The idea excited me. The reality filled me with wave-crashing panic.
My one and only published work, Lethal in Love, stands at 140,000 words. In the past I’d tried to write “short” and failed miserably. Yet I so wanted to be a part of this event. One that marks a milestone for a group that has given me so much knowledge and love and support. So I sat down and began to write.
I aimed for 3,000 words and ended up with something just shy of 9,000. Not as short as I’d planned, but certainly short enough to be included in the anthology.
What I’d like to do now is share what the process of “writing short” taught me about writing in general.
A saying as old as the hills and twice as difficult to scale – especially for a die-hard pantser like me! – but the trusty “Keep It Simple Stupid” is really critical here. You don’t have a lot of words to play around with, so make each one count. Dive into your story late, come out early. Yes, wrap everything up with a nice, tidy bow, but leave all the additional frills and sparkles behind.
And no waffle. There’s no time for elaborate prose or a multitude of subplots, a variety of locations, and an army of supporting characters. There aren’t enough words for your story to span more than a limited period of time.
One plot, one conflict and as few characters as possible. Don’t go overboard, otherwise 140,000 words later you’ll have a saga, not a short story.
2. Back to Basics
Think about the basic outline of a short story while applying the KISS theory. There are six distinct parts that you need to make sure you include.
- Introduction – where you introduce your story’s setting, theme, characters and any other bits of information relevant to the plot, like time, weather, mood, etc.
- Initiating action - the event in your story that instigates the rising action.
- Rising action - events that bring your story to the climax or turning point.
- Climax - the major turning point of your story.
- Falling action - events that allow your story to move towards its conclusion.
- Resolution - a satisfying ending where the central conflict is resolved and any questions raised during the body of your story are answered.
3. Heart and Soul
There are many ways of describing the heart of your story. Some refer to it as the X-factor. A special quality. Something that will set your story apart from others. If you can find that unique something that will capture the attention and imagination of readers and publishers alike, you’ll have one hell of a story.
4. Point of Difference
Experiment with different points of view until you find one that is fresh and unique. You want a character who is central to your story – don’t make the mistake of choosing one who’s not – but one who is compelling, who perhaps views the world in a slightly different light to most. This will make for interesting and enthralling reading.
5. It’s The Little Things
A strong title will lead readers to your story. A catchy first line or hook will draw them in. And a gripping first few paragraphs will keep them reading. Continue building the tension, keep the plot solid and moving, then conclude with a bang. If those last few words stay with your reader long after they’ve turned the final page, they’ll be hanging out for your next wonderful story. And hopefully you’ll have won a fan for life.
6. The Stars
Who are the stars of your story? The leading characters that will capture the hearts of your readers. Make them shine. Make them sing. Make them do what they have to do, then give them the ending you have planned. Do this without fluff and feathers. You don’t have a lot of scope for character development, so make it brief and simple. Sure, you need a character arc, but – you know the term – KISS.
I could keep going, but craft for a short story is not much different to craft for longer works, whether it be a novella or novel. Just write, enjoy, and remember to have fun. If your story is a slog to write, it’ll be a slog to read. So love every minute of it, and remember, whatever doesn’t work in the draft can be fixed in the editing, so keep going until you are done.
You can’t edit an empty page.
I’d like to leave you with an excerpt of Cold Case Warm Heart, the 16th story in the Sweet and Spicy: A Celebration of Romance anthology.
Calamity’s nose twitched.
Urine laced with the underlying tang of wet metal. Death and degradation with the triple stab of a knife.
‘Is it him, Teddy?’
Medical examiner Rod Bearinger peered at her over his half-moon specs. ‘Without a doubt.’
Her heart skidded.
Number two of three murders. Three in three days.
The Trifecta Terror was back.
She glanced at her watch. The second hand lurched its death march about the taunting white face. Only twenty-two hours and nineteen minutes in which to catch a murderer.
So, tell me, do you have both short and long works in your repertoire? What differences have you found when writing varying length stories? Or even reading them? What similarities? Are there any other tips you’d like to add to my six above?
If you enjoyed reading this blog, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here, or you can visit me on my website www.michelle-somers.com
And because once I’d written "short", I wanted to see if I could do it again, here's a special treat, just in time for Christmas.
The Candy Cane Killer is due for release 1st December. It’s free and a prequel to my debut novel, Lethal in Love.
Three weeks, three deaths and one bloodied, sugar-coated clue.
For more information or pre-orders, click here.