Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Long and the Short of Stories (or advice on short fiction)

By James R. Tuck, @JamesTuckwriter

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly contributor)

There is no money in short stories.

Let's get that out of the way.

Yes, you can sell them and yes, some folks pay, but short stories are not how you will feed yourself without a ton of hustle and talent.

But you should still write it.

Short fiction builds writing muscles you need to finish the big task of writing a novel or a series. When you write a short story you have to think of it differently than you do a novel and very differently tan you do any book in a series.

Here are some tips:

1. Get to the Point

There is no time for a lot of set up in a short story so you have to think of the most concise way to introduce everything. The characters have one to two sentences for your reader to get a look at them. The setting has to be wrapped in a paragraph or less (preferably less). The “plot” has to hit the ground running in the first half of the first page. Because of this short runway effect, try to think in language that pulls double and triple duty. In a novel you could write:
George was from Mississippi and grew up by the river. He was tall for his height and his skin the color of old paper left to weather in the sun. He'd been alone for years and wore that loneliness like an old moldy coat that kept him from the company of his fellow man. Home to Work to Home again with his only stop once a week for the meager supplies from the meager store for his meager cubbard.

In a short story you want to concise it up like so:
George was like the reeds along the mighty Mississippi he left years ago, long and sallow and mostly hollow. The wind whistled as it blew through him.

2. Why Did You Write "Plot" Like That?

Because plot is your characters having conflict and their reaction to it based on who they are. In a novel this can take you down many roads as more conflict unfolds and other characters interact causing more conflicts.

In a short story you should minimize your conflicts to just one or two characters. You simply don't have time to do more or you are then writing a novel. Make something happen and follow it closely.

3. Twists are Preferred but not Necessary.

Because short stories are fairly simple a lot of them have a twist ending. Twists are good, but hard to make feel like an inevitable surprise. When they work, they really work. However, when they fail it is something that can come off cheesy. Don't feel like you “have” to put one in. You can write a good solid story without it. You got one, use it, if not though just write a good solid story.

4. Backstory is Irrelevant. Kinda.

You don't have time for it. Well, you might need a little but trust your reader and keep that to the bare minimum and if in doubt, cut it out. You can't do pages of it, so keep any backstory to one or two sentences. This means for your characters, for your setting, or for your plot. Your reader will be glad of it.

5. Jump Ahead.

You can start a lot of short stories in the literal middle of the action. Just go ahead and pick the tensest part and drop your reader right there. No need to build up or warm them up. You can always do a quick flashback to bring them up to date. Speaking of:

6. Structure is for the Weak.

Short fiction is where you can get really experimental. Like second person POV. In my opinion it only works in short fiction and in short fiction it works extremely well. You want to do the big scene and then hit it all with a memory? Go for it. Want to stick a dream in the form of a poem in the middle, sure thing, Slick. But you can do literally anything in a short piece, and because it's only a few pages, your reader will stick to the end.

Use all these tips, or none of them. This is just to get you to think about it.

Now go out and write some short stories.

James was born and raised in Georgia and grew up drawing and reading a steady helping of Robert E. Howard stories, Golden Age comics, and books he was far too young to be reading. Combined with a very Southern involvement in church and watching horror movies, this became the bedrock of his creativity. He became a tattoo artist, and now writes dark fantasy. He's the author of the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series, a variety of short stories and novellas set in the same world (and some outside of it), and the editor of the Thunder on the Battlefield anthologies. His newest series (co-written with Debbie Viguie), is Robin Hood: Demon's Bane.

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About Robin Hood: Demon's Bane

Sherwood Forest is a place of magic, and Prince John and his allies are demons bent upon ruling Britain. The solstice draws close, and Prince John and the Sheriff hold Maid Marian, whose blood sacrifice will lock the prince’s hold on the kingdom and the crown. Unless Marian can reach Robin with a magic artifact coveted by the enemy and entrusted to her by the Cardinal, the ritual will occur. 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

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