Writing Tip — Short Stories

womenw-1483484_1280I’ve always loved short stories. I discovered the short stories of Damon Runyon and Sherlock Holmes as a teenager. As a new mom, I could squeeze in a complete story before dropping off into an exhausted sleep.

Although most of my writing ideas take shape as novels, I’ve learned a very important technique from reading short stories: write tight.

Write Tight

New novelists have a tendency to take all the room of a book and fill it up with a lot of unnecessary words.

If I look at each chapter as a short story with a goal that must be reached within a specific word count, I trim the long passages of description, get rid of tiresome explanations, and punch up the dialogue.

Description, especially, is the area where I have benefited from reading short stories. No matter what I am describing, person, place, or thing, a succinct , vivid description in one sentence will stick with readers longer than a detailed paragraph. And within a novel, I can revisit those descriptions, dropping reminders of a person’s eye color or the night’s humidity, echoing the first description. If I rein in my word count, it give me more space for plot and characters development.

I also love how many short stories have a kicker ending, a twist that makes the whole experience wonderfully satisfying. I don’t know if you can do that kind of a twist in a novel but I’d like to figure out how.

Bonus Benefits

When I am getting restless in my reading material and want to find a new author to rave about it, I read anthologies. I can sample many different writers in a short period of time, and if their short stories intrigue me, I can check out their novels. If a short story doesn’t hold me interest or lets me down, I have only wasted one night, instead of weeks with a novel that disappoints.

Another benefit is that short story writing allows aspiring novelists to get material published and before readers while waiting for their novel to be discovered. I thoroughly enjoyed writing a crime fiction short story because of the challenge it presented.

Which do you prefer to read, short stories or novels? Which do yo like to write?

Writing Tip — Short Stories

keyboardw-498396_1280At a recent meeting of my writers’ group, author Sandra Merville Hart led a workshop on writing short stories. I found it helpful when I was writing one for an anthology our groups it compiling.

Much of her advice came from Creative Writing: Forms and Techniques by Lavonne Mueller and Jerry D. Reynolds.

1. Beginning: Present the problem of the story. Plunge readers immediately into the first incident.

2. Middle: Create suspense. Include events both favorable and unfavorable to  your main character.

3. Ending: Solve problem raised in the beginning. It can be a positive or negative resolution.

Some other advice Sandra gave was:

4. POV: Only have one point of view in a short story.

5.  No subplots: Focus on the problem presented a the beginning and nothing else.

When I wrote my short story, remembering to stick to the problem was very helpful. I enjoy developing characters and exploring their personalities could have sidetracked me from the plot. When  I was floundering in coming up with a reasonable ending, I finally realized I didn’t know what the single problem of the story was. Once I settled on one problem and its resolution, I could fill out the middle with favorable and unfavorable incidents that led to the ending.

Sticking to the point can also be applied to blog posts. Since I have only 250 to 500 words, my post should have just one point. If I find myself wandering away from that point, I can use my tangent as the point of a separate post.

What have you learned about writing short stories? Do you recommend any books or posts with tips on how to write them?

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

Halloween storiesLike I said on Tuesday, I don’t like the horror associated with Halloween. But I do enjoy a supernatural story that is spooky or creepy, where the unearthly happenings are suggested rather than thrown in your face. If the main character tackles the supernatural like a detective, even better. And the ending must have some hope.

Here are several short stories I enjoy revisiting every October. I discovered these in the children’s section of the first library I worked in. I’m not sure why these stories were in the children’s section. Most of the authors were writers well-known for writing fantasy and science fiction for adults.

“The House Surgeon” by Rudyard Kipling in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts selected by Helen Hoke.

  • A new friend of the M’Leod family attempts to discover why their home plagues everyone with depression. And why everyone feels “someone” is desperate to tell them something.
  • Think “Downton Abbey” with an amateur detective. I like this story because the haunting is so unusual.

“The Monster of Poot Holler” by Ida Chittum in Spirits, Spooks, and Other Sinister Creatures selected by Helen Hoke

  • In the Ozarks, two cousins dare to enter Poot Holler to find out what lives there.
  • I love the voice of this story, told in dialect. The build-up to the revelation of the monster is terrific.

“The Whistling Room” by William Hope Hodgson in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts 

  • Carnacki, the Ghost Finder, investigates a room in an Irish castle, haunted by a monstrous whistling.
  • Think Sherlock Holmes taking on X-Files cases. The supernatural detective is intriguing as well as the peculiar haunting.

“The Cloak” by Robert Bloch in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts

  • Henderson gets a lot more than he bargains for when he buys a cloak for a Halloween costume party from a mysterious shop clerk who claims it’s “authentic”.
  • This has the best description of the modern perception of Halloween I’ve ever read, starting with the opening lines:

“The sun was dying, and its blood splattered the sky as it crept into a sepulcher behind the hills. The keening wind sent dry , fallen leaves scurrying towards the west, as though hastening them to the funeral of the sun … Either that, or tonight was just another rotten cold fall day.”

  • The is the one story with a downer ending. But it doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. If you don’t like downer endings, just reading the first half. The beginning and Henderson’s visit to the costume shop set the perfect Halloween mood.



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