Writing short stories

daisiesAfter some of the responses I got from my last post, I started to get the impression that people might actually struggle with writing short stories. Until another writer pointed it out to me, I kind of always thought that short stories were easy for everyone. Ya know, something a writer could crank out in an afternoon, no problem.

I guess I developed that point of view because of my writing background. While most writers started out writing simplistic stories when they were kids, I started out writing poetry as a kid. See, my family is very Irish, and it’s a family tradition that all the girls learn to write poetry or lyrics. So, while everyone else was writing daring tales of their heroic pet cat, I was twisting words to describe a blue sky or the shape of a cloud.

In poetry word choice is everything. Poets don’t have the luxury to spend 40 pages describing something. They need to say what they mean in a word, maybe two. Because their format is so confining, each word has so much more weight then what you might find in something bigger like a novel. Though writing poetry can be tricky and even frustrating sometimes, the one good thing is that it makes a writer’s vocabulary explode! If you ever find yourself at a loss for words while writing, definitely try writing poetry for a few hours. IMG_0302

I hope you see where I’m going with this ramble. That’s right, the exact same skills a poet uses in writing poetry are also used to write short stories. Just like in poetry, in short stories every word has to have a lot of meaning. No filler words!

Here’s an example. In a novel a person’s voice might be described like this:

She had a voice that was pleasant for everyone to hear. It was high, but not so high that it was screechy, but not so low it sounded like a squawk. It was like listening to music even though she wasn’t singing.

While in a short story it would be described more like this:

Her voice chimed like a glass bell.

This word choice is important for two reasons. One, it’s a lot shorter and fits into the smaller format. And two, the words do double duty.

IMG_0230The first critical words are “chimed” and “bell”. What kind of imagery do they bring up? Well, where do bells chime? In churches, temples, during celebrations. Bells have been traditionally used for purification. So maybe this character is pure, innocent, or even holy in some way. The second critical word is “glass“. What kind of imagery does glass create? Glass is fragile, delicate, something you have to be gentle with. So maybe this character is fragile is some way.

These three simple words, chimed, glass, bell, described her voice but also described the character’s personality. In a short story, these three words are probably the only description I would give for this character. Even if she’s the main character. In fact, most of my short stories have no description of the main character. The MCs are only defined by their names and by the way they act.

I know this is only one element of writing a short story, and it takes a lot more skills and techniques to write a good story in a small format, but word choice is a really import skill. I hope this is helpful for all you short story strugglers out there. And if I could only give one little tip for you to take away with you, it would be to write more poetry. Really, it’s a great warm-up before writing short format anything.corrected homework with green check mark

Do you have any short story writing tips to share? I’d love to hear about them, please leave them in the comments area below.

Short story or first draft?

inside pages of the book A curious incident of the dog in the night time

Recently I’ve been noticing a trend. More and more writers have been writing short stories and then blowing them up into full novels instead of writing first drafts.

I have to admit, I’ve done that before too. In my novel, It’s a stony road through Hell, it was originally written as a short story and then years later I re-wrote it as a short-ish novel. It made a surprisingly high quality final piece. Usually I have to re-write a piece over and over again just to get it to be kind of readable, but from the short story starting point it came together fairly easily.

its-a-stony-road-through-hell-coverThe writer I heard about most recently doing this is Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies. Evidently, the story was originally written as a seven page short story (practically a flash fiction) and it only really covered what an internal monologue might be for a zombie. Later, he expanded on it to create an entire post-apocalyptic world for the main characters to live in. I think it’s amazing how he took just seven pages and turned it into a 239 page novel.

My short story of ISRTH started out significantly longer. I’m not sure I even doubled my word count.

But it really shows what you can do, if you have a good starting point. See, I think that’s the whole point of starting with a short story. You get to start with something that’s already good.

Writing a novel is hard. Writing a good novel is even harder. They’re big, they’re meandering, and they spiral out of control quickly. How novels are usually written is a writer writes the first draft and it’s terrible. Let’s face it, even first drafts from great authors are pretty bad. Then the writer is supposed to take this bad writing and re-write it over and over again until it’s good. The problem is your starting point is with a whole lot of bad writing.

IMG_0263In contrast, short stories are easy to write because they are so much smaller. It’s kind of like the difference between wrestling with a tiger vs. wrestling with a kitten. Best of all, short stories are easy to write well the first time around. So, if you start with a short story, you might not have much to work with, but it’s all high quality. All you have to do is expand on it.

Have you ever blown up a short story into a novel? Was it a blow-out or did it turn nuclear? Please share in the comments area below.

IMG_0261

Can off beat characters have romance?

broken heart

I’ve been struggling with this question for months now. The main character of the novel I’m currently working on is really off beat. She’s a former goth girl that got dumped by her vampire boy-friend and now she’s out for revenge. The only problem is she’s kind of an obsessive fan-girl klutz. She’s kind of goofy. But, I want her to find love and have her story have a happily ever after ending. It’s been a lot tougher to make that happen than I thought.

Here’s a few scene’s that I think really highlight her character.IMG_0194

It was Thursday morning and I was still in bed. I wasn’t going to get up for school today, I hadn’t gotten up for school yesterday or the day before either. I was wrapped in my gran-gran’s hand-made blanket that she had made, by hand, just for me. Because she loved me until the day she died. ‘Cause, that’s how love was supposed to be, damn it!

Someone knocked on my bedroom door. Good thing I was already facing that way, because I wasn’t interested in rolling over. My dad poked his head in.

“Honey, could we have a little talk?” he asked, “Me and your mom are kind of worried.”

Our talk went something like this,

Dad: “Honey, we really think you need to start going to school again.”

Me: “ROOWWRR!”

Dad: “Eep, Eep, Eep!” and he runs away.

#  #  #

Once I had the mug shots hung just the way I wanted them, I drew a bullseye in red marker over Robby’s big, fat face and then another bullseye over Crispin’s snooty, jerk face.

I pointed at both of them.

“You two are both going down. You thought you could mess with me? Think again!”

“You,” I said, jabbing a finger at the Robby photo, “You are going to cry, fall to your knees, and beg for my forgiveness.”

“And you,” I said, pointing at the St. James photo, “You are going to worship me when I become an all mighty vampire queen, and then you will scrub my floors.”

“Mwa ha ha ha!”

My mom popped her head into my room, “Honey, is everything alright in here?”

“It’s awesome!” I said, a huge smile spread across my face and I couldn’t stop giggling.

My mom’s eyes darted to the pictures hanging on the wall behind me and then to the shredded photo on the floor that I was standing on.

“Um, okay. . . . Dinner will be ready soon,” she said, then slowly backed out the door.

broken heart in two 3Needless to say, trying to find a way for my main character to change enough to fall in love with someone, but not so much that she doesn’t stay in character, has been a real problem. And to make my job even harder, I for some reason decided to make her love interest kind of a snobby jerk. Seriously, why did I decided to make a tough job even harder?

If I can make this story work, I think it will be a really fun book. It just has a lot of tweaking a head of it.

Have you ever had problem characters that just don’t seem to do what you wanted them to? Are you currently working on a story that you made more difficult to write than it needed to be? I’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below.