What’s Your Short Story Advice?

I find myself thinking about short stories lately.  I have thought since the very beginning of jumping in to self publishing that short stories are a nice way to introduce readers to a world.  And it’s something I did with Blindsight and evidently did pretty well, as I’ve had over 80,000 downloads that I’m aware of.  I had hoped that the interest generated from that freebie would translate into people checking out the rest of what I have available in my Mirus series because they liked the world, and to a certain extent I think it did, but what it REALLY did was generate interest in those CHARACTERS.  Kait Nolan Revelation remains one of the top search terms for my blog.  Really must get that formally in the pipeline…

Interest in characters over world could be the topic of a whole other blog post, but it’s not what I’m thinking about today.

This year is not going to be a year of epic word count for me.  It simply can’t be.  I have too many EDJ responsibilities at the primary job, I’m writing an entirely new class for the second job, and I vowed that I would work on that whole having a life thing (I know, what a concept).  And I don’t want to have another year of no releases (well it shouldn’t be NO releases…Riven will come out at some point, but you get my drift).  So I’m back to thinking that short stories would be a good option while I’m working on longer things like rewriting DOTH and plotting out whatever comes after that.

But here’s the thing.  I find short stories INCREDIBLY hard.  Something that hits between 7-10k for me takes me WEEKS to write, where I might easily rip out that many words on a novel in a week and a half.  Part of how I’m able to do that with novels is the planning that goes into things.  I have a system (that is admittedly constantly being tweaked) that I follow that gets me where I need to be to write them and cuts a lot of the crap.

I don’t have a system for short stories.  Indeed there doesn’t seem to EXIST a true system for short stories based on what my Google Fu turned up.  There’s room for so many variations that nobody is willing to say “here, do this.”  There’s a lot of hemming and hawing and butt-covering (which, frankly, reminds me of the kind of crap we pull in academia because nobody wants to be accused of saying “I’m RIGHT”) and suggestions.

So anyway I want to MAKE a system, create a worksheet or SOMETHING that will enable me to get the pieces of a short story in order to maybe make the writing of them easier.

That’s where you come in.  I want YOUR suggestions, your thoughts on what makes a good short story, your links to other resources you’ve come across.  Bring it!

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15 comments

  1. Well, I’ve developed my own template building from what I found on Declain Conner’s site. I also have prep questions I ask myself, which target the core things I don’t always think to come up with when working on a short story. (Mainly: What does the antagonist want? What does the protagonist want? How do those two things conflict?)

    I’ve e-mailed you RTF files of the two things, though I admit that I’ve made a template folder in my Scrivener short story projects for myself. Hope it helps! :)

  2. I don’t have a LOT of advice about short stories, but I can tell you what’s most important to me as a reader. One of the reasons I don’t generally like short stories is there is no real ending. Most short stories leaving me going “Huh? What happened?” I just don’t GET some of the endings. So the most important thing for me is to treat a short story like a novel in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Don’t let the ending fall flat. That’s all I have. :)

      1. I think this is key, Kait. If you don’t like reading something, you probably shouldn’t be trying to write it. ;) It’s like the old cliche about people writing romance novels because they sell, even though they’ve never read romance novels and don’t like romance novels.

        If you don’t like short fiction, don’t write short fiction.

        I enjoy reading short fiction. And while I like writing long form stuff too, the only works I’ve won awards for were short fiction. And even my novels tend to be shorter than average. ;)

        Lately, I’ve been playing around a lot with serial fiction. Yesterday saw the release of the first episode of my science fiction serial, Starship: Ad Astra. I’ve got five episodes in the season, each 10-15k words, and will compile the whole thing into a book once all five are out (releasing one per week right now at 99 cents each, will sell the compilation for a bit off that price once they’re all out).

        Most serials seem to be priced at either 99 cents per episode or $2.99, if they’re novella length (20-30k words or so).

        The neat thing about serials is that you can work with the same characters over multiple plot lines. The Starship story is really one big story plotted so that it breaks nicely into chunks. But I am working another idea (dark urban fantasy) which will be less about the overarching story arc and more about single stories contained in each episode.

        By creating a cast of characters and then setting up a whole bunch of problems for them to solve, each problem an episode, you can get a lot of mileage out of the same character work and world development. Think about any popular TV series and you’ll see what I mean. TV is enormously popular, so reaching people through books which somewhat mirror that experience seems natural.

        It’s not like the idea of serials is new. ;) They’ve been around for thousands of years. And they were hugely popular a hundred years ago. I think it’s a great way to write. Fun, fast, and enjoyable for readers.

        But if you don’t enjoy reading them, I’d question whether it’s a good idea to write them. ;)

        1. Well to say that I don’t like them is kind of a sweeping generalization that I shouldn’t make. I don’t like what I have READ of them, which has tended to be the bullshit we have to read for school and over analyze (read: suck the fun out of ). Possibly if I got ahold of some well written ones in genres I actually LIKE, then I’d be more enthusiastic. It’s just not something I’ve ever really sought out.

  3. You could try reading Alice Munro, as for me she’s a genius of short story writing. She completely captures a real present moment in her stories, and always leaves you wanting more. Also worth reading: Jennifer Egan and Tobias Wolff. Good Luck!

  4. Well, for me, it’s about keeping it simple. Remember the Twilight Zone TV Series? All short stories usually with a singular POV. A straightforward plot with some nice twist at the end.

  5. Just one other thought… Check this out:
    http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html

    It’s an overview of the plot formula for Lester Dent’s Doc Savage series. I haven’t used it. I’m looking at it more closely as I get more into serial fiction, however.

    Why bother with a formula? Aren’t formulas bad? Yes and no. If you use a formula as a rigid board onto which you strap bad storytelling, then it’s bad. If you use a formula as a tool which helps you write good stories, then it’s good.

    This one strikes me as a plausible tool to tell good stories, partly because it is mostly about a system of pacing the story which works. Worth checking out, anyway. ;)

  6. I love reading short stories BUT:
    I have a hard time writing them
    I generally only read the classics
    So perhaps that might help? I’m sure there’s lots available on Gutenberg – Somerset Maugham, Dorothy Parker, all sorts. Each time I write one I try to capture that condensed intense concentrated heightened emotion that exists in the best short stories.
    So maybe that’s a bit of advice – focus on something small, something single, and don’t try to pack too much in (not that you do this, I’m using a general “you” :-))
    I’d like to see what other tips you get too, I could sure use ‘em!

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