the stories themselves to be the best part, so I will focus on those more than anything else.
Hang on to your virtual seats! It’s going to be a busy month.
If you are a blogger, and are interested in joining us, just click on the link below for more information.
I was trolling around on Facebook and found an interesting blog writing challenge. A to Z April Challenge is designed for bloggers to post every day during the month of April (except Sunday….but include April Fools Day which is a Sunday….and it’s Easter Sunday too). Each post uses the letters of the alphabet thematically. April 1st post is the letter A, then the next is B, and so on until the last post is the letter Z.
The best part? Each post will be relevant to my debut novel The Manx. You will be introduced to the characters, the Isle of Man, and snippets from the book. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I will enjoy writing them.